Despite the ready digital access to seemingly everything these days, let’s not forget the value of the printed page. There is simply no substitute for flipping through an old book or magazine—perhaps even one published roughly the same time your favorite airplane was new to the skies—as you look for inspiration for your next project.
Many aviation enthusiasts have bookshelves lined with purchases and gifts from throughout the years to show for their passion, and I number among them. My primary historical interest runs through aviation’s early years—from the Edwardian pioneers up to the start of World War II. As might be expected, a number of my volumes are dog-eared from repeated reference, yet others remain unread.
Stepping outside of my usual rut, I recently looked “forward” to WW II and have found some unexpected treasures along my shelves. Surprisingly, one particular volume reintroduced me to someone I had known many years ago.
A Story within the Story
Richard C. Knott’s Black Cat Raiders of WW II is a fascinating account of the war in the Pacific theater as fought by the Consolidated PBY Catalina, presenting in detail the critical contribution of this unlikely hero and the crews that flew it.
Designed during the early 1930s and functionally obsolete by the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Cat is best remembered for its wartime service, thanks to its ability to adapt and evolve into a potent combatant in the struggle that followed.
I received Knott’s exciting tribute to the PBY as a gift years ago, when a family friend lost one of her grandfathers. I knew he had flown in the war, had heard tidbits of their family lore throughout the years, and had seen a few faded photographs on the walls.
A few weeks ago, when I picked up this book and read the flyleaf inscription from one grandfather to the other, the reality of their youth as wartime pilots snapped into focus.
“For my Friend on Page 137, with Respect & Admiration.” I’ve never been one to read the last page of a mystery first, but this teaser was too much to resist. I soon found the brief account on the appointed page, reading how a successful businessman and gentle grandfather-to-be had long ago targeted the biggest ship of a large enemy convoy.
Two well-placed bombs successfully sent a 15,000-ton tanker to the bottom of the ocean on the dark, moonless night of November 30, 1943. In one paragraph, the war to end all wars ceased being merely a scholastic history lesson. My mind was churning as I reflected on the quiet man I had known and how our paths had crossed.
From that moment on, this book consumed me. I found its entirety as intriguing as that first paragraph. As I read its pages, I couldn’t help but envision building and flying a model Cat in the well-weathered matte black scheme of VP-52.
That’s an airplane sure to inspire an endless series of splash and goes while also holding a strong personal connection. I have moved the PBY up in my must-build queue.
Will I ever build it? I don’t know, but simply researching the possibility is a fruitful pleasure. There are several ARFs and plans available if you are similarly inspired.
In addition to this new-found connection, one of my fondest modeling memories also involves this great airplane. Nearly 20 years ago, my father and I watched as Don Bousquet made a magical flight with a built-up PBY in the fading light just after sunset at the 1994 Keystone Radio Control (KRC) Electric Fly in Pennsylvania.
Mesmerized by the scene before us, we were silent as the quiet twin circled slowly through the mist, rising over the corn next to the runway. Although we were many miles from water, Don’s small hand-launched electric PBY couldn’t have been more convincing.
Not every book on every shelf will deliver such riches, but I encourage you to give them a chance to share their stories. You never know what you might find and a single sketch or grainy photo might inspire your next model. Slightly more than a year ago I again chanced upon the Caudron C.450 in one of my books and chose to model it.
Of course, you will pour through Google images for three-views and color schemes of your next subject, but don’t forget what your bookshelf might offer as well. No doubt there is a forgotten favorite to be found close to home.
Before closing this month, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank-you to all who have taken the time to reach out and welcome me to these pages. Much like a specific prototype or flying style, I know my musings won’t always appeal to everyone, although the response I have received has been encouraging.
Please feel free to contact me with suggestions or comments you might have.