When I was a young boy (of single-digit age), I had an interest in airplanes. In support of this interest, my dad bought me a flying model airplane.
The plane was a red, white, and blue Cessna-style, single-engine, wing-on-top flyer – blue plastic fuselage, white styrofoam wings, and red trim work. Its wingspan was less than three feet and its speed was only barely faster than I could run underneath it, but it was a fantastic machine.
The propeller was battery powered, and its flight pattern was controlled by small disks you installed under the fuselage. As the plane flew, the inserted disk turned and would move the rudder in the chosen pattern. There were several of these disks to choose from, each supposedly giving a different flight path, but we only ever saw two distinct patterns in actual use: fly into building, and fly into road.
We’d take the plane to one of the local public parks – the only park with a wide open field – and let the plane go. My dad tended the motor, made sure all flight controls were working, and we put in the flight disk together. Then we’d turn it on, and my dad would launch it with a smooth over-handed toss.
My brother and I would run around the park field, under the plane, chasing its flight path. It soared about 10-20 feet above the ground – high enough to look like a real plane (to 5-9 year olds) and low enough to look like we could almost reach up and touch it. The plane would fly for a couple of minutes, making turns as the attached disk dictated, and then, inevitably, the flight would end with the plane flying smack into the side of the big park building. It would crash into the brick wall and then fall to crash into the ground at the bottom of the wall.
Every time it did this, it sounded and looked like it would be the end of its flying days – the fuselage would crack, the wings would pop off the top, and the prop would bend. But my dad managed to put it all back together, and he kept it running for a long time.
If the plane didn’t fly into the building, it would fly out of the park and land in the main street – four lanes plus a center turning lane. Fortunately, it was a small town, and we weren’t flying during rush hour, so the road wasn’t all that busy. We would watch for cars and then either I or Dad would run out, pick up the errant plane, and run back into the park. Surprisingly, I don’t think the plane was ever run over.
All the times we flew that plane, I don’t remember it landing safely in the field a single time. I remember many building collisions, a few street landings, and a couple times it came down in the tennis courts or among the playground equipment. But I didn’t consider these flight endings anything but totally exciting. Landing safely in the field would have been boring – we got daredevil crashes.
That plane lasted a surprisingly long time considering all its calamitous flight paths. Those experiences sit in a hallowed shelf of my memory. Thinking back on this, now, I’d love to get something like it for my boys to see and play with today. If you know anything about these kinds of planes, let me know. I’m going to look them up and see what’s being sold nowadays.
But, that plane did eventually stop working. After a little while without a flying model, my dad bought another, different style plane. To be continued.