Bugaboo - Aeromodelling as an Art Project


25 years ago, I designed the Bugaboo.

The Bugaboo was two things for me: a model airplane as is known, and an art project as will be known after reading all this.

I myself started aeromodelling in 1971. I had many hobbies but this would be one that took quite a chunk of my time since it's so versatile. It consists of so many interconnecting experiences: a craft to work with wood and paper, an outdoor event when flying what you have built, the whole concept of imagining how what you see on paper will in the end be real, and fly.

In the mid 70s I had a friend who was an old-time model airplane builder, had started in the 1930s. Later he flew Wakefields in the late 40s and 50s. We became good friends in the 70s and he shared all he knew and he liked model aeroplane history, as I did. I was never into radio control much in those days, free flight was it for me with gliders, rubber power and engine power. I did build the odd RC job once in a while but did not do much with those in the 1970s.

In 1990 I picked up aeromodelling again, having spent years in the 1980s on other themes that can make up a life. In May 1992 I decided to design a free flight model, first of all for my own use. It would look like some British mid-30s designs. At the time it took only a few sketches and a day's building to finish the Bugaboo. The weather forecast had been good, a few days ahead it would change from cold wet to warm summer weather, so I aimed for that, and it worked: I was flying it all weekend - had started drawing Thursday afternoon before.

Retro model airplane flight. Bugaboo 30s drawing.

The design of the Bugaboo [see oz714] was so that you take a look at the plan and the whole construction can be seen as how to do it without problem. I knew many models did not get built because some complex structure seen on the plan makes the builder opt for another design. The idea was take one look and you see no problem anywhere. Yes, it looks like a more complex build when it's done.

I flew a lot that year. I made a trip by car around eastern Europe and took the Bugaboo along to fly in all the nice places I saw there. Finishing in England at Old Warden vintage weekend to meet friends in September 92.

The Bugaboo was to be published, but I had too much to do so it took a while to see how I wanted it to turn out. It would be an art project for me. I had done them on other themes earlier, why not on model airplane as well? This was the idea: I have this Bugaboo and my flying experiences and fun with it, this is condensed into a magazine article with text photos and the plan to build from. The builder would recreate the Bugaboo, and experience the flying himself, making the shared art a reality again. The fun you have from doing that. It's good at low flying at eye-level in slow circles and doing take-offs and landings and a few more things. The idea was also that the builder would adapt the design to their own requirements - which they did a lot.

Bugaboo plan

Since the whole thing was an holistic idea, the photos taken for the magazine were real, not posed. I actually flew that Bugaboo. I also went to wear 1970s design clothes, shirt in orange, funny 70s neck tie and light yellow trousers. I still love 1970s design, by now I have been interested in the 1970s 3 x longer than they actually lasted at the time! Yes the Bugaboo is a shared experience, easy to do and easy to share. Share the fun, that's what it's all about.

Well I have designed more model airplanes but they were just model airplanes and not projects, so nothing much came of them. Years passed, now it's 25 years later already. How did that happen?, I wonder at times. Many model airplanes were built, many friends grew old and passed on, I lost most free flight fields I had.

I went into new things like vintage radio, built a Boddo Sky Rider way back in 2001 with an old 40 glow engine. RC was new for me but I took to it as I had the 1970s, from those days. Yes, electric brushless RC is interesting, did lots of those too. They have good applications but unpredictability is a complication that enhances the whole experience when it happens in a nice way, or on the edge of one.

Bugaboo. 30s-style plane, 70s-style outfit. Photo 1992

I rarely try to iron all imperfections out, as they can be part of the fun and experience: the smell of glow fuel, will the engine stay running all the time? The engine starting makes it so much more of a machine that I am working on, to get it into the air. It has a life of its own you could say. Noise, oil, smoke, glow plugs to be used. All the impracticabilities that make it so much more exciting - yes all these you will find even more in free flight! But you need fields to fly those and I was forced to change by loss of flying sites and learned to embrace it.

For work that I did, I have been involved in promoting analog photography which became such a trend a few years ago. Those in their twenties wanted softer images, less sharpness and saw a feel to it all they did not see in digital. Even this I found I now combine with the model airplane hobby, making photos that look like they have been made perhaps 40 years ago. Life is somehow an endless dream of infinite creative possibilities.

In 1995 I even took an old 1930s camera with me to India to shoot old-looking photos of my model air planes there. India had that old setting all over it at the time. Digital photography was almost unknown back then. These days I find myself going to southern France and fly there, a dream I had and pursued in the 1970s and expand on now.

Bugaboo in India, 1995

What will my future aeromodelling bring? Past years I also did a few nostalgic things, building small Veron or Keil Kraft kits again as I had done 40 years ago and fly them again, not being bothered by them being perhaps beginners kids stuff, but more getting in that amazing energy of youth and endless possibilities ahead. I did so much serious modelling before, from hardcore spruce and ply original vintage to Wakefields, anything goes now.

All is fun - 'vintage' is gone for me, it's all just model aeroplanes. The only criteria is, do I like it? Now all I do is now, does it matter what others do or how old things are? No, I do what I like and do it now. Lots of creative fantasies or creations that can become real - how about drawing up an airplane kit that never was, draw the plan as a Veron kit plan, just in that way that makes them feel so good but than let it be a Veron kit that never was but has that feel all over it.

Keil Kraft Super 60 in the South of France, built from Outerzone plan

I also find that over the years I've taken more and more liberty to change designs others did, and build them as I like better for some or other reason. Why not? More freedom is better as is more fun, a thing lots of builders do as can be seen on the web - anything goes as long as I like it. I even have a few foam ready-mades. Share the happy like energy, not rules of what to like in anyone's view.

Such was the basis feel for the Bugaboo project: do what makes you happy, it's easy. I no longer make art related to model airplanes or all other I did. There might be those that say that's art, but why use that word? The mere classification minimizes the experience, I found. A human being can do anything - an artist sure makes art but what else, and why separate anything? There is just what I like. I am sure this goes for many or perhaps even everyone. How am I to know that or what does it matter? This story has a contradiction in it perhaps, but that's words and writing. The reality is what I do and when I do it.

Joost J Bakker, 2017

Keil Kraft Super 60 flying in the South of France

User comments

I still have my bugaboo in the cupboard and love the whole idea, Joost I really like what's written in your comments and totally agree I did once make a keelkraft ladybird and she flew beautifully but took a long time to make. some of my happiest memories are the bugaboo in a field on my own taking off from grass etc. Man oh' man.
Stuart Trower - 14/08/2023
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