Many airports do have a wide variety of airline aircraft sizes on their premises, but few can match SFO (San Francisco International) currently. Certainly SFO has the full gamut of airline aircraft, ranging from the Airbus A380 down to more modest commuter types, but that doesn’t present the full picture that I’m referring to.
That’s because, in addition to the ‘real’ airliners inhabiting its pavement and airspace, SFO is also the home now for a premier display of model airliners, more particularly what are referred to as display models. SFO has an excellent museum and library in its terminal (pre-security, on the departures level), and it is currently hosting an exhibition titled “Jet Age Models”. Originally scheduled to run from April to October this year, it’s being held over until June 2015, so that there’s plenty of time to see it, if you have (or can plan) travel to the “city by the bay”.
What’s being shown are miniatures that are generally referred to as “display models”. Unlike the plastic kits that many of us probably attempted (and some completed successfully!) in our youth, these are typically produced in a larger scale than used for most plastic kits. An excellent book/catalogue produced by the museum sums them up as follows:
“When these new airliners were introduced they were celebrated as one of the greatest advances in commercial aviation and were promoted with great enthusiasm during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Producing scale models of these jetliners was an effective means for airlines to promote the new aircraft, and for manufacturers, an important part of the design, production and marketing process.”
The book features beautiful photos of aircraft types ranging from the Comet 1 to the Boeing 747. The latter’s 1970 entry into service arguably launched the present era of civil aircraft, since it introduced both the “widebody”/twin-aisle design that now dominates long-haul air services, as well as the fuel-efficient technology of the “high-bypass” jet engine, which now utterly dominates airliner propulsion. Other types pictured include both the common (707, 727) and the more exotic, including the Soviet-era Tu-104, and both types of supersonic airliners to date, the Tu-144 and the Anglo-French Concorde.
The current exhibit is actually the fourth in a series. Previous iterations included “Aviation Milestones in Miniature” (August 2009-May 2010), featuring aircraft types from the 1920s and 30s; “Postwar Propliners” (June 2011-December 2011) featuring post-World War II types from the 1940s and 50s; and, from a slightly different perspective, “Interiors Revealed” September 2012-April 2013). The last featured cutaway models that show the interior arrangements of the aircraft. Both passenger and cargo models are included, with miniature people often occupying the seats, while tiny replicas of cabin crew patrol the aisles.
The book/catalogue’s title reveals the provenance of the models: “Airliner Models, From the Anthony J. Lawler Collection”. Anthony is depicted (in 1:1 scale) in the midst of his world-class collection displayed at his home in northern California. Many homes today have what is referred to as a “man cave”, often full of sports memorabilia; this one (as did an earlier domicile in the Washington, DC area) has a number of aircraft, which, while not full-size, are often several feet – or more – in length. The collection is more than capable of inducing sensory overload in visiting airline buffs; the display is incredible.
Anthony is now retired from a career as a senior sales representative for Airbus North America, so he comes by his enthusiasm for aircraft naturally. He’s been collecting airliner models for essentially his entire life. A plastic model of the Comet 1 from BOAC takes pride of place as his first acquisition. His first ‘real’ display model was a Handley Page Hermes (also in BOAC livery) where it had been on display at a local travel agency in Rhodesia, where Anthony grew up. Its transport home? By bicycle. He’s obviously come a long way since then, and now has, I suspect, the largest and best collection of its kind in the world.
Kudos to both the SFO Museum, for hosting these outstanding exhibits, and to Anthony, for sharing his collection so that at least some of these beautiful, and historic, models can be seen by a wider audience. Again, I’d urge planning a visit to SFO between now and next June.