While visiting the Los Angeles area a month or so ago, I dropped by the headquarters of MotoArt Studios in Torrance, Calif., maker of cool aviation-themed furniture and the originator of the PlaneTag, for a tour and some conversation with owner and founder Dave Hall. I’ve purchased several of his products over the years, including a polished propeller and quite a few PlaneTags, so I was excited to see his operation.
It feels like these products have been around for a long time, but Hall explained that while the idea for making keychains out of old aircraft skin came to him more than a decade ago, the tags have only been on the market for a few years.
“We had a small section of P-51 Mustang skin, and I decided to take a section and make a tag from it. I decided to call it a PlaneTag — it’s small enough to connect to a bag or suitcase, or even put in your front pocket on your keys. That first piece of aviation history sat in my pocket on my key chain for years before I actually had the sense to kick off the idea,” Hall said.
This year’s Black Friday marked the three-year anniversary of what’s become his flagship product. “We started with six PlaneTags: the 767 Gimli Glider, a 747, DC-9, A320, B-25, and a DC-3,” he said. He used the existing MotoArt mailing list, which included contacts dating back to 2001, to promote the new product to existing customers. “It was an instant hit,” he said. His online shop now lists close to 30 different types of aircraft tags, including hull No. 1 of the B-1B bomber.
A classic Continental Airlines Boeing 707-300 – Image: JP Santiago
I suppose I was destined to be doing aircraft profile art from a young age. Many of my notebooks and textbooks had aircraft drawings scribbled on the pages and margins, often to pass the time in class. As long as I can remember, I was always drawing airplanes – on the walls of my room, in the margins of a textbook, scraps of paper and a sketchbook here and there, some of which I’m sure are probably tucked away in my parents’ attic to this day.
As a teen, I even took drafting electives to help with my drawings as they began to develop more details and precision. In high school, I had covered the walls of my bedroom with a series of aircraft profiles all to scale — I’m not sure where they are now, but they were done with technical pen and Prismacolor pencils from large aircraft like the Boeing 747 and B-52 Stratofortress, to fighter jets and World War II aircraft. I had a McDonnell Douglas KC-10 refueling a formation of F-4E Phantoms and F-15 Eagles.
A TWA Boeing 727-100 and 727-200 – Image: JP Santiago
That was probably the start of my interest in “what-if” concepts and unbuilt designs, as there was also a profile of the proposed McDonnell Douglas P-9, a maritime patrol version of the MD-87 powered by unducted fan engines. Through college and medical school I tried my hand at pencil drawings as well, as I was searching for the ideal medium for my artwork. Many of my books were filled with profile art, which I scrutinized, by aviation artist Keith Fretwell.
I was a consummate model aircraft builder (and still am, to some extent, but not to the level of activity that I was before I had kids) which also influenced my own artwork as well. After all, the research I put into a particular model kit had just as much application to my artwork as well. That was probably the first use of the internet for me as an AvGeek.
Around 1993, I discovered the USENET and I’m pretty sure you can find my posts in the rec.models.scale and rec.aviation sections. I still remember my first posting; I was looking for the FS595 colors used for the Mod Eagle camouflage scheme on the F-15 Eagle that was introduced in the early nineties on the Eagles of the Pacific Air Forces before it became standard for the USAF’s F-15 fleet.