Down Time in Vietnam

I’ve been off for a week due to the Fourth of July holiday and some other commitments. It’s now time to finish up the Vietnam chapter and move on to some airplane building. Well, sort of airplane building — we’re only 8 years into the saga, so obviously a fully formed airplane won’t emerge in the next few posts!

Here’s a photo of an event involving some cheese — not sure what that was all about, but Arnold and the other pilot in the photo were both from Wisconsin.

Arnold Tuy Hoa 1968

The Cheese Incident?
Arnold Ebneter Personal Collection

Arnold also passed the time reading airplane magazines. He mused about buying a Hawker Hurricane World War II fighter he saw for sale in one magazine and fell in love with an acrobatic Bonanza he saw in another. He also began sketching out a design to modify Charlie so he could more easily carry the entire family. The Bonanza was designed to carry four adults, so his three older daughters would normally sit in the two backseats, and Kelly would sit on Colleen’s lap. Everyone was growing up though, and that wasn’t going to work for much longer. He devised a bench seat for the baggage compartment and started working on the paperwork to get it approved by the FAA.

Squadron parties were also common occurrences since someone was always going away. Even if someone wasn’t going away, it didn’t take much to decide to have a party. The pilots bought party flight suits, also called mess dress flight suits, made by a tailor in Udorn, Thailand for the princely sum of $12. The flight suits had short sleeves and places to show off all their unit patches that they couldn’t wear during combat flights. Each squadron had their own color, so the Emerald Knights were going to wind up with bright green party suits, which made for a lot of moaning since some thought they would look silly. However, other pilots equally hated another option of powder blue suits like those worn by the Thunderbirds at the time. After much squabbling, the pilots finally settled on green.

By early July, the Tet Offensive was largely over, US marines had abandoned Khe Sahn, and US forces began chasing the North Vietnamese Army all over the country again. Most of Arnold’s missions became routine “tree-busting” missions to clear out trees and brush so that helicopters could land for ground forces. During his spare time, Arnold negotiated via letter with Colleen regarding plans for a month-long expedition she planned to take with the girls to Minnesota and Wisconsin. As the war began to wane, he also had time to start missing Charlie and thinking about the record-setting airplane. It had now been eight long years since he had designed it, and somehow the time had gotten away from him. He’d turned 40 not long after arriving in Vietnam, and the un-built airplane hung over him, taunting him as he had failed to buy a single part of even a set of tools. Soon, he would know where his next assignment would be. As much as he wanted to keep flying the F-100, he also wanted an assignment as an engineer that would provide fewer deployments and crazy hours. Then he could really get some building done and find out if the airplane would really fly.

Making Model Airplanes in World War II

Last week, I read an interesting article in the April issue of Flight Journal ( about how high school kids built model airplanes in 1942 and 1943. The models were used for aircraft recognition training for pilots and others during WWII.

I had never heard of this before, so I asked my dad (Arnold) if he had participated in this and he said that he did during his sophomore year of high school. He built two models, and one was good enough to be accepted.

I don’t want to give away the whole story, because it isn’t on Flight Journal’s website yet — the magazine just came out on the newsstands. It’s a great magazine, so run out and buy one! And no, they aren’t paying me to say that.

I’ll start posting more of Chapter 2 next week, including the story of how my parents met. In an airplane, of course.

Mad for Models: Do You Remember Your First Airplane Model?

Do you remember your first model airplane kit? Let me know if you do! Since I grew up around airplanes I don’t really remember building a specific model first, but I do have some vague memories of a plastic fighter airplane with lots of decals. I always wanted models with lots of decals – I guess decals were the precursor to today’s stickers that everyone (including me) loves to put in scrapbooks. And I loved those tiny paint jars, although I’m not sure how much of the paint actually wound up on the models themselves. My sisters and I could always find other things to do with it.

The picture below is a Comet model I bought about 30 years ago – it’s survived 14 military moves and has obviously turned into a retirement project! If I ever get it built, I’ll post it on the blog – not sure I’ll have enough nerve to fly it. You wouldn’t me to cry when it crashed, would you?


So what does all this have to do with my book? When we last left Arnold, he had just taken his first airplane flight at age eight. However, that flight didn’t come close to quenching his growing thirst for aviation; instead, it was like a shipwreck survivor gulping a cup of ocean water – it only makes one more desperate for the thing they cannot have.

Unable to fly real airplanes, Arnold eagerly purchased his first model airplane kit that same year. Like most small boys, he lusted for one of the expensive Cleveland Model & Supply Company kits that promised to teach the builder “how an airplane works, how it is put together, what makes it fly, [and] why it has to be the way it is,” but at four dollars they were well out of reach.  Instead, he wound up with a ten-cent model that turned into a huge disappointment. Upon opening the box, he discovered four pieces of balsa wood and a set of drawings. He had to transfer the drawings to the balsa wood to outline the pieces, carefully excise the pieces with a razor, and then glue them together. It was just too much for an eight-year-old, and the model turned into a mess.

However, the model fiasco was just a temporary setback; three years later, Arnold bought another kit. This kit cost a quarter, but it promised a flying model powered by a rubber band and small propeller. The more expensive kit also had pre-stamped outlines on the balsa wood, and between that and his improved eleven-year-old dexterity, he assembled the new model with few problems and learned how to fly it. The picture of my model kit above shows how Arnold’s kit would have looked.