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Building Model Airplanes

Posted by Mike Acerra on

At Lux Blox, we celebrate all kinds of builders, young and old, big and small.

Don Cahill grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1930’s. He is a former teacher, school superintendent, software creator, and author. Don has 10 children, 21 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. Below Don recalls the joy of building model airplanes.

creating a model airplane

My brother Jack was a year older than me and was probably the one who taught me about building model airplanes. And not just any model airplanes but flying models.  We would walk down Jamaica Ave some blocks to Tex Foster's shop which, as you entered, had finished models hanging from the ceiling. 

I don’t know if he sold anything else besides model kits and loose balsa wood strips and blocks, but it was where we would pick out our next projects in kit form.  Ten cents would get you a kit for a 12-inch wingspan plane. Cessna, Stinson-Reliant, Piper Cub, Focke-Wulff, Spirit of St. Louis, and others. We would make our buys and rush home to start the new project.

The kit contained: strips of balsa wood, a thin sheet of balsa with the outlines of necessary shapes for wing and fuselage, a propeller, long rubber band,  wire hooks to hold the rubber band at the back and to the prop, a vial of glue, a sheet of thin rice paper to cover the surfaces, and, of course, the plans. 

You were expected to supply your own straight pins to hold pieces to the plans while the glue dried, and a single-edge razor blade for cutting out the wing ribs and rounded tips of wings, rudder, and elevator, as well as the strips for forming the skeleton of the plane.

blue print for flying machine

I would feverishly go to our room and pin the plan to a flat piece of cardboard so I could push pins into it and set to work.  Next, I would cut out all the parts from the balsa sheet. Long balsa strips were pinned in place on the plan and connected with little dabs of glue. 

As each assembly was dried, I removed it from the plan. The fuselage (the body of the plane) required two sides to be constructed and then pieced together with cross pieces and rounded formers if called for. The wing was a single unit as were the rudder and elevator (the control surfaces).

partially built model kit

Gradually the whole skeleton grew into a unit lacework of balse which now required covering with the provided paper.  Piece by piece the paper was glued to the outside of the plane.  We would work for hours after school and sometimes even on the weekend until interrupted (“Dinner is ready.”; “Have you done your homework?”; “Time for bed!”) When it was all trimmed and lightly sanded,  water was gently brushed onto all the paper surfaces and allowed to dry, shrinking to a taut surface, provided no wrinkles had been allowed to form. Finally, after hours and days of delicate laboring, the plane was ready to try out. 

First the prop, now connected by a rubber band to a hook at the rear of the fuselage, had to be wound just the right number of times to tighten the band enough to make it whir for the few seconds required to make it actually fly!  But, first, you had to test its glide over a soft surface (a bed would do) and balance it with judicious weight fore or aft.  Then, the acid test: wind it up and launch it by hand.  Oh, the wonder of it as it wobbled through the air... the thrill ... the power... and frequently the awkward nalding which might snap a wing or rudder.  Back to the room to see what repairs were possible.

model plane advertisement

Of course, Tex Foster also sold 25 cent kits for models which had a wingspan of 2 feet or so.  These were sturdier and more likely to fly better and with less accident proneness.  But, we seldom could afford the upgrade. 

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Don Cahill

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Did you know that you can build planes with Lux Blox? Check out our Airplanes and Banshee Helicopters!

Airplanes art Flying innovative Model Kits

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