Obsessed with detail, Town of Grafton resident Paul Boyer has spent a lifetime crafting perfect scale models of aircraft that will soon become part of the EAA museum’s permanent collection
There was a time when making airplane models was a hobby embraced by countless boys entranced by the dream of flight.
In most of those cases, model making went the way of collecting baseball cards and playing kick the can. They were diversions put aside to allow for the pursuit of more “mature” activities.
But for Town of Grafton resident Paul Boyer, it was a youthful obsession he never outgrew.
Today, Boyer’s collection of more than 220 plastic models — as well as some 600 boxes of unassembled aircraft waiting to be brought to life — fill much of the basement of his Lakefield Road home.
Most of his assembled planes will soon be donated for permanent display at the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh.
The donation will be in several thematic groupings and transported to the museum over an unspecified period of time.
“The first group will be U.S. fighter jets. I wanted a few more pieces to fill in the gaps, so I put together two Sabre jets in January and have one more I want to finish before I donate the first part of the collection,” Boyer said.
That is the kind of painstaking attention to detail he gives to model building. It also served him well in his former career.
After serving a stint as a photographer with the U.S. Air Force, Boyer was hired as editor of FineScale Modeler magazine published by Kalmbach Publishing in Waukesha.
“I was the only person they interviewed for the position,” Boyer said of the job he held for 24 years. He retired 10 years ago.
Boyer concentrates his personal model building almost exclusively on U.S. military aircraft. Virtually all of the models he has put together are in 1/72 scale— where one inch of plastic translates to six feet of actual flying machine.
“They used to make models to whatever size they needed to fit into the standard box. They called it box scale. Now, models are made to precise scale and 1/72 is pretty much the standard,” he said.
Boyer’s models range in size from the tiny Mercury space capsule at 1.5 inches to the mammoth Lockheed Martin C-5A Galaxy transport plane at 39 inches.
Some of the planes he has built were for magazine reviews, but others were assembled simply for the love of the hobby.
Boyer was drawn to model making in the 1950s by his father, who served as a radio operator in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
“He carved a model of a B-17 out of wood, and I naturally broke it,” he said.
Then his father discovered plastic models were available.
“I usually ended up breaking those, too, but you could buy them for 50 cents,” Boyer said.
That boyhood attraction continues six decades later.
“When I was young, making models was something kids did. Today, kids are more interested in video games and social media, not fine craftwork like this,” Boyer said.
“Now, the hobby appeals to adults, especially those who appreciate the attention to detail and authenticity.”
To underline the mature appeal of model making, Boyer noted he is the longtime president of the Milwaukee chapter of the International Plastic Modeler’s Society. The group has more than 100 members, some from as far away as Sheboygan and Chicago.
“Most of our members are men, except for a few of their spouses and girlfriends,” Boyer said of the gender-specific appeal of model building.
Boyer said he typically spends from one to six weeks assembling a model, although there are exceptions.
Most notably, Boyer pointed to a model of a silver McDonnell Douglas C-9A Nightingale used by the Red Cross to evacuate casualties during the Vietnam War.
He said he started on the project in 1978, but had to combine two fuselages and ordered specialized decals to get the plane just the way he wanted. It wasn’t completed until 2005.
Replicating the authentic paint jobs and markings can take as long or longer than the actual assembly of the model, but it is the kind of detail that makes each plane in his collection special.
To get that level of detail, Boyer has a paint booth equipped with an air brush and ventilation system in his basement.
Boyer said he started thinking about donating his considerable collection as he noticed he was running out of space for display cases at his home.
“Before spending the money on more cases and realizing only a handful of people each year were getting to see the planes, I began thinking about donating them as a collection,” he said.
Boyer contacted the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, and the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., but each was only interested in the models of their branch of the military.
Then he approached the EAA. His club made the planes displayed on a model aircraft carrier at the Oshkosh museum.
“I had a relationship with them, and they said they are very interested,” Boyer said.
Even after the collection is donated, Boyer said he has no plans to give up model building.
“I’m not done yet,” he said, an assessment reinforced by the stacks of model boxes lining one wall of his basement.
Based on the backlog of to-be-done assembly projects, Boyer said he is lining up some assistants who will complete the models to the exacting standards he sets for himself.
Model building can be as costly as the hobbyist chooses.
Boyer said he saw a model kit for an intricately detailed Air Force One presidential transport being sold for $325 and was initially taken aback.
“Then I thought, ‘It is only going to get more expensive,’” he said. Boyer ultimately bought the kit, and now has models of four different planes used to transport presidents over the decades.
For hobbyists obsessed with details, he said, it is not uncommon to spend $80 on parts needed to “convert” a $30 kit model into an exact replica of a specific plane.
What is it that drives Boyer to keep making model planes?
“I guess I have always been intrigued by anything that flies. That includes aircraft, birds and butterflies,” he said.
Paul Boyer has spent countless hours crafting model airplanes in his Town of Grafton workshop.
Photo by Sam Arendt