Model Aircraft Maker

In the wind-swept skies of Payson

Almost finished with his latest project, John Hancock holds a Chance Vought F4U Corsair, a plane which saw action during World War II and the Korean conflict. It was also the plane of choice for the “Black Sheep” squadron led by Marine Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington in the Solomon Islands.

Photo by Andy Towle. |

Almost finished with his latest project, John Hancock holds a Chance Vought F4U Corsair, a plane which saw action during World War II and the Korean conflict. It was also the plane of choice for the “Black Sheep” squadron led by Marine Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington in the Solomon Islands.


It’s amazing sometimes, how apparently random incidents work favorably toward a goal or need. Know what I mean?

For instance, last week I was assigned the task of finding a personality or person of interest for a “Living” article for an upcoming edition of the Roundup. I took the assignment not knowing what the heck I was going to do. Although I did have someone in mind; I saw this person driving around town without a shirt on while driving. That put me off.

Why? It made me feel uncomfortable. I felt that perhaps if he didn’t care how he looked in public, he wasn’t careful about other aspects of his life or business either. So, I crossed him off my list of suspects to be photographed and interviewed.

Now, I had a problem. Who do I get on short notice? I haven’t yet established a stable of reliables as backup personalities. I did my usual. I didn’t worry about it at that moment.

There was still time to do the assignment, and besides, I needed to gather pictures, cutlines and stuff for the Web before my doctor’s appointment in Show Low on Friday (that's another story — Show Low, I mean). I had enough to do without adding more worries.

And the rain, with its accompanying hot, muggy days, was another problem out of my hands. At least the troublesome weather only gathered in the afternoon and being the morning person that I am, I’d accomplish what I could before wetness could grab me and its infernal molecules seek out and worm into my equipment.

Tuesday, on my way back to the office after lunch, I passed the golf course and saw several people on a fairway, but they didn’t have golf clubs in hand. They had airplanes, small flying machines.

Yes! A random find and the exciting possibilities of a feature fell into my lap.

I turned my vehicle around, parked it and strolled across the road, clutching cameras and notepad.

Another adventure was about to take flight, not on gossamer wings perhaps — but balsa wood and airplane glue, not bad if you know how to use them.


Holding a Wright plane given to him by his mother-in-law when the centennial of the Wright brothers flight was celebrated, Hancock said this plane had taken many successful flights before he retired it.

John Hancock is soft spoken, and slight of stature, but he draws, builds, and flies model planes as if they were real. As a young man he dreamt of being a pilot, but back in the day, there were restrictions on the jobs people with diabetes could hold.

Happenstance can be a wonderful thing.

As a Boy Scout, he was fortunate to have a Scout leader who introduced his troop to model airplanes. It was all the incentive Hancock needed. He started building model planes when he was 13, by the time he was 15, he was drawing his own plans and building planes.

When asked what his favorite era of planes is, without hesitation he spoke of World War II fighter planes. The P-51 Mustang, Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and the Spitfire were names that came flying out of his mouth like planes swooping through a hangar at high speed.

As a longtime model builder and flier, Hancock said he has built and flown so many planes that he cannot remember the total number. I guess if you start when you are in your teens and have been building and flying for 30 years, it becomes a little difficult to remember them all. He has flown gliders and battery-operated models, but his main experience has been with two-stroke engines and radio-controlled flights.

“I learned the hard way to fly,” Hancock said, as I looked at him with a question on my face.

“Basically, I learned by myself by crashing a lot of planes,” he chuckled.

Oh, then I understood what he meant.


The two-stroke engine on this plane has been in and out of many styles and bodies of Hancock’s hand-built aircraft.


The inner workings of his favorite plane — an Easy Sport — shows the many gears and armatures used to radio-control the flaps, rudder and ailerons.

Not having a mentor, Hancock would build planes at his home in Winslow and go out to an open space — not too hard to find in that area of Arizona — and send them into the air. Eventually they stayed aloft and responded to his control movements and so building more planes became less of an activity than flying them.

Much of the excitement for a model aircraft hobbyist is bringing a new plane to life, from cutting the balsa wood into spars and struts and fuselage, gluing everything together, and finishing the model with numbers, gears, batteries and engines. Building anything and presenting the finished product, be it a model, a boat, or a cabinet, has a certain ceremony to it and with a model plane, it is the first flight.

There is always excitement and drama. Will it fly? Will the engine work or just sputter and never really hum like a noisy two-stroke should?

One can spend a substantial amount of time building a plane and then not have it perform correctly. Some model builders even ask really experienced fliers to take their newly finished model for its maiden flight and test it before the builder of said plane actually flies it.

Over the years Hancock has tended to favor the two-stroke engine and has experience in breaking them in properly so they last a long time. One method of getting the most out of an engine is to run them with a rich mixture of fuel (alcohol, nitro methane with oil), so the piston and cylinders wear at the same rate of speed.

These days Hancock said, it is hard to find model plane kits one can build from scratch. Most kits are known as ‘almost-ready-to-fly’ kits, because many of today’s models are basically parts one puts together, drops an engine into or increasingly, a battery, and take it to the nearest large flat area and let it go.

Currently Hancock is working on several projects — one being the final stages of a Vought F4U Corsair, which is a carrier fighter aircraft that fought in WWII and Korea, and the other is learning to fly helicopters, which are somewhat trickier than airplanes because of their movements. One needs a slightly different skill set to control a hovering type of aircraft.

So when you hear a slight buzzing sound around your ears as you walk, pedal or drive past the golf course and hear a buzzing sound, look up and it is probably John flying one of his planes.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.