The Joy of Aeromodelling


I didn't know much about model airplanes before I started helping Steve with Outerzone 18 months ago. I still don't know much about model airplanes, but like to think I've learned a little since then.

So - I can tell a biplane from a monoplane, a twin prop from ... well, the other kind, and I know the difference between a scale model and ... those designs people just make up from their heads.

Hmm, this may not be as impressive a display of technical knowledge as I'd hoped.

EC Boehm holding his dad's Lil Esquire, 1967

I'm better with people than planes. I like the comments you send in, your photos of lovingly scratch-built models - and I actually know what that means now! I especially enjoy reading the stories behind the pictures.

I have a particular soft spot for vintage photos, the slightly faded, sometimes creased images from years ago. If they show a person alongside the plane, that's even better.

The elusive Shadow, with his Olympic II, 1980

These photos are often technically imperfect - a bit blurry, or awkwardly cropped. This is part of their appeal for me. The flaws are very human and these images have a genuine warmth that's hard to recreate in a digitally perfect world.

For me, the older photos don't just show what the model looks like, they also provoke an emotional response. They evoke a feeling about the model and the person who built and flew it.

Pit the younger, with his father's Musciano Heinkel 51, 1965/66

Just take a look at Jesus Abellan's father launching his Stately Sadie.

Or Dave Fritzke's dad, Bud, flying the Kyosho Papillon.

Or Sundancer's Vedette zipping along above the snowy Derbyshire hills.

Or ... there are so many, I can only squeeze in a few here, but I hope you get the picture. Literally :)

Jesus Abellan's father, launching the Stately Sadie with power and passion, 1961

I'm also a sucker for the colours, fashions and facial expressions of earlier times. Grainy black and white or saturated '70s tones. Carefully combed and pomaded hair, skinny legs in flared jeans, a natty hat and pipe, gap-toothed grins or serious 'photo-face', the odd bow tie.

They all contribute to the aesthetic that I find so pleasing. I can't express how much I love these pictures, how they make me smile. Generations of modellers, happy doing their thing.

Dave Fritzke's dad, Bud, possibly the coolest man in aeromodelling, flying the Papillon, c. 1981

We've got pictures of your parents, children, wives and siblings. And of course we have you as fresh-faced youngsters, facing the world with a smile and your plane.

When these pictures are taken out of their album or shoebox, dusted off and shared with Outerzone, they get a new lease of life. They are seen with fresh eyes for the first time by a new audience.

Sundancer AKA George Stringwell, sporting a natty bobble hat, with one of his own designs, the Vedette, 1977

Perhaps fancifully, I think of them as a type of time travel. They transport me to another time and place, where it's always sunny, the model is newly finished, still smells of dope, and you're just getting ready to fly.

Raphael Vilardi and two friends proudly show off their Super Firebrand, May 1962

You probably think this is all a bit daft, that I'm over-romanticising a few faded old photos. Maybe so. But it's through your vintage 'more pics' that I've learned the most important lesson over the past year: I've learned to appreciate the joy of aeromodelling.

Bernhard Dittmann (and family), with a Weihe 50 that's bigger than he is, 1963

User comments

Agree with your view. I love the older stories ... not that many books, sadly. A great read from a clubmate from my past ..."Tales from an Ancient Modeler". Adventures in transporting giant free flight models on overpacked NY subway and bus service ... to the early days of RC with its gimmicks and gadgets that annoyed models to turns and various akro's. Thanks for sharing the fun of aero modeling!
rtc - 21/03/2017
I think Mary's piece raises a really good point, (which definitely strikes a chord with me). Aero modelling has a history too. I've always loved full-sized aircraft and the stories that surround them, but by and large the stories are other people's stories who have often lived through a period (that mercifully most of us haven't had to). I'm never likely to be a skilled aero engineer or to know what it's like to fly a Spitfire or to be responsible for navigating across the oceans, but these stories from those that have are fascinating precisely because of that. I do know however just how much fun it is to have an idea and then to make a unique flying machine and see how the art, the building and the fun of flying it pans out! String a few experiences of this together over the years and the models and the characters that you have shared the interest with become history too - and now thanks to the chance of obtaining plans for pretty much everything old and new, the opportunities are almost limitless. Throw in affordable technology too and we're all winners. What a great hobby - there's something for everyone :)
MartinAppleby - 22/03/2017
Hi Mary, thanks for your Viewpoint article. It's a demonstration how modelling has different aspects depending on the viewer's eye. Ciao,
Pit - 23/03/2017
This affliction, named model aviation, seems to infect primarily the male of our species, usually at a young age. I don't pretend to know the reason why. When a group of young boys plays outdoors one will invariably be looking up at the sky. His interest may be a passing bird, an aircraft or just a cloud. He will be your future aviation modeler! You have new insight on what drives us when we lock ourselves away in our work places for hours on end. We aren't hiding from you! We turn the flat, two dimensional plan into a three dimensional object that can soar into those clouds and fly with those birds. I bet you never imagined the power in the thousands of plans coming to your inbox? When our creations are complete the ultimate test awaits. Will it fly? After a forty year hiatus from modeling, termed life happening, I find modeling still holds the old thrill. The fingers and eyes don't quite work the same and the models take a bit longer to create but when they are done I am still that young kid again.
theshadow - 25/03/2017
Mary, with that gentle, loving, perceptive column, you've captured our hearts forevermore. You've hit the nail on the head on the very first try. We all love you now - every one of us, all of us who stop by Outerzone from time to time, to build or just to dream.
MarkM - 02/11/2017
Hi Mary, you have garnered a few very astute observations about aeromodelling in such a short time. One thing that I have found at international competitions is that nobody cares about the colour of your skin, your race or religion as at the end of the day everybody congratulates the winners, commiserates with the unlucky ones and at such times I have realised that aeromodellers are the same the world over. No politics, no bs, just a bunch of people having fun, exchanging ideas and getting along. So should all politicians become aeromodellers or should all aeromodellers become politicians? Sure could solve a lot of problems!
DannyM - 07/02/2018
Hello to all of the thanks for the good old days and todays and tomorrows great times. Photos as a time machine a bit of history to be experienced again. I can build things now that l only dreamed of as a kid in the good old days. I love the feeling still, of seeing something l put together flying about. There is just something about hanging out here at the outerzone continuing to dream. I come here a lot. Thanks to all of you involved with creating and maintaining this space.
gs - 18/08/2023
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