“Off the Books” with Luca Iaconi-Stewart


Luca Iaconi-Stewart recently became well-known due to his extraordinary story – with 10,000 hours, a little glue and some manila envelopes Luca Iaconi-Stewart created an aviation master piece.  We took the opportunity learn more about Luca and his extraordinary talent. These are the questions the attention team was dying to ask, here’s what he said:-Luca-cest-moi

Tell us a little about yourself, where did you grow up, what were your interests as a child?

I’m a native San Franciscan, and have lived most of my life in the same house, actually (aside from my time in college). I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a creative type, busying myself with drawing, model making, wiring, design etc—it’s always been one project or another. The plane is just the latest and perhaps most complex of theseprojects. Generally, machines and their inner workings have always been fascinating to me. As a child, I was obsessed with household appliances and would make intricate drawings of their inner workings. Later, I became very interested in trains, and in my teen years I transitioned to planes.

I went to high school at Lick-Wilmerding here in San Francisco, and subsequently attended Vassar for two years before deciding to leave. I was planning to major in Political Science and Environmental Studies (both areas in which I have an interest), but after two years without any sort of creative courses, I realized that my true passion lay in creative work of some kind. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly that means but the plane has certainly helped guide me in some ways.


What drove you to invest 10000 hours into a card model and why an Air India Boeing 777?

I was initially quoted in the media as using 10,000 hours and subsequently realized it’s probably been about half that—it’s a rough estimate at best. Nonetheless, with such an investment in time and energy, it does beg the question of motivating factors. I was lucky enough to take an architecture class for two years in high school, and I instantly fell in love with the modeling process. We made our initial concept models out of manila folder paper, and though they were supposed to be simple, I quickly found myself adding considerable detail, which paved the way for this project. It’s been a slow evolution in terms of skill over the last several years—I’ve constantly tried to push myself to achieve seemingly impossible details purely from paper, all in the name of making as accurate a model as possible. It’s an ongoing challenge!

After your story went viral, what was it like to be known and get yourself listed on Wikipedia?

Well, it certainly was a new experience for me. Initially, there was a novelty factor, but that quickly wore off and lately I’ve really tried not to google myself too much as it’s a bit weird to see all the coverage. I also feel that spending too much time wrapped up in the fame can be a huge motivation killer and it can quickly derail a project—it’s been hard enough getting back to my usual routine after all this media attention!

What goals or rules did you set yourself at the start of the project?

My hopes and expectations were much smaller back then, as I really didn’t have the skill to do what I’m doing now, so the only concrete rule I can remember making is to construct the model completely from manila paper, without “cheating” and using stiffeners or reinforcements. I’m glad I’ve managed to create the model in its current form using just that single material (and glue, of course)—sometimes it seems to verge on the impossible!

Who is your biggest inspiration and why?

It’s hard to say who my single biggest inspiration has been, but I have tremendous respect for my amazing high school architecture teacher (Goranka Poljak-Hoy) for opening my and other students’ eyes to the wonders and nuances of architecture. To have that kind of course available in high school and to have such an inspiring teacher is truly a gift. Even outside of class (and post-high school), she’s been a tremendously generous person, just in terms of giving life advice and being there for her students in a way that few teachers usually are.

Did anyone tell you it could not be done?

No one said it in such blunt terms, but I’m sure many thought it never would reach its current form. I myself am sometimes a bit astounded that I’ve managed to pull it off, and it’s hard to say exactly how it’s all worked out.

How do you motivate yourself through the toughest parts of such a project & how do you stay focused when working on a project for that long?

Whenever I find myself lacking in motivation, I think about how exciting it will be to have the model complete, and I get an adrenaline rush. The thought of reaching the finish line and having a true-to-life model to show for it is a very thrilling feeling. On a smaller scale, too, it’s very satisfying to see a part (an engine, for example) come together exactly as intended—these individual components each feel like achievements of sorts.

If you were washed up on a desert island what 3 things would you wish to have with you?

A knife, a book, and some music.


Was the most difficult part of the airplane to model and why?

So far, the engines have been very difficult, due to their unusual shape and the articulating thrust reversers. It’s a miracle that they even came together properly! I anticipate the wings will end up overtaking them, also on account of their unusual shape and all the movable flaps. The sheer amount of planning during the design phase and the complexity of the build later on is a bit daunting, but I’m crossing my fingers that it all works out.


What was your biggest mistake on the project?

