JH May – Reaching New Heights

Large airplane model

Designing and manufacturing a model aeroplane with a wingspan of over 6.5 metres

While some model-making companies may baulk at the idea of creating a model larger than a minibus, we at JH May never say no to a challenge. So when British artist and sculpture icon Charming Baker came to us with the idea of creating a model aeroplane over 8 metres in length, we knew we could manufacture it; the only doubt in our mind was whether we’d be able to reach the top of it. Then we found out it was going to be completely upside down.

The project began with detailed and extensive conversations between our design team and the artist, who specified the style of plane and the angle at which it would rest. Upon deciding on the Airbus A300, our designers obtained the 3D CAD data and imputed it into our 3D design software. They could then disassemble the plane into its component parts, and we could start deciding on manufacturing techniques to use. Knowing that the plane would have to be transported across the Atlantic, and that unfortunately it couldn’t fly itself, we needed to make the model as easy to transport and reassemble as possible.

With the sculpture being a centrepiece at an art gallery in Los Angeles, a deadline was instilled and the highest quality product was assured. Within

Model plane set for Los Angeles
An early rendering of the CAD model

the week the workshop began to look like an aeroplane graveyard; the only difference being, this plane was slowly coming to life. The fuselage was manufactured from four sections of polystyrene, hot wire cut and coated in veneer, while the nose and tail sections were machined on one of our CNC machining centre out of model board, or ureol. As sections came off the five axis machine they received a five star treatment from our expert model makers, who polished and joined them together and any seam filled and sanded down. Once a seamless finish was completed, the process of creating a hollow fibreglass fuselage began; this created a smooth and durable structure that will travel well, while also being light enough to cost effectively ship overseas. The high precision elements of the model, such as the engines, wheels and wing tips, were manufactured from ureol using our five-axis CNC machining centre due to the intricate detail that can be achieved.

Model maker 8 metre long plane
The fuselage beginning to take shape

With a complex lightweight aluminium support structure welded together onsite, and wings assembled from polystyrene hot-wire cut to shape, the aeroplane started coming together quickly. After the sections of the hollow fuselage were rubbed down and treated to create an impermeable surface, the sections of the plane had to be transported into the painting facility where out model makers gave the parts their first coat. The artist had decided that the plane should be white, to match the Airbus A300 Airfix model before it is painted; this simple but effective colour scheme allowed the detailed sections of the model to really stand out, and allowed the impressive size of the sculpture to draw the admirer’s eye.

With the exposed aluminium stand highly polished and the plane itself assembled and painted, the finished product was ready to be shipped to the art gallery unveiling; to do this the plane was broken down into its component parts, packed away safely and securely into custom built shipping crates and carefully transported to the destination, ready to be rebuilt and unveiled at the gallery.

Simon Terry, Managing Director of JH May, said “It was one of our larger scale art fabrications, and we were amazed with what we managed to achieve. The use of fibre-glassing and machining capabilities in model-making allows us to create truly remarkable projects that our clients are really impressed by, and the employment of these technologies drastically improves production efficiency, quality and making time.”

For more information on our art fabrications and what we can achieve, visit www.jhmay.com/artwork-fabrication/.

To see this model being assembled, watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVjqODPnPbw