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.

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