Bringing Model Planes To Life Still Thrills

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John Hancock started building model planes when he was 13. After 30 years, bringing a new plane to life and taking it out for its first flight is still exciting.

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.

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.

Not having a mentor, Hancock would build planes at his home in Winslow and go out to an open space 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.

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