Mission Control - The Launch
"Wow dude! You sure have quite the collection of airplane plans rat holed here."
"Yeah, I have a few."
"A few? Are you kidding me? What don't you have here? You couldn't possibly build all of these."
"Yes, you're right, I don't think I can build them all, but there's one I wish I had right now though. I think I tossed it out by accident with a bunch of old magazines. I haven't been able to find another one anywhere."
"You actually want another plan? Okay, I'll bite, what plan is that?"
"It's called the Turn-A-Cat. The Turn-A-Cat is (was?) a .60 sized turnaround pattern aircraft based loosely on another airplane called the Pole Cat."
"Hey, I know the Pole Cat! Sounds like it's an interesting ship - and you say you can't find another plan for the Turn-A-Cat anywhere?"
"That's right. As far as I know, nobody sells it anymore so I can't buy it, and it's not available for download either. But I'm not worried. I'll just wait for a Guardian. I'm sure the plan will turn up sooner or later."
"Huh? A Guardian?"
"Yes, I'll wait on a Guardian. A Guardian of the Planaxy."
A fictional conversation? Yes. Okay. I admit it. It is. Then again, perhaps you've participated in a conversation similar to the one above. In all likelihood, if you build from plans, you have. Indeed, it's disappointing and frustrating to have a sought-after drawing seemingly disappear from the face of the earth.
The question then is - what's being done to prevent model plans from disappearing forever? To answer the question, those who build from plans must first roll up their well scrutinized plan from the floor and straighten out those cracking knees. Next, we'll dispense with the engineering and construction dilemmas and view our plans from a different perspective.
Try to strike up a conversion with anyone pertaining to a random historical subject or event and chances are your audience will quickly tell you they're going to be late for a dentist appointment.
"Sorry, gotta jet! I've been looking forward to the huge needle the Doc uses to stab me in the mouth with. Gotta numb up the jaw for my root canal, ya know? Buh ... bye!"
Many people will also tell you they loathe studying history and find it incredibly boring. History to them is nothing but a tangled mess of names, dates, and places. Far less complicated than The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, model aviation has a rich history too, with names, places, and dates just like ancient Rome. But not to worry here, we're going to skip all the macro details and consider something easier than reading Roman history or two paragraphs written by Soren Kierkegaard.
Undoubtedly, the easiest way to examine model aviation's history is by using the written record contained in aircraft plans.
Scale aircraft designs aside, if one examines a typical sport model plan from 1942, and then compares it to a plan drawn in 1995, even Big Bird can see one doesn't look like the other. Besides just being different aircraft, the design differences constitute and illustrate a clear design philosophy. These aircraft were designed with a specific purpose that's worthy of historical note (and perhaps the subject of another article). And unlike bad poetry, model aviation has a design history worth preserving.
Why is model aircraft design history worth preserving? To start with, The Academy of Model Aeronautics considers the preservation of modeling history so important they have a museum dedicated to the subject, so some people seem to think it's important. Museum aside, here are a few reasons for preservation.
First, model aircraft are not toys. They are actual flying machines that operate and fly based upon the same scientific principles of physics as a Boeing 747. Models also serve as a test bed for the development and design of full-size aircraft, which makes them seriously important to research.
Second, aircraft plans and their ardent study serve as a foundation for the design of new model aircraft. Why experiment with a design that has the potential to fly like a brick when you don't have to? Build on existing designs. Chances are if it's a printed plan, it probably flies pretty well.
And lastly, good aircraft designs don't appear by waving Harry Potter's crooked, skinny, anemic wand. They are the product of someone's ardent study of scientific principles, empirical testing (sometimes one has to crash a few to get it right), and just plain old hard work, which makes them worth preserving. Perhaps more importantly, many are also the result of deeply personal stories and fond memories worth keeping.
The Guardians: Keeping the Planaxy in Balance
Guardians do not belong to an official sanctioned institution. If Guardians were an official institution, no superpowers are needed. Members don't have to reside on another planet or be a highly genetically modified raccoon. All that's needed are individuals who collect and save airplane plans. They are the Guardians of the Planaxy; the sentinels of model aircraft history.
Besides the individual Guardians, there are other types of important Guardians worth noting who help maintain the balance of the Planaxy. Their mission is to help supply individual Guardians with a constant supply of plans.
Institutional Institutional Guardians, such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics, maintain a repository of hundreds of airplane plans for sale to anyone who wishes to purchase them from their website catalog. This would also include other countries with sanctioning bodies who also maintain plans for sale.
Business This category consists of those who are still drawing plans today as a way to supplement their income or earn their living in the model industry. Many are independent designers, kit manufacturers, and companies that produce vintage kits or new designs. Some of the few surviving printed R/C magazines also maintain a plan catalog with plans available for purchase as well.
Internet This has been without a doubt, the most easily accessed, fastest growing platform to obtain long out-of-print aircraft plans for free, instant, worldwide download. Many of the plans appeared in now-defunct magazines or were included in kits. The work involved in maintaining the plan websites with updates, user comments, and pictures is truly monumental. These webmasters are Guardians of the highest order. They have helped save thousands of plans from history's trash can and allowed others to preserve hundreds of plans stored on a small stick drive. Notably too, are the Guardians who participate in R/C forums. They've posted many long out of print plans that are readily available for download.
Back To Earth: Debriefing
This debriefing will be easy. No long boring forms or excessive paperwork either.
In searching for the mythical lost Robert Johnson song as portrayed in the movie Crossroads, for something to be "lost" one must determine if it ever existed in the first place! Does anyone lose sleep over the "lost" stylish, circa 1966 dress pattern from the old Simplicity dress pattern portfolio? Perhaps someone does, and that's okay. But I have little concern over a dress pattern that may, or may not have existed.
On the other hand, does it really matter if the Buzzard Bombshell or the original Kaos plan is "lost" forever? Yes it does - because we know both plans exist.
You see, it matters because plans are more than mere black lines on a piece of paper.
Plans are history that invites one to create. To build. To study, think, and solve engineering problems. The lines are transformed into a three dimensional object that flies, allowing one to experience, capture the magic, majesty, beauty, and wonder of flight.
Guardians of the Planaxy already know this. It's why they do what they do - and then pass the magic on to others.
Mission Control Out
John W. Blosssick
Tail Slide Haven