There wasn’t one singular, earth-shattering mistake, but in general, seeing as the plane has been in production for so long and my abilities have evolved so much over the years, much of the early work has had to be re-done to match the later additions. Much of the original structure of the fuselage, for instance, was very crudely constructed and had to be heavily modified. I’ve also chosen to rebuild parts (like the tail) for greater accuracy, though that’s less mistake and more obsessive-compulsive.


Did you ever consider quitting ?

I’ve considered it plenty of times, especially in moments of frustration, but the thought of not finishing such a monumental project is hard to fathom. I’m determined to get it done one way or another (the wings are the last remaining parts).

In project that takes a lot of time, there is a lot of time to think and reflect on ones actions. Did you learn anything about yourself along the way?

 The project as a whole shows that persistence can really pay off in the end. On a more personal level, I’ve consistently surprised myself with what I’ve been able to teach myself to understand and to design—and, by extension, to build. Finding the determination to tackle a project of this complexity is perhaps the biggest obstacle to getting it done. For me, the rest followed naturally once I’d committed myself to the build.

On a more macro level, I think this project is further proof that I’m a very technically-oriented person. I’ve always struggled with the abstract (ie drawing people, thinking conceptually), whereas I’m quite good at thinking technically about something how each of its parts works.


Which part of your project are you most proud of?

The interior is amazing to me, partly because of the sheer amount of detail involved and also because it so closely mimics the real thing. I love to open it up and look at all the seats—it boggles the mind!


Tail-updatedYour model contains a lot of detail and complex geometry, what is more challenging; making the tiny details or making the curved surfaces?

Both are equally challenging in different ways. The complex geometry is harder to design, and the detailing is more labor-intensive to build, and when both converge (in the engines, for instance), it’s a real challenge. I expect the wings to be tremendously difficult to complete for this very reason.

Did you ever have to rebuild something on account of spilling coffee or dripping blood on it?

I’ve luckily never spilled anything on my model, even though I’ve kept drinks dangerously close to it during the assembly process. However, I have chosen to rebuild parts due to quality concerns (skin oil, rough seams, warping, etc).

What is your ideal setting when you’re working? Music? TV on in the background? Early morning? Middle of the night?

I tend to be very nocturnal, as I find the quiet of the night makes it easier to focus. However, my schedule has varied wildly and really depends on when I’m feeling motivated and productive. When it comes to assembling parts, I can almost operate in zombie mode with very little sleep. The design phase is what really requires a clear mind. Often, I’ll listen to music, and occasionally I mix in podcasts or movies/TV, depending on my mood. Generally, most of the work is done in my room, but steps like painting required more elaborate work environments.


What is your general philosophy on model building as part of a development process? Why do we need it? What does one gain from it?

As much as 3D computer visualization has made it easier to get a sense of a structure, there’s a certain quality about a model (a tactile component, perhaps) that gives a greater understanding of the shape in question. Being able to physically play around with something and examine it in person from multiple angles is a completely different (and, I’d argue, more valuable) experience than looking at renderings alone. In fields like industrial design especially, the ability to be able to physically handle something and get a true sense of how it feels is paramount to the design refinement process. As humans, I think it’s hard to truly understand an object without seeing and touching a physical mockup.


As children, perhaps the greatest pleasure in building model airplane kits for some, was the opportunity to blow them up with firecrackers when they were done. Has this course of action ever occured to you?

I’ve wanted to burn it or blow it up—yes, the thought has definitely crossed my mind on many an occasion—especially during those times of incredible frustration! 🙂

What dream projects would you like to tackle in the future?

Without going into much detail, I have some ideas for airport baggage handling that I’d hope to work on down the road, as I think they’d be a huge improvement to the travel experience. It’s something I’ve thought about and tried to develop over the years, but have yet to fully flesh out. Other than that, I don’t have many concrete ideas, as I tend to think of things in the moment without much prior planning (much like this plane project).

Would you do it again?

Ideally, I’d love to make a larger model (perhaps several meters in length), but given how much time and energy this (smaller) piece has taken, it wouldn’t be without serious thought and hesitation. If anything, I’ll need a break from plane-making after I finish this current model!

Luca Iaconi-Stewart Feb. 2014

If you are interested in seeing more of Luca’s work here’s a link to his Flicker profile.

Or check out all his cool videos on Youtube

Off the Books” is a blog based series of articles where we aim to dig deep into interesting projects by people that are driven to realise their dreams during their free time,© Attention Group 2014.


  1. Thanks Luca, for your eloquent, exhaustive and inspiring answers! It will certainly serve as a boost for myself and my teams in current and upcoming projects.

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