Clark Air Base ? the home to manufacturers of the Worlds Best Handmade Wooden Model Airplanes
By: Pat Ramos
Very few people know about the origin of those beautiful shiny and finely detailed aircraft models that they see in travel agents, airports and in the homes and offices of those involved with, or in love with, the Aviation Industry. Without wanting to sound condescending, very few people – particularly of the young generation would be able to stick a pin in the map and point to the Philippines, let alone Clark Air Base
Clark Air Base was a former U.S. Air Force base on one of the three main islands in the Philippines – Luzon and is now known as the Clark Special Economic Zone. It is near the city of Angeles in the province of Pampanga and about 40 miles (60 km) northwest of Manila. Clark Air Base was arguably the most urbanized military facility in history, and was the largest American base overseas. The base was converted into a special economic zone after the American military left the Philippines in 1992. Clark Air Base was an American military facility from 1903 to 1991. The base covered 14.3 square miles (37 km˛) with a military reservation extending north that covered another 230 square miles (596 km˛). At its peak around 1990, it had a permanent population of 15,000. The base was a stronghold of American forces during the end of World War II, and until 1975, it was a backbone of logistical support during the Vietnam War.
During the American occupation the military aviation activities gave birth to a local “cottage industry” which rapidly developed to cater for the local and then international demand for hand carved wooden replica aircraft. The abundant and sustainable source of Philippine Mahogany – a hardwood ideal for its stability and ease of carving, together with the highly artistic capabilities of the Filipino workforce gave birth to what is today the worlds largest producer of custom handmade desktop wooden models.
Many people upon viewing such model airplanes are not aware that they are produced by hand and not mass made on machinery. The attention to detail is beyond comparison and even the smallest of logos are hand painted in the finest of detail. Many manufacturers prefer to use hand painted logos in preference to “decals” as the latter have a tendency to discolor (or discolor the paint underneath the decal) over age and also detract from the originality of the model. “Decals” are scanned images that are printed on plastic film and then attached by an adhesive film the body of the model. Naturally there is competition today in the form of plastic, resin or die cast desktop plane models but most discerning buyers and collectors will confirm that the look and feel of truly handmade model airplanes cannot be reproduced in man made materials and certainly through mass production. In addition to the production of standard airline and military aircraft many of the versatile manufacturers also produce “one off” copies of peoples own aircraft or rare aircraft from the past.
The life of a “true aviation work of art” begins with the age old process of hand wood carving which is then followed by several key processes. All in all a model normally takes between 7-10 days to produce. The full production cycle goes as follows:-
Molding / Carving
Skilled Carvers using only hand tools carve and shape the model. This is a specialist art, requiring many years of experience. The wood used is kiln dried Philippine Mahogany (commonly known as Lauan or Meranti) and is not on the endangered list as are many other woods such as Philippine Teak (Tectona Philippinensis) or Narra (Pterocarpus Indicus / Red Sandalwood Tree). Wood carving is a form of working wood and in this case by using only hand tools. No power tools are used in this process. The Carvers work from actual aircraft drawing ensuring that the final carved body is an exact scale replica of the original aircraft.
Puttying / Varnishing
Once the model has been carved, several coats of putty are applied to create a very smooth, flawless finish prior to painting. Varnish is a finish applied to the wood in order to provide a clear, hard, durable, protective finish. The varnish is usually a combination of a drying oil, a resin and a thinner or solvent. As opposed to paint, which contains pigment, and is opaque, varnish has little or no color, and is transparent. After being applied the varnish hardens either by evaporation of a solvent, or by a chemical reaction. Oil varnish drying time depends on the ratios of oil to resin and turpentine and may be sped up by exposure to UV light.
Color schemes are applied by hand or air brush, following the details or pictures supplied. To ensure the best color match to the actual aircraft we are modeling we normally use a Pantone color reference which is provided by the customer or the original aircraft manufacturer. The paint is a high quality acrylic type which enables us to give a very high quality custom finish that you would associate with that of a plane or even an automobile in a showroom environment. After carefully painting the aircraft body and wings the artist then finely paints the intricate detail of the aircraft in the areas of the flight control surfaces, doors, windows and cargo hatches, engine cowlings, undercarriage and very importantly the very prominent “tail fin” or empennage of the aircraft. No detail is spared, even the inside of the engine cowlings are carefully finished and are complemented by authentic looking, in the case of jet engines, fan blades. Even propellers are also carved out of solid wood and finally finished by the artist.
If you ever have the opportunity to look closely at one of these aircraft models I hope you will now have an understanding for the large number of hours that these craftsmen put into their art. These models are a testament to the creativity and innovation of the true Filipino entrepreneur! Even better, if you ever get the opportunity to visit the province of Pampanga and in particular Angeles City and the former Clark Airbase I can guarantee you that you are in for a real treat. Kapampangan’s are well known for their warm hospitality and they also make some of the best food in the country!
Stop by and say hi to us!