Retired teacher builds strange flying models

April 19, 2000|By DON AINES

SCOTLAND, Pa. - One corner of Ronald Morgan's workshop looks like a scaled-down version of the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum, with scores of remote control model airplanes mounted on the walls and hanging from the ceiling.

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Some of the aircraft, however, appear to be aerodynamically challenged: The witch on a broomstick, a motorized American flag and an airborne lawnmower among them.

A stop sign with a propeller looks ungainly but "flies extremely well," Morgan said.

Some of these specialty aircraft are a challenge to fly, Morgan said. The witch's cape acts as a parasail and performs best when the air is still, and despite its name, the Batplane is "another thing that should not fly," he said.

"People like to see the special weird stuff flying at shows," said Morgan, the director of the National Model Airplane Championships since 1961. He is a recent inductee to the Model Aviation Hall of Fame at the International Aeromodeling Center in Muncie, Ind.


A retired vocational teacher at the Scotland School for Veterans Children, Morgan will tow a trailer to Muncie in July and spend a month at the championships.

The specialty planes are limited only by the imagination. Morgan said he knows modelers with a flying iron and an airborne Big Mac.

The secret is to obey the laws of aerodynamics and supply enough power and "You can make anything fly," he said.

Morgan's spacious shop can't hold all of his 97 airplanes. He has a Boeing 727 airliner and other planes stored on another floor.

If anything that takes up tens of thousands of hours over a lifetime can be called a hobby, Morgan's began when he was 7 years old in 1942.

His first model was a rubber band-powered plane called a Comet Kit. "They cost a nickel," he said.

Growing up near Pittsburgh, Morgan said all the money he earned from a newspaper route and other jobs was spent on model planes.

Pointing to a model with a 36-inch wingspan, Morgan itemized the cost of building it: $50 for airframe materials, $35 for the motor and $110 for the remote control.

"That's about as small and cheap as they get," said Morgan, whose largest plane has a 108-inch wingspan.

At the other end of the scale are jet turbine-powered models with engines costing up to $3,000 each. At a show in Toledo, Ohio, he saw a Concorde model with four engines, retractable landing gear and other pricey features.

"As a new breed comes in, you see less of them interested in the propeller stuff," he said.

Morgan's shop has rows of remote control radios with joysticks to control pitch, yaw and roll, throttles and other controls. Some are computerized so an aircraft's flight characteristics can be downloaded into a computer and modified.

Morgan and other members of the Chambersburg Modelairs Club have made presentations in area schools, explaining the science behind the hobby: Chemistry for the types of glues and fuels, mechanics for the motors, physics for the aerodynamics and mathematics for design and construction.

Morgan said thousands of modelers will compete for prizes in 120 classes in Muncie. Competitions include precision aerobatics, speed, racing and combat. In the combat category, they compete to shear off a piece of crepe paper hanging from the tail of an opponent's plane.

"From a crowd standpoint that's obviously the most pleasing one," he said.

Those interested in the hobby don't have to travel to Muncie. Morgan and the Modelairs fly their creations Saturdays and Sundays and Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the Franklin Learning Center in Chambersburg.

Morgan said technology has greatly improved the performance of electric planes. He has several that have an electric boost, but otherwise soar like gliders.

"We frequently go where there are hawks, because they know where the good air is," Morgan said. The birds sometimes get curious and come after the gliders.

"I just turn on the motor and that scares them off," he said.

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