By Craig Libuse

Guillermo Rojas-Bazan has been selected as the seventeenth winner of the Joe Martin Foundation’s top award, The Metalworking Craftsman of the Year award, for 2013. The award will be presented at the 2013 North American Model Engineering Society Expo in Wyandotte, MI April 20-21, 2013, which is open to the public.
Though some of his earlier models were built in smaller scales, for many years he has built in 1/15 scale, and all parts are hand-made. The fuselage and wing structures duplicate the original in sheet aluminium and details inside the plane that sometimes cannot even be seen once the model is completed are all there. He also incorporates working features like folding wings, hinged access panels, retractable landing gear, control surfaces that are activated from the cockpit controls and even electrically powered propellers and working navigation lights per the client’s wishes. He uses hand tools almost exclusively.

We are most impressed that he is able to produce so many models without compromise to the quality of his work, which just seems to get better and better as he demands more of himself and his already prodigious skills continue to be polished to perfection. He prefers to create reproductions of propeller aircraft from the period 1925 through 1945.

To be able to make a career in model making is a rare feat, but it does have one down side. Like car modeller Gerald Wingrove, he has not been able to keep any of his own models, as they are what puts the bread on his family’s table. To see them in person you will have to visit a museum or private collection where they have found a home. For the next best thing, you can see even more at his personal web site at Guillermo will be bringing his partially constructed current project, a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter to the NAMES show, which may be as close as many of us will get to examine his work first-hand. Please join us in Michigan in April to see the award presentation, meet Guillermo Rojas-Bazan and see some of his work.
Before Guillermo Rojas-Bazan was born, his father was already a well-known aircraft model maker in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As noted in newspaper stories at the time, his father built highly detailed tinplate models not for sale, but rather for the pleasure of his friends and family. Guillermo followed in his father’s footsteps and started building models from an early age. He assembled plastic kits, but at age eight he wanted to build a model of a Martin B-10 bomber for which no kit was offered. He created his own scratch-built model from cardboard. As he grew older, he continued scratch building models in wood and tinplate, finally graduating to sheet aluminium. He had obviously inherited his father’s skills.
In 1981, his hobby led him to a job working for the Argentine Air Force and the Instituto Aeronaval (Naval Air Institute) as an aviation illustrator, draftsman and builder of his unique sheet aluminium scale model aircraft for exhibition in museums, where they remain on display.

In 1988, Guillermo moved to Spain where he produced replicas for a London gallery of aviation art, building models for serious collectors in Europe and the USA. While working on a commission in Israel starting in 1990 building a model for the Israeli Air Force, he met and married his wife Clarisa in 1993, who was employed as a social worker there. The couple moved to the United States in 1994 and Guillermo worked for 15 years building 1/15 scale models for a company that specialised in super-detailed collector models before recently returning to the marketplace on his own as a builder on commission.

Choice of scale and projects

He notes that building in the larger 1/15 scale takes much longer than working in the smaller 1/24 scale that he started out with many years before. This limits how many models he can build and also drives up their price, which limits his market. For example, the 1/15 scale B-17 model  with a wingspan of over 60” took four years to build! There are not many buyers willing to pay a craftsman’s salary for four years for one model. He plans in the future to work in both 1/15 and 1/24 scale, still keeping the incredible amount of detail and function even in the smaller models. However, this will allow him to build more models and satisfy more clients while still retaining their museum quality. The smaller models also offer the advantage of easier transport and display while still capturing the look and feel of the real aircraft.

To date he has built well over 200 detailed metal models. As an additional challenge on his latest model, he is also working on producing a DVD that will document his methods. This should be a great resource for model makers around the world.

Tools and favourite planes

When asked what kind of tools he uses, Guillmero noted, “I do not use electric machines in the construction of my models. I do everything by hand. I know that many people don't believe me, but this is what I am going to explain and teach in my first commercial DVD tutorial that I hope to have ready this year. The only electric machine that I use is the compressor for my airbrush.
“I do not also use moulds or casting techniques to reproduce objects in series. Everything is made by hand. For example, for my B-17 I built the 10 machine-guns one by one totally by hand. (The same with the engine cylinders, actuators, etc.)
“I do not have only one favourite model, I have several. Many of them are planes of the period between 1920 and 1939 before the WWII (golden age of aviation) like the Northrop Gamma, Boeing B-15, Boeing YB-17 (prototypes of the great B-17), Martin B-10, Vought Vindicator, Curtiss Hawk III, Junkers G-38, Junkers G-24, Heinkel He70, Fairey Battle, etc.  Many of these aircraft were not good machines or have not been very popular, but I like them aesthetically.”

Guillermo now lives with his wife Clarisa and their son Roy in Royal Oak, Michigan, USA.

Current Project

Guillermo is currently building a 1/15 scale Japanese Mitsubishi A6M ‘Zero’ fighter from WWII. It is taking a while, because he is making a DVD of the progress that will eventually be available to modellers. Below are a few of his photos.