A Model Airplane

2020-12-28
Like a whole lot of other people, I really enjoyed the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons drawn by Bill Watterson. I loved the flights of fancy spurred by the creative mind of the six-year-old Calvin. He seemed to get into the kinds of trouble I experienced when I was a child. I didn’t have any imaginary friends, but was charmed by the relationship between the boy and the tiger in the comic strip. The timing of the strip matched the growing up years of our son, so I saw some of his experiences reflected by the strip as well. I loved the choice of the names of two theologians for the characters and saw a bit of amateur theology in many of the strips Watterson drew. I also admired Watterson for refusing the syndicate’s attempts to market merchandise with the strip’s characters. And, though I was sad to see the strip go and still miss it, I understand and salute Watterson’s decision to retire while the strip was at the height of its popularity. He has left a wonderful memory in our minds and the collections of strips that we own are treasures to which we return time after time.

One of the recurring themes of the strip was Calvin’s frustration with model airplanes. They never turned out to be like the glorious pictures on the packages. He tried, but continued to fail at producing the airplane of his dreams. Each new kit started as an exciting adventure and each ended in an unsuccessful disaster.

The strip that has been copied into the opening of today’s journal came to my mind yesterday. I made a trip to the farm specifically to work with our grandson on the building of a model airplane. The kit is part of a STEM curriculum designed to encourage children to learn about aviation, airplane design, and engineering by making flying models. The kit is the first in what is a series of different items that teach the basics of flying. Children and youth who stay engaged in the program soon are able to design and build their own aircraft using inexpensive materials and the principles taught in the program. The first kit was a Christmas present that we got for our grandson and both he and I were eager for him to build the kit. I was determined to act as a consultant and make sure that he did the work on the airplane himself, including being the pilot for the test flight.

The result was successful, so you don’t have to worry about a Calvin and Hobbes-style failure. Our grandson did a beautiful job of reading and following the instructions and assembling his airplane. He went through the protocol for charging the battery, hooking up the components to the control board, installing the wiring, and testing the motors. Unfortunately, however, it was a rainy day and the test flight had to be delayed until better weather. He took the disappointment well, however, and we shared delight in his successful build and are looking forward to the first flight later this week.

The glue that came with the kit, however, was much like the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. I am no newcomer to sticky glue messes. I made a lot of models as a child. It took me a long time to learn that when it comes to model airplane glue less is almost always better. The trick is getting a tiny amount of glue in exactly the right place. If you get any glue on your fingers, they will stick to the parts and almost always cause a big problem. Excess glue is hard to wipe away. The tissue or paper towel you use to wipe it ends up stuck to the model.

The kit manufacturer knew of this problem. It is clearly explained in the instructions. Furthermore the kit came with a nozzle that could be screwed onto the tube of glue to direct the flow of glue into a tiny stream. Furthermore, our son provided a pair of disposable gloves for our grandson to wear so that he didn’t end up with excess glue on his hands. The problem was that the threads on the nozzle did not match the threads on the tube of glue. It would not tighten and it leaked. The tub of glue was soon a sticky mess. It was a good thing I put down some paper to protect the table from drips.

Our grandson, however, was patient and careful with the mess. We avoided getting it on the airplane parts and figured out how to use the nozzle as an applicator after removing it from the tube. We’d dip it in a drop of glue on the paper and apply the glue to the parts of the airplane. Small amounts of glue were transferred and we had success! He has a beautiful model airplane. After showing off the completed kit to his sisters and parents it was time to look at the forecast and wait for the rain to stop. Unfortunately, the forecast was calling for rain until darkness that afternoon. Flying had to be delayed.

It was time for stories about airplanes. In addition to lots of models, I grew up with a fair number of airplanes. My parents were both pilots. My father was manager of the airport in our town in addition to being a full time working pilot. I don’t remember my first ride in an airplane, but flying trips were as common as car trips were for other kids. I learned to fly as a normal part of my growing up and earned my pilot’s license as a teenager. As a result, I have a lot of stories about weather delays in private aviation. Once, when his father was a boy, I flew our family out to North Dakota from Idaho. We planned to attend church in the communities where we had served when we lived in North Dakota, but instead spent most of the day at the airport in another town. The distance that we could have covered in a couple of hours by car took an extra day because we were traveling by air. As the saying goes, “Time to spare? Travel by air!”

And a rainy day is a good time to curl up with a good book. A collection of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons is just right for a grandson waiting for the rain to stop.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!