Tens of thousand of airplanes, freshly painted, are parked just yards from the end of the runway at Scottsdale Airport as they wait to be whisked to new owners.
“The tie-in is wonderful,” said Jay Green, retail manager for TMC Pacific Modelworks. “We can hear the jets take off as we work.”
The planes that Green’s company makes and sells are only a fraction of the size of the flyable versions, although the attention to detail in the painting is so fine, they could probably pass for the real thing in a B movie scene.
The company makes and sells models of everything American and once airborne from the Wright Brothers biplane to commercial airliners and military fighters to blimps, the space shuttle, and even a few fictional vehicles like the starships Enterprise and Voyager.
Today the company is planning the debut of its new showroom, where collectors can view and buy their favorite among thousands of past and future planes.
Walk through the doors at 15820 N. 84th St., Suite 50, and into a virtual museum of aviation in miniature.
Airplanes of all sizes, shapes and colors are mounted on the walls, sit on shelves, even perch atop piles of boxes employed as makeshift pedestals. There is a smattering of other items for sale — model ships, tractors, emblems and plaques, even a couple of replicas of “nose art” from fighters.
The company sells to customers around the world via the Internet, ads in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and aviation-related magazines, and through some resellers, including domestic airlines themselves, said Ed Tuton, company owner.
But local collectors occasionally stop by the company’s Scottsdale Airpark offices asking Green if he has a particular model in stock.
“I’d go back in the warehouse and find it and sell it to them,” Green said.
There are so many of the target customers in the Valley — the biggest market is affluent baby boomers — that Green decided to open the showroom.
“It’s a natural adjunct to the business,” he said. “We’ve got the space. We’ve got the planes here. We might as well display them.”
It also helps keep Green from rooting around thousands of boxes in the back looking for a particular model for the walk-ins.
The showroom displays hundreds of planes that sell for $150 to $250.
Special models — one of the Enola Gay, which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima during World War II, is signed by two crew members, and a model of the Bell X-1 that broke the sound barrier is signed by Chuck Yeager, who piloted it — sell for a higher price.
So do custom orders.
“If you own an airplane, we’ll make a model of it for you,” Tuton said. It will set you back about $300, he said.
These are not the plastic snap-together planes you’d find in a toy store. The models are made from mahogany and hand painted. There are 18,000 stock items, Tuton said.
He sells about 100,000 planes a year at an average $200 apiece. The most popular — a P-51 Mustang World War II fighter.
Tuton’s prime customer is still the individual collector, he said. But the company also sells models to all the U.S. domestic airlines and contractors like Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman, who often buy versions of their own products to give as gifts to retiring employees or prime customers.
Green just completed an order of 88 United Airlines 747s, he said. The company also makes models for the Smithsonian Institution, the Franklin Mint, and others who resell the products, Green said.
Tuton, who originally contracted to have his planes made in a factory in the Philippines, now owns his own factory there.
While he now brings all stock into his Scottsdale warehouse, he’s planning to start shipping to international markets direct from Manila, he said.
Tuton said he’s not worried about finding new customers as his baby boomer base gets older.
“Aviation is part of the fabric of American civilization,” he said.