No, my love for fast cars has not prompted me to buy an airplane as this 1969 vintage advertisement would suggest; at least not a full scale one.
A number of years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts about my lifelong love for building scale models and how it has evolved over time. Now, even as a senior citizen, I still continue to model and after finishing two doll houses in the past year, my most recent endeavor, one of the most difficult models I have ever attempted, is a beautiful 1/8-scale 1949 Chris Craft Runabout with actual mahogany planking which I proudly display in our playroom.
Working on this boat model got me wishing back to the fun time I had as a teenager (now over 50 years ago) when I was building balsa wood model airplanes. My favorite one I built was a World War 1 Spad XIII.
In the 1970s, a popular technique was to build them for “U-control” with a small gas engine and thus I built my Spad.
For the un-initiated, in U-control you have a “U” shaped hand control with two wires running from either end of the U-control to the plane. Depending on whether you twisted your wrist upward or downward, it would cause the plane to go up or down. With the aid of an assistant for take-off, you stood at the center of your flight path and pivoted on your feet as the plane circled around you (and getting dizzier and dizzier until the fuel ran out).
At the time, I had never flown U-control and so was hesitant to learn with my new model knowing that my first mistake would mean sudden air disaster as I witnessed it go down in a blaze of splintered wood and tissue. I ultimately learned to fly on an all-plastic trainer model with wings rubber-banded to the fuselage which made it much more forgiving in the event of sudden encounters with the ground. But I never did fly that Spad model and to this day, I have no idea what happened to it (or for that matter, any of the models I built growing up). It is possible my mother sold them at a yard sale after I went off to college or tossed them all in the garbage.
A few weeks after finishing my Chris Craft boat, I was sitting in a chair reading when my mind began to wander back to the fun, I had building it. One of the building techniques required for the boat involved gluing a number of cut out pieces of wood to form the three-dimensional boat hull. This got me thinking what fun it would be to build another balsa wood model airplane like I did when I was a teenager.
Taking immediate action, I jumped up and began to search on the internet and after a few strikeouts, discovered a model shop in the US that did carry the kind of models I was looking for. In fact, they carried the exact same brand, Guillow’s, that I recalled my Spad being. I scrolled through their selection of many Piper and Cessna single engine planes and World War II fighter planes before I came across the World War I models. As I perused these models, I noticed that they did not have the original Spad that I had built. But then I came across one that seemed just right to me, a Sopwith Camel.
I had just seen a Sopwith Triplane at the Museum of Flight while in Seattle with my brother. And for those Charlie Brown fans out there, a Sopwith Camel was the imagined plane/doghouse that Snoopy flew to shoot down the “Bloody Red Baron” (which according to one historical version, was not Snoopy but Capt. Roy Brown piloting a Sopwith Camel who shot down the Baron).
It was without any hesitation that I pushed the purchase button for the $73 model, less than a third of the price of my boat model.
Of course, before I purchased it, I didn’t consider where I would display a model airplane with a 28” wingspan. Growing up I sometimes hung model airplanes I built from the ceiling in my bedroom. Now I lived in a house with a vaulted ceiling in the great room.
Wow, if I also bought the Fokker Triplane the Baron flew, I could hang them both from the ceiling to recreate that infamous dogfight. And with a balcony overlooking the great room, I could view the 1/12-scale aerial battle from below and above just like in a museum. I bet if I turned on the ceiling fan, the planes would even twist around on their suspended strings adding a realistic feature to my display. But somehow, I didn’t think that my wife would be agreeable to that. So, I’ll just have to figure out where to display the Sopwith Camel when I finish it.
When the kit arrived in the mail, I did not even have time to open the box until almost a month later. As I tore off the cellophane overwrap, I noticed that this company had been manufacturing wooden models since 1926. Taking off the box top, the first thing I saw was an “Important Notice” to the modeler.
Without trying to read the fine print on the insert, basically it said that the uses of their models had changed over the years and no longer were builders utilizing U-control but rather radio control. As a result, all of the pieces for U-Control were not included in the kit even though they might still be referred to in the directions. Well, I was not planning on incorporating that feature in my model anyway, so it was not an issue. My plan was to build a static display model, just like the boat I had just completed.
As I pulled the different parts out of the box, the little boy in me began to get excited about building it. My excitement was only slightly dampened when I noticed I would probably want to upgrade some of the kit pieces included, for instance substituting a real wood propeller for the thermoform two-piece plastic one and rubber landing gear for the wooden wheels. But I figured these should be readily available.
I closed the box back up realizing with the holidays practically upon us, that realistically it would probably not be until after the new year before I actually made any significant progress working on it. But what fun I knew awaited me.
Periodically throughout the year, I intend to provide updates to you on my aeronautical building progress so look for future airplane posts soaring your way in 2022!