Modeling in a Vacuum

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by Jan R. Bussie

As a young boy I was fascinated by the WW2 war news coming out of Europe. The bravery of the bombers and fast fighters pilots made them my heroes both then and now. In an effort to emulate these men I would fly my balsa glider in my backyard and pretend to be a dashing British pilot flying the silvery Spitfire fighter that dominated the skies over London and the English Channel. My favorite targets were the “Buzz Bombs”, Bf-109s, and the slow Stuka dive-bombers. I would often try to scratch-build a model of an airplane, but I did not possess the materials, skill or knowledge to do so.

The first years of my life were spent living in a remote lake community in northern Indiana called Koontz Lake. The lake and surrounding area covered tens of thousands of acres, and was thinly populated by no more than 250 hearty souls year round. During my many hunting and fishing outings I can remember going for days on end without seeing any one other than my immediate family.

Even after the war our solitude was destined to remain unbroken for many years due lack of newspapers, telephones, or reliable transportation. Our most important link to the outside world was via short wave radio…and later on for me, ‘Model Airplane News’ magazine.


Early to mid 1950’s Model Airplane News Magazines


Every summer I would travel to LaGrange, Indiana to visit my Grandmother for two weeks. During one such visit I discovered some ‘Monogram Speedee-Bilt Flying Models’ for sale at the local candy and gift store. I visited the store twice that day. On the first visit I opened one of the kits and was thrilled by the detailed plans and the parts inside. On the second visit I found a magazine called ‘Model Airplane News’ and managed to sneak a quick look at it before a frowning look from the store owner made me put it back on the rack. My quick perusal left me amazed at the number of model kits and building supplies available. “Radio Control”, “Gas Engines” and ‘Free Flight” were things that I did not know existed! I could not believe that such a book was available to teach more about the art of modeling.

I can still feel the thrill of discovery that I experienced that day, and I excitedly told my smiling and attentive grandmother about my ‘Finds’ during dinner that evening. The next morning she asked me if I would “Mow the yard and bring some things up from the basement in exchange for one dollar.” I knew then and now that a dollar to my widowed grandmother was a small fortune. In years to come I would be fortunate enough to be able to repay my “Granny’ many times over for her loving kindness…and of course I accepted her offer. The busy morning passed quickly, and I again stood in front of the selection of models at the store, but I now faced a serious dilemma. The Monogram P-51 Speedee-Bilt that caught my eye cost 85 cents, the ‘Model Airplane News’ was 25 cents and a tube of glue a thin dime. I could feel the dollar in my hand becoming moist with each passing moment. I longed for the plane and the magazine, but the two combined cost more than my dollar. Undaunted, I bought the Speedee-Bilt P-51 and a tube of glue for ten cents, pocketed the change, and decided to get the magazine after I made some more money. Then I ran home and began building the “51” on my Grandmother’s kitchen table. She was very interested in the plane as I assembled it, and beamed broadly when we flew it in her back yard.


Early Monogram Speedee-Bilt kits with balsa wood parts and plastic details


My grandmother told me that she had always loved airplanes and her lifelong dream was to ride in one before she died.

I made a promise to myself that day. “After I become a pilot I will take my ‘Granny’ for her first airplane ride plus many more.”

I fulfilled my promise on a sunny Indiana afternoon in the spring of 1957 when I flew her over her hometown in my Taylorcraft BC12D, and she loved it!

Years later I would realize that on that summer visit decades ago my Grandmother had taught me some fundamental lessons of life. Plus I had begun a long and enjoyable journey into the world of model building, a hobby that I introduced to my son, Alan Bussie, on his fourth birthday.

Jan R. Bussie

Editors note: My first model was a blue Lindberg Line Motorized Pick-up truck that my Dad bought me when I was four years old. I totally destroyed the kit, but Dad taught me the finer points with our next two kits, the Monogram Piper Tri-Pacer and Cessna 180. I still have those two kits. I can only hope that my son will enjoy this lifelong hobby as we have. My father learned to fly in high school and holds an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate with Instrument Instructor Privileges in jets and twin piston aircraft. During his 54 year career as a professional pilot he has flown over 35,000 hours in many aircraft ranging from the venerable J3 Cub to the ‘Manned Missile’ Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. (AB)

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