I looked at all of the different sized balsa wood panels and thought to myself “I’ll never finish this.” There were about thirty different panels, each one with shapes razor cut into them. My first job was to split them all out and sand off any lumps or fibers left behind. Tedious stuff. I could only focus on it for an hour or so a day and so it took me two weeks to get all of the parts ready. I then went back to the box and pulled out the assembly instructions. The printing on the box looked spectacular. It showed a bent wing glider with a six foot wingspan floating on air currents, a happy boy grinning and pointing to it as he ran behind it as it soared the skies.
The instructions were in three huge sheets. One had pictures of each of the parts I’d just released from their imprisoning boards, and I laid each one out on its matching silhouette. Beneath the parts were the names of the pieces. Left Win Forward Rib Half. Fuselage Aft Bulkhead. Vertical Fin support. There were also a few pieces of wood in the box, but they were already cut to shape and their names were printed on them. Left Main Wing Spar. Horizontal Stabilizer Support (with attached elevator hinge). There was no landing gear; the plane was a glider and needed as little drag s possible, so there was a piece of fir that doubled as a fuselage longeron and belly skid. Yeah, I had no idea what that meant either.
But I persevered with my tube of Duco cement and a box of straight pins and lo and behold, three months later I had the skeleton of a glider sitting on the craft table in the basement. The last step was covering the skeleton with a special paper. I had to carefully cut it into shape and glue it to the plane with Elmer’s glue. When I was done it looked awful. Nothing at all like the picture on the box. But then, still following the directions, I borrowed my mother’s plant mister and carefully wet the aircraft one area at a time. When wet, I then used my sister’s hair dryer to dry the wetted paper. To my joy and surprise, the paper tightened up and soon I had a glider that looked like the one on the box. Of course, the one on the box was painted and mine was a sort of pinkish beige, but I was thrilled. From the hobby tore I bought a can of white spray paint and carefully turned the whole thing brilliant glossy white. The instructions said the paint would give more strength to the paper covering. A total of 96 days passed from when I brought the model home from the store and its completion. I’d never spent so long on a project in my 11 year life and I beamed with pride. Even my sister, who often had derogatory remarks for my accomplishments admitted that the plane was pretty cool. My whole family expressed pride that I had stayed the course and did good job in spite of the many tedious and repetitious tasks.
And then my mother asked, “So, when are you going to fly it?”
I looked at the plane and immediately felt a sense of horror at the idea of purposely throwing the airplane I just spent so long building into the air to fend for itself. There were no controls to pilot it with, ll that could be done was to adjust the center of gravity by adding a piece of lead weight to the nose or tail to correct any imbalance. “Fly it?” I squeaked. “I’ll break it. I can’t do that, not after all of this hard work.” My family said nothing, but wandered off to continue with their day. I sat down on a chair and looked at my plane, imagining it soaring through the sky.
A few days later at the dinner table, my dad asked me if I had flown my plane yet. I admitted that I had not. I was afraid of crashing and destroying it. “Didn’t any repair instructions come with it?” he asked. I said yes, the instructions told how to fix just about any damage done, assuming it wasn’t too severe. “Well then, there you go.” he said. “Problem solved.”
Not for me it wasn’t.
I was still torn, on one hand wanting to see my creation fly and on the other, wanting to keep my creation whole. It took me another week before I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and took the plane out. I carefully carried the glider to the nearby schoolyard. It had a huge grassy area and the whole thing was on an angle, one side a good forty feet higher than the other. It made a lousy area for playing sports but it was a kindergarten and elementary school and so things like football and baseball weren’t real big on their menu. But it did make a great area for someone like me to fly a glider.
My first toss was pretty limp but the plane flew about 50 feet before gently skidding to a stop. I was amazed and I sort of forgot my fear and aimed it downhill and gave it a good firm throw. To my amazement, it flew a large circle and again landed gently only 20 feet away from me. It was like a boomerang I thought. I picked it up and this time I gave it a good hard throw and the plane climbed up maybe 30 feet or more. It turned its lazy circle, passing over my head. I became the boy on the box, laughing and smiling and chasing my plane as it flew. It was as if it had been filled with helium or something, it seemed to stay at the altitude it had achieved as it circled above the grass. It had made perhaps five full turns before I realized as I chased it that I was getting pretty close to the fence of the schoolyard. I stopped where I was and with a rising feeling of dread stood there and watched as my very efficient glider took two more turns. It was flying over the houses across the street from the school now and what’s more, was continuing to shift farther and farther with each circuit. As I stood there, I watched as my glider rose even higher, apparently caught in a thermal, and it rose to perhaps 100 feet off the ground. I ran to the gate in the fence and tried to follow my plane but I couldn’t. Homes with yards and fences blocked me and I had it firmly ingrained in me not to go into someone’s yard without their permission. I also figured out that by the time I got someone to answer the door and give permission, the plane would be beyond that yard anyway.
I did the only thing I could. I ran down a street aligned with the general direction my plane was drifting. I had to settle for glimpses of it as I peered between trees and past the roofs of houses. I must have traveled ten blocks before I had completely lost sight of the airplane. I felt my eyes burning and tears ran down my cheeks as I walked along, defeated and heartbroken. I just kept walking in the same direction I’d been running, no longer thinking it possible I would retrieve my airplane. And that’s when a shadow crossed over me and caught my attention. I looked up and there was my plane! I couldn’t believe it. I know I looked like a fool running after it and I realized why the boy on the box had been pointing at it. He was joyously shouting, there it is! I found it!
The plane was much lower and it barely missed a tree as it came towards me, and flew over me crossing the street. On the other side of the road it flew smack dab into the side of a two story house and spiraled into the ground. I ran to it, forgetting my cautions of trespassing. It was broken, its wings were torn from the fuselage and the once rounded nose was crushed flat from its collision with the house. I carefully picked up