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! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~