Growing up in West Islip on Long Island in the 1970s, Brian Keene loved to hang around John F. Kennedy Airport. Awestruck by the colors and trademark insignia of aircraft and their movement about the airport, along with the grandiosity of the space and iconic building designs of the Jet Age, Keene decided to take his passion for aviation and the airport to another level by building a 1:400 scale replica of JFK International Airport that would capture and remind him of a moment of time in his life when he was first bitten by the aviation bug.
With 42 years in the aviation industry, Keene began his career in 1980 with Pan Am, followed by positions with PEOPLExpress, Continental and United Air Lines. Today his aviation career continues with ABM Aviation as Sr. VP/ VP of Service Delivery.
Outside of his career, Keene really enjoys aviation as a hobby. His interest in designing and building airport dioramas began in the mid-90s with the development of beautiful die-cast aircraft models. He picked up a couple of these models and was really excited to have them as collectibles. They were heavy and detailed, and Keene thought that it would be a great idea to build an airport to display them in their natural habitat. After he did some calculations and thought about how to proceed, he ultimately decided he could build something really beautiful around his treasured collection of aircraft models.
Initially, Keene was just going to build one terminal, but then the aviation bug caught up with him and his passion for building pressed him forward to continue. He started building more and more terminals while collecting more and more of the aircraft that went with them.
When building airport dioramas, or any diorama, Keene explained that there are a lot of materials to use. In building his dioramas, he primarily uses foam board, polystyrene, light wood such as balsa, plastic, and various types of material. “There’s a lot of little pieces of it that you have to create and repurpose so that you can create something that looks like the real thing,” said Keene.
While building the JFK Airport diorama, he found that the most challenging model was the TWA terminal because, while all of the other buildings have 90-degree angles, the TWA terminal does not have a single right angle in it. “It’s all curves,” he said, “so I had to figure out how to build that with new material, and to do that I had to do some really serious designing and planning.”
Keene’s most favorite terminal is the Pan Am Worldport and one of the reasons is that his first job out of college was with Pan American. To this day he remembers standing on the rooftop parking deck of the Worldport overlooking the ramp, watching the Pan Am 747s pulling in. “I remember the pilots waving as they parked the aircraft,” he said, “and the vast expanse of Kennedy Airport, and seeing all the international carriers pulling into the International Arrivals Building….just everything about it was really exciting. The building itself holds a lot of memories for me.”
When it comes to the diorama’s size, many people ask Keene about its dimensions. “It’s gotten bigger every time I build a new terminal. Right now, it’s about 18 feet square and if I were to add the runways and taxiways, it would be 10 times as big, so it gives you the sense of the mass and size of such an international airport.”
The experience of building the JFK Airport diorama has been a real journey for Keene. His diorama will be on display at the Newark Airline Collectible Show on September 10, 2022, located at the Holiday Inn Hotel at Newark International Airport. More information about the show may be found at www.newarkairlineshow.com
Some of the things that Keene hopes people will take away from his experience, particularly those who like him grew up in the 1970s, is that it will bring back memories of a time, a kind of innocent time, when commercial aviation was still new. He also hopes that it will encourage people who collect model aircraft to think outside the box, and that rather than keeping their models tucked away in a box, or on a glass shelf…to go out there and try their hand at building something where they could place them in a ‘real life’ situation…a habitat where they would have been. But what Keene also really wants is to inspire the next generation of young people out there to collect, to build, and perhaps, ultimately, to embrace the airline and aviation career that he loves so much.