How did I find my way into this mess you ask? Well, I'll tell you, but I'll need to start at the beginning (people tell me it takes me a while to get to the point, and I'll make no exception here). My earliest modeling memory was around the age of 4 or 5. My oldest brother was building a big (probably 1/48th scale) plastic P-40 Warhawk (it looked really big back then). He let me have the pilot to play with, since he didn't like putting pilots in his planes. Around this same time, I remember my Dad taking me out to Fox Airfield. He lifted me and sat me down on the leading edge of the TF-102 that, last time I checked, was still sitting out there, however surrounded by chain-link fence now. These actions, plus seeing lots of planes in the Antelope Valley skies and hearing sonic booms often, sparked a lifelong (so far) interest in aviation.
Another early memory was of my two brothers flying control-line planes in the college parking lot. I remember a P-61 Black Widow they had with two little .049's that screamed together. On one flight something unknown happened and the plane went right into the blacktop, splintering into a gazillion little ant-size plastic pieces. It was pretty spectacular to a little boy, but my brothers weren't smiling.
As I became an older kid (no, not now, I mean many years ago) I began building plastic model planes myself. I remember saving a dollar at a time and walking to Peterson's Hobbies (now Smith Brothers) to buy a little plane kit, which in those days you could get for one dollar.
After building perhaps a hundred or so of those and hanging them in my room such that you could barely see the ceiling, I was exposed to radio-control planes. At about the age of 9 or 10 a guy from church took me and my friend out to the lakebed to see him fly his plane. It was just him and us, no resemblance of any kind of club, and he made several flights with loops and rolls to our amazement. My friend really got hot for it, and suggested we start a lawn-mowing business to earn enough money to get a plane together. But the sport of RC planes was shrouded with the word "expensive". My practicality sunk in as I told him that it would be a lot of lawns to mow, and by the time we were done we would be adults with jobs and would be flying models anyway. So I kept building plastic models and learning about different kinds of planes and why they were shaped the way they were. Back then it was exciting to see a plane out of history that I'd never seen before (not like today when I say "Oh yeah, that one.")
Shortly after that experience my friend and I found our way into model rockets, something that we could more easily afford. Through all our rocket launchings in the desert we even began learning a little about aerodynamics (ignite the fuel and the rocket goes up, fuel runs out and the rocket comes down). Not wanting to keep this rocket excitement to ourselves, we found a guy that formed an informal rocketry club with other kids in the Valley. Every-other weekend or so we would go out to 30th Street West and Avenue P (when it was a large open field) and fly rockets. On the other side of the street were the RC plane guys, and we would often joke about shooting their planes down with our rockets. Occasionally we would wander over and have a look at these expensive models, but found the bunch to be generally unfriendly ("Get out of my way kid! Can't you see I'm trying to fly here!"). We had never heard of buddy-boxes or any kind of flight training, we just thought it was something that people either picked up, or picked up the pieces.
As a teenager I had saved enough money to begin dabbling in the RC sport. I ordered an ARF out of the J.C. Penny catalog, which was much cheaper than the expensive stuff in the hobby stores. And this one even came with the engine and radio! When the chunk of foam arrived I followed all the instructions to the letter, but the Enya .19 engine didn't want to run very well. After going through all the troubleshooting lists to no avail, I desperately called the local hobby store, explained the situation, and asked if there was anyone that could help me out. The man I talked to seemed bothered, and offered no direction of any kind.
Shortly thereafter I discovered there was a group of people who regularly flew planes in a local club. After learning the cost to join and get flight instruction, I decided that if I wanted to do this I'd have to figure it out on my own (I had already spent all my money on the plane, and had no more for a club membership). So the plane was stuffed in a closet somewhere and a few more years went by as my interest was drawn toward other things (girls, cars, etc.).
Well, one day after I had married the girl and had the car, I discovered my Brother-in-Law bought a "Piece-O-Cake" powered glider and started teaching himself how to fly it. I remembered I had a plane somewhere, I eventually located it and asked for help with the engine. My Brother-in-Law, a professional auto mechanic, couldn't get the &$!@%*%# engine to run well either (which was encouraging, since I reasoned that it wasn't my inept ability to get it running, it was just a &$!@%*%# engine).
After the Piece-O-Cake crashed into power poles too many times, we decided to get really adventurous and go to the south end of Rosamond Dry Lake. Here we flew my plane anyway, despite the poor-running engine, and after several flights (if you can call them that) the plane became messed up beyond all repair. The Piece-O-Cake however, flew much more slowly and gently that even I was handed the transmitter on occasion to make a landing. After more and more landings (in between being run off the lakebed by the MP's), it actually got fairly easy to land the plane with no damage.
Later I saw a flyer on the wall in the local hobby store about some kind of night fly event. It was a different club than the one I found before. So the date came and I went out to have a look. There were a few planes in the air with lights, but what was really getting attention were the hell-raisers in the back of a truck mouthing off and throwing beer cans. If this is what this club is about, I thought to myself, it's not for me! I don't know if they were club members or not, but first impressions are important, and that sight kept me away from a club for several more years.
In the years following I built my first plane, a Sig Kadet Senior, from plans I borrowed from my Brother-in-Law. It was enough money to buy all the wood and Monokote, and CA glue was expensive, so the entire plane was built with wood glue. Tipping the scale at seven pounds, and powered by the only engine I acquired, an OS .40 FP, the plane flew well at full power, but at anything less it was going to land. By now all my flying was being accomplished at the slab at Avenue B and Sierra Highway, and eventually I got good enough to land the plane without breaking the prop or bending the nose gear so far back that it broke through the fuselage.
At this point I gained enough confidence to design my own plane as my second plane. I figured it wouldn't be too difficult, just use similar measurements from the Kadet. But I wanted a sportier look, so I made it a low wing, and changed this, and changed that . . . . . . . Remembering how underpowered the Kadet was on the .40, I made this plane as light in weight as I could. It actually flew, but each flight was near-disaster. After several near-disasters this plane also became messed-up beyond all repair. Undaunted, I had ideas for more designs, and over several more years was able to build enough planes to get some real experience at both building and flying.
Being excited about my new-found confidence that took years of trial and error to gain, I tried the local club again that hosted the night fly event (membership cost was much lower than others, and who could beat that great dry lake runway?). The members were generally friendly and answered all my questions, and all signs of the hell-raisers were gone. As I met more people in the club, I found everyone to be helpful and friendly. They even had a system for flight training called "buddy-box".
A bit later I discovered electric planes. The benefits seemed great over glow fuel! So I began dabbling with it, and my fourth try at it was a success (the plane was even named "Fourth Try"). I liked what I saw, and got more and more into electrics. Sadly, I was the only electric flyer in the club for quite a while, and no one understood me anymore. At this point I parted company.
So there you have it - although it took a while to get here! With over 200 planes built and flown, I have a lot more experience. And believe it or not, I still have more ideas for cool planes . . . . . .