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Commentary: Rediscovering A Love Of Model Airplanes During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Model airplanes helped sparked a lifelong love of aviation for Dan Patterson.
Model airplanes helped sparked a lifelong love of aviation for Dan Patterson.

WYSO’s aviation commentator Dan Patterson has had some time on his hands lately like many of us. And he’s used the extra hours of isolation to return to a childhood hobby – the one that got him interested in aviation in the first place.


After weeks of isolation at home - which allows the time to do all the stuff around the house that never gets done, the yard, the little things that need fixing, laundry, new recipes to cook and then decide if you’d ever do that again...finally, you can get to where this fascination with flying machines had its first expression: making model airplanes. 

Even now at 66 years, I have a stack of unbuilt model kits that I just knew I would get to someday, and that has allowed me to reconsider this lifetime hobby.

Credit Dan Patterson

When you’re 12 years old, the craft is a learning experience.  You could open the box, find all the parts and the instructions, figure out the paint scheme and the decals. It was all an opening to the past.  The instructions always had a written history of the plane,  when it flew and who flew it.

The pieces that needed to be painted on the inside came first, and as you assembled the bits into a recognizable cockpit with a seat and controls, your 12 year old imagination took you into the plane and into the sky.  Building the engines, you learned how an engine operated and how it powered the plane into the air. Discovering that a propeller is a rotating airfoil by blowing air across the blades, and seeing it spinning was hands on education.

The rest of the structure, the landing gear, the control surfaces, the details all finished the kit into a complete and recognizable airplane.  12 year old skills with airplane glue and then enamel paints were sometimes less than perfect.  You learned that glue on your fingers was a prelude to disaster when parts ended up sticking to you and not the model.  I learned a hard lesson about enamel paints and porcelain bathroom fixtures which required paint thinner and lots of scrubbing under the unhappy face of my mother.

Credit Dan Patterson

The results of my efforts soon were flying above my bed,  suspended on a web of monofilament fishing line that criss-crossed the skies of my bedroom.  Aerial feats and combats took place every time a breeze wafted through the windows.

Years later I built models with my sons as they grew up, and those projects together are a cherished memory for us all.

Now I have had the time to open the boxes, again and found the fascination is still there, the interest in who and when and how that goes together.  I realize that the step by step instructions taught me how to follow a visual diagram and assemble a complex structure from simpler parts.  That led me to the history and the need to know the aviators and see the actual flying machines they flew into legend.  My career of images and storytelling had it’s beginnings there, making models. 

Dan Patterson is an aviation historian and photographer. You can see more of his photos at his website, www.flyinghistory.com

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