Former engineer builds models from scratch
Navy veteran and longtime model builder Chester Brown absolutely adores all things aircraft.
He loves researching intricacies of different designs, but simply reading about and looking at pictures was never enough. Brown was compelled to tinker with and realize aircraft designs using scale models.
Brown’s fascination with aircraft started when he was 10 and his father was working for Boeing in Wichita.
Now 71, Brown is a seasoned model maker who has built a large variety of aircraft models, anything from small stationary showpieces made from pop and beer cans to 6-feet-long flyable jet kits.
Much to the affectionate chagrin of his wife, Donna, he has airplane models hanging from the wall in their den, where he often puts together models on a cardboard-covered coffee table using materials stored by his easy chair.
More model kits are tucked away and stacked in the corner of their computer room, and in a workshop at the back of their house, there are model wings, propellers, and many model aircraft in various states of completion.
“These days, model kits just come ready out of the box,” Brown said. “They’re pre-cut, pre-painted, and have all the decals on. There is no room to modify.”
Brown finds solace in the process.
What he really seems to take the most pride in is building “stick planes.”
Brown said a “stick plane” is a model that employs a balsawood skeleton covered with a lightweight silk-span skin he seals with an epoxy and then paints by hand.
With “stick planes,” he first purchases a blueprint or researches schematics in one of his airplane encyclopedias, then scales designs down to size.
“To build you have to be able to read the plans, you don’t have to be a genius,” he said. “But give me a plan set and I can build it.”
As a Navy crewman who troubleshot aircraft electrical problems during Vietnam, and a former field engineer for a company who specialized in repairing giant old mainframe computers, the kind he said “filled up an entire room,” Brown reads model airplane blueprints like the back of his hand, as where less experienced model makers might be baffled by the design.
However, Brown doesn’t always follow a plan. Fabricating parts as he goes, he often improvises parts to make designs fit together or to display airplanes in different states of operation.
Although some of his ideas never got off the ground, Brown has experimented making molds for fiberglass models and using household items like leaf blowers to propel models.
His favorite aircraft is the Vought F-8 Crusader, the wings of which could pivot for takeoff and landing.
“I repaired Crusaders when I was in the Navy,” Brown said. “When you stand in front of them they look like they can eat you up.”
Many of his models can fly on their own or by radio control. Some require fuel and some rely on rubber band propulsion.
Brown has built models of jets like the F-4 Phantom, F-14 Tomcat, and propeller planes like the Beechcraft Bonanza, A-26 Jig Dog, and an ultralight aircraft model he has the full size plans for and hopes to someday not only construct, but also fly in, if Donna will let him.
Last modified Oct. 2, 2014