MODEL AIRPLANES

THE ORIGINAL WRIGHT FLYER

Model planes are my hobby,  my go-to for rest and relaxation.  They always have been, and it appear that they always will be.  Some men play golf, some hunt, some fish (as my Dad), and some (as my e-mail pal in South Carolina), do marathons.  That’s too much like WORK for me!)

My first airplane model was made of card-stock, and I made a huge mess of it in my attempts to assemble it.  But in my defense, I was only 4 or 5 at the time!  I’ve improved with age.  My favorite type model planes are scale model, rubber band powered, free-flight, tissue covered.  But, I’ve also built my fair share of plastic models, and radio control aircraft, both electric and gas powered.  The largest model I ever constructed is the subject of this story.

The year was 1969.  I’d recently met Carol, soon to be my wife.  I was working for Jitney-Jungle, in the graphics/advertising department on Mill Street.  Somehow, I also maintained a busy after-work schedule of activities. I was the vice president of my Civilian Club, an adult volunteer for Junior Achievement, and almost a full year earlier, I’d volunteered to help with the upcoming Mississippi Art Festival, Children’s Division, as set designer and one of the builders.  

As our venue, our small group of volunteers had one of the livestock buildings at the fairgrounds.  That year, the theme was American History.  We began this walk-through, interactive history lesson, with the American Indians meeting the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock… and ending with Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.  I build the walk-through lunar module in the carport of my home.  

This festival gave me the opportunity to build by far my largest model airplane… the WRIGHT FLYER!  I’d wanted to build it actual size, but the livestock arena presented space limitations.  I had to settle for a Wright Flyer modeled at 90% scale.  This made it 36 feet, 3 inches from wing tip to wing tip!  Now thats a big model airplane by anyone’s standards! 

This model was not built with balsa wood, but with pine.  It was not covered with linen, but with butcher paper.  The engine was not cast iron, but cardboard.  However, viewed from when it hung from the ceiling of that livestock building, it looked very close to the real McCoy!  My one big concession was… that I didn’t cover the top side of the wings, as that was actually unnecessary.  The top couldn’t be seen from below.

In order to spend more time with my future wife, some of the construction was done on her Mom’s kitchen table.  I assembled all of the wing ribs there.  The actual wing assembly had to be done in a larger area… as they were over 36 feet from tip to tip!  I had access to not one but two warehouses where I could work.  Of course, the final assemble, such as attaching the wings to the ‘fuselage,’ and adding the wing struts and the top wing had to be done ON SITE… as this thing was far too large and too fragile to risk transporting on city streets, even in the dead of night.

I added a 4-point bridle to hang it,  from points on each wing, nose and tail.  I must have done a good job of calculating/estimating the center of gravity, for when we hoisted her off the ground in that livestock building… she hung straight and level!

I know that pride is a horrible vice, but I just couldn’t help myself.  I was proud of that model airplane! 

The Art’s Festival lasted a full week.  And the Flyer never once had to abort its overhead flight!  As the festival neared its end, we were approached by the Civil Air Patrol… they wanted the Flyer!

Now I had my insane idea of what I wanted to do with it also.  And what I wanted to do might have become by ‘famous last wish.’  I foolishly figured that I could put the Flyer on a dolly, and after the Fairground’s Midway had been cleared away… climb aboard the Flyer… and have someone tow me down the midway until I lifted into the air!  Looking back, discretion really is the better part of valor.  I bowed to the request of the Civil Air Patrol… and they hauled it away.  I never saw it again, but… I did live to tell the above story!

I’m not sure what the CAP did with it.  They must not have similar plans such as I had.  I never read in the paper nor saw on TV that some fool Civil Air Patrol Cadet was splatter all over Mother Earth when attempting to fly a flimsy home-made version of the original Wright Brother’s airplane. 

Happy Flying!   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  

My First Airplane Flight

THE SUPER CONNIE

     My first airplane flight almost wasn’t.  Let me explain.

     I’ve always liked airplanes, models as well as the real things.  My first model was given to me by an older first cousin, years before I was capable of building it.  And, during the 40s and 50s our home in ‘Doodleville’ of south Jackson, MS was right on the landing pattern of Delta and Southern airlines flying into Hawkins Field. 

     Two weeks after graduating from Mississippi College in 1963, I was sworn into the 172nd Military Airlift Group of the Mississippi Air National Guard… and immediately shipped off to basic training at Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, Texas.  That trip was to be the very first airplane flight in my life… the flight that almost wasn’t.

     At that time the 172nd was flying the aircraft in the photo… the Lockheed Super Connie, the military version of the highly successful Super Constellation commercial airliner.

    I was really looking forward to that first flight.  It seems strange now, for someone who’d always loved all things flying, that this was to be my very first flight – at age twenty-two!  But that was how it happened.  And now, that exciting time had finally come! 

    One by one, the four powerful engines roared to life, and the whole airframe shook like a living being.  I’m sure I must have been grinning from ear to ear.  After a brief engine warm-up, we taxied out to the end of the runway.  Soon… we’d be airborne!

