Don Ross: Flywords


I started modeling along with thousands of other young people in 1942 when we volunteered to help with the U.S. Navy's "Spotter Model Program". The idea was that we would construct very carefully carved solid pine models of enemy aircraft. These were painted black, checked for accuracy by a Navy representative who called at our schools, then sent to the Navy to be mounted in the wardrooms of Navy ships to help the sailors and airmen to quickly identify enemy aircraft.

The program lasted throughout World War II and we were all issued certificates of excellence by the Navy. I treasured mine all the way through High School.

With an engineering degree, I worked in the aircraft and instrument industry and eventually ran a company that made nameplates, dials and other marked items for all kinds of industry. We were called a "short run" company, meaning that we specialized in small orders needed in a hurry. Since I wrote all the job sheets for the shop, I became very practiced at explaining complicated operations to a work force that spoke several languages, thus my explanations became clearer and simpler as time went by.

This practice became very useful as I started on my first book. Many earlier books had tried to explain propeller design or rubber winding using formulas and words. I relied on simple sketches and clear descriptions to carry the message. The result seems to have been successful since over 35,000 books have been sold and they continue to hold interest some 18 years later.

The Canarsie Canary In the mid 1980's I borrowed the plan for a simple all-balsa glider from my friend Martin Taft, and modified it for rubber power and easier construction. I added a movable pylon to handle initial thrust and allow for balance and incidence adjustments, along with two small tabs to handle torque and turn. What emerged was the Canarsie Canary.

With thousands built and flown successfully by raw beginners, the Canary became an immensely popular project for clubs and scout groups. A video called "Silent Magic" describes how we had a group of about 20 11-year-olds build and fly the Canary in a large indoor site we wanted to acquire. Most of the models flew for 25-30 seconds, which was more than enough time to satisfy and excite our class and the spectators. The Canary was chosen as "Beginner's Model of the Year" in 2003 by the National Free Flight Society.

The "Silent Magic" video has been used by many clubs to help obtain indoor sites since it shows what kids can do and also shows the magic of true indoor endurance flight. Check it out at Homegrown Television.

The most current plan for the Canary is available from the Academy for Model Aeronautics (AMA), plan # 914.