The photo below is of two bomber models. Which one is best? The one in the background (letter A on tail) is a B-17, of World War II fame, built from a modern kit. As an engineer, I marvel at the accuracy and detail of the various molded pieces that the modern model maker cements together. I didn’t check to see if the small figures of crew members have fingernails or not, but I would not be surprised if they did. And such models go together beautifully, requiring little skill, except for keeping the paint and cement where it should be. My grandchildren were putting such things together when they were eight or nine years old, until their house ran out of available ceiling space to hang them on.
I built this model because through a fortunate chain of circumstances my wife and I were given a ride on the B-17 that the Collings Foundation has beautifully restored and tours around the country. I rode in World War II airplanes plenty when I was in the Air Force. World War II was well over, but many of its planes were in service, partly because the people who had served in World War II were nostalgic for them, and because they were sturdy, practical, and available. In fact the first military airplane I even rode in was a B-17, and I managed to sit in the nose (great view) while we did a fly over for a parade in Marysville, California.
The ride was fun, and Marian seemed to enjoy it a great deal, so I put together the model to hang in her office to remind her of a fun day. But, although she did love the day, she wasn’t that thrilled with the model, which now resides in our basement, which together with our garage and a room I commandeered as an office, I control.
But the other model, although lacking in accuracy and detail, is by far the best. I built it when I was eight years old, and had just returned from a fly-over and a walk through a prototype of a bomber numbered the B-19, a Douglas Aircraft competitor to Boeing's B-29 for the successor to the B-17. It was to be a super bomber, and to eight year old me, it was. The B- 29 had won the competition, but Douglas was touring the B-19 around to learn from it, do a bit of advertising, and help build war fervor. The B-19 had a wing span of 212 feet, a length of 132 foot and weighed 130,000 pounds empty. As contrast, the B-17 had a wingspan of 104 feet, a length of 74 feet, and weighed 33,000 pounds empty. For that time the B-19 was huge, and in fact was the largest aircraft ever built in the United States. I still have a vivid memory of being at March Field in Riverside and having it fly what now would be considered dangerously low over our heads. A discussion of it is at http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/americas-real-wwii-flying-fortress-was-the-massive-doug-1632864365
I immediately went home and built a model of it. This was in 1942, and there was little plastic, injection molding was in the future, and I had never seen such a thing as a model kit (perhaps because my parents didn’t allow me to, or I would have nagged them incessantly). But at that age I was pretty agile with a few materials. Since I lived on an orange grove, and my father worked in an orange packing house and my grandfather had a fairly complete shop, I had excellent access to both picking and shipping orange boxes, a jig saw, a lots of files, hammers, glue, and above all tin cans. So I made the fuselage, wings, landing gear, and various small pieces from an orange shipping box, the propellers and tail surfaces from tin can stock, and wheels and such from a dowel rod I found in my grandfather’s shop. I had a private stock of aluminum, red, white, blue, and black paint and a few small paint brushes I had scavenged from my mother. But no plans or photos.
I don’t know why the twin tail, except that in those days people didn’t carry cameras around, there was no internet and I could not find a B-19 photograph in the town library to augment my memory of it, and maybe I was thinking of the B-24, which was large, had a twin tail, and was introduced in 1941. Or maybe I just liked twin tails.
Although my B-19 model was not even in the same world of accuracy, complexity, finish, and scale as those that result from modern plastic model kits, I BUILT IT, and my friends, although they were at the demonstration, didn’t have a model of it at all. And in the process I learned a lot about airplanes in general, as well as about the B-19, which was loaded with armament and the state of the art in control systems and power plant. And rather amazingly I still have it, usually hanging in my office, and remember the real one flying over my head whenever I see it. I still have it because my mother was very proud of it (and me, of course) and kept it. I found it late in her life when I was helping her go through her possessions, and took it home. I can’t say the same for other things I was doing when I was eight years old. But it was part of the long process that has made me good at making, fixing, and tinkering, as I have said in my blog, all necessary therapy in my life, appreciated by my wife and home, and passed on to my kids.
Incidentally, in the upper left corner of the photograph can be seen a portion of a sail boat. Although we were not that close to the ocean, I was interested in sail boats when I was a kid, and tried to make a model of one and failed, because the wood working was over my head and I had never seen a big one. So my mother made me one, and that is it in the background of the photograph. She kept my model, I kept hers. She had never seen one either, but mothers are not stopped by little details like that. Later in life I scratched my itch by making several detailed models of old ships. But now you can buy them ready made from the New York Times store, at a price that doesn’t compare with the zillions of hours I spent on mine. BUT I BUILT MINE, and in the process spent zillions of very rewarding hours, and also learned lots about old sailing ships from the structure, through the function of the many lines on them, to much of the history of sailing ships and their role, I learned how to work at very small scale, and needless to say, I met lots of interesting people who were hooked on old ships and making models of same.
I consider myself lucky to be an unrepentant DIY (Do It Yourself) guy, and am grateful to my parents and grandparents for encouraging and helping me.