By Sagar Pathak
Ever since I was little, my parents had always bought me toy airplanes as gifts. While some kids love to collect baseball cards or matchbox cars, model airplanes (and aviation in general) have always been my passion for as long as I can remember. Some of my favorite toys growing up were my Ertl Force One F-14 Tomcat, Micro Machines Airport play sets, and any dozen of my Dyna-Flites metal jets. They looked more like blobs of metal than actual airplanes but details really didn’t matter much back then. As long as that plane had rolling wheels and wings, I supplied all the thrust, engine noises, and imagination necessary to make those planes come alive in my living room.
As I grew older, I realized that there were actually models out there that had scaled details to make them look like the real planes they represent. My passion ignited when I discovered that a few years ago, Dragon Wings – a popular diecast model maker – had come out with a special military line of 1:400 scale models. I was ecstatic to discover that they had a specific model, tail number #55817, a California Air National Guard KC-135 with an F-16 in tow. By the time I learned about the model, it was already sold out. I ended up paying way more than retail for the model on the secondary market but it was completely worth it. Why? Because that specific tail number and model represented the exact KC-135 that I flew on during my very first USAF flight to photograph a pair of California Air National Guard F-16s from the 144th FW nine years ago. It launched my “career” as an aviation photographer. It was an aviation first that I will remember forever as I keep that KC-135 model on my desk as a keepsake of that special flight.
After that first KC-135 flight, I was privileged to fly on many other military aircraft. By far, my most exhilarating flight happened on Aug. 12, 2010, when I took to the skies in a TU-2S Dragon Lady to photograph their mission. Less then two-dozen civilians have ever flown this aircraft in it’s 55-year existence. I was one of the lucky few chosen who was able to fly in one of those amazing crafts and see the curvature of the earth on the edge of space. For three hours, I was literally one of the highest persons in the world.
Like ones first solo or graduation from pilot training, it was a moment that I knew should be properly commemorated. But models of the two seat U-2s are very rare to come by on the internet, especially for an affordable price. Luckily I had some friends at Aim Higher Jets, a diecast and mahogany airplane model company that specializes in custom models for just such unique occasions, to help me out. After checking out their models, I decided to get my TU-2S built as a custom mahogany model. With a couple of clicks on their site, I had placed the order and received notice that in eight to 10 weeks my model would arrive via priority shipping. Within an hour, Aim Higher Jets contacted me to discuss the exact details of the plane I wanted. I gave them the tail number and described the markings of the very TU-2S I flew in. They even had an option to add my name under the canopy. But the details don’t stop there. Their attention to detail includes features that other model companies never think about, like pitot tubes, subtle paint shading, wire antennas, and even colored strobe and navigation lights. The model is supported on a polished wood stand that comes with an engraved plaque and a polyurethane-sealed, high-resolution squadron logo.
I uploaded several photos to give the team that was hand carving the model a few reference shots. I was impressed that they went as far as matching the color paint codes of the actual paint on the aircraft. No detail was left untouched. In the eight weeks that it took to craft the model, there were several times that the modelers checked in with me to make sure I was up to date on the status of the model and satisfied with the progress of it. Once I approved the model from the photos, they shipped it.
When I got the email notification that my package had shipped, I was tracking it online as it flew across the country. As excited as a kid on Christmas morning, I rushed home to open my box from Aim Higher Jets. It was beautiful and captures that special moment perfectly.
From this experience, I’ve realized that it’s one thing to just buy an off the shelf product, but the experience of having your own custom model takes my love of accurate airplane models to a whole new level. The TU-2S is the new centerpiece of my Dragon Lady memorabilia collection.
AimHigherJets.com makes models for all kinds of special occasions. They carry an extensive line of diecast models by Hobby Master, InFlight200 and GeminiJets. Their true specialty though is selling customized military and civilian mahogany models at very reasonable prices. They even have a line of select pilot training and military mahogany models that are customized and delivered in just three to four weeks…something no one else on the web currently offers.
If you are looking for an accurate model of a special event or want the perfect gift for that aviation fan who has everything, I’d highly recommend a model from Aim Higher Jets.