    The engines roared to full power and the plane lunged forward.  We slowly gathered speed, and within seconds we were really streaking.  Then suddenly, all four engines throttled back, the brakes began squealing, and we came to a squealing stop near the end of the runway.  The engines were shut down.  A few moments later the pilot walked back through the cabin explaining that ‘we’d had a slight problem.’  I didn’t consider not being able to takeoff as ‘a slight problem.’

    Soon, a truck came along side, and a couple of mechanics set up a ladder next to an engine on the right side.  They removed a few panels to expose the ‘problem’ motor, and began ‘tinkering.’  After about twenty minutes, they put the panels back in place, climbed down the ladder and had a pow-pow with the flight crew beneath the engine.  A few minutes later the mechanics drove off.  Our crew came back aboard and announced that were were going to ‘try it again.’  That was the exact words!

    Once again, the engines roared to life, we turned around, and taxied back to where we’d started… and, as the pilot said, we ‘tried it again.’

    This time, our take-off was a complete success.  After a quick climb out, we turned and headed toward Texas.  I was on my very first airplane ride!

    But that was not the end of the story.  The ride to Texas was somewhat bumpy… actually, it was much like a roller-coaster ride on a very old and rickety roller-coaster!  I was totally embarrassed when I became air-sick!  How dare myself!  I, the lover of airplanes, was air-sick!  How mortifying!  It was all that I could do to keep the contents of my stomach down.  When we landed at Lackland I was probably the only one on the base to be GLAD and THANKFUL to be down on the ground so that I could begin basic training!

    But that’s not the end of the ‘Bill got air-sick on his first flight’ story.

    My time in Texas included about a month and a half of basic training in San Antonio, and then on to technical school in Wichita Falls which lasted until the second week of December.  A holiday fell about the mid point of that time which effectively gave us three days ‘off,’ Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  We were allowed to travel only a hundred miles, which was great for those from Texas… but to Mississippi was much farther.  Taking a HUGE chance, I booked a flight HOME anyway.  (Technically, I was AWOL!

    My second flight would be with Delta Airlines.  And this time, I firmly RESOLVED that I would NOT get air-sick.  I willed myself not to.  And, to prove to myself that I would not… I tempted fate! This was in the mid 1960s, before the days of airline peanuts.  Back in those day, hot MEALS of REAL FOOD was served.  We also had a SELECTION!  So I chose FRIED FISH… and selected MILK as my drink!  And yes, I ate it all!  And no, I didn’t get sick!  Also… I’ve never gotten air-sick again!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~      

WHY AM I SO NUTS OVER AIRPLANES?

Bill Murphy  ~  October 2020

The simple answer is that we were raise together.  

Our home in south Jackson, Mississippi was three miles from Hawkins Field, the home to Jackson’s Municipal Airport and the US Army Airforce’s ‘temporary’ AAF Base.  The landing pattern for Delta and Southern Airlines DC-3s was directly over our home.

I was born in early 1941, so my formative years were those hectic and heady days of WWII.  Dutch flyers of the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School were trained there, so the skies over our home witnesses a steady stream of both military and civilian aircraft… mostly all in low-level flight.

An older first cousin lived next door, and when he shipped off to basic training and then to Europe, he left in my ‘safe keeping’ a Comet stick and tissue model that he’d begun.  He promised to complete the model when he returned from the war.  Yes, he survived and returned home safely… but the poor model hadn’t survived my constant ‘viewing.’

The first model that I can remember was a paper model, purchased from a local five and dime.  As for toy planes, it seems that during the war every fighter was a P-40, and every bomber was an A-20 or similar to it.  And yes, I also had a metal pedal-plane.  As you can see from the photo, it too was very P-40ish.  I remember it as being red.  Strange.

One of my favorite plastic toys later on after the war was an early jet fighter… an F-84 Thunderjet made into a water pistol!  It fired (un-scale-like) through the nose.  It was great fun to strafe ants and spiders and the little girls down the street.

My first balsa model was a 10c solid model kit.  I quickly learned the do’s and don’ts of cutting balsa with a razor blade when I sliced through my bluejeans and into my leg.  One’s thigh does not serve well as a cutting board!

Aurora began producing plastic kits in the mid 50s.  One that I remember distinctly was their FW-190.  The year that kit came out, I received no less than THREE of them for my birthday, from different relatives.  Oh well.

I build plastic kits, although in my later years I’ve had to forgo 1/72nd scale due to my older eyes.  I build balsa models, stick and tissue, rubber and small gas/electric power.  I much prefer scale, golden age civilian, WWII, a few WWI types, oh, and the earlier jets.  For many years I’ve downloaded plans from the internet, well sorted and all on a bag full of flash-drives.  If I built a model from those plans every minute, beginning from my birth, I’d still be building!  We won’t talk about my library!  Oh yeah, I like boats and trains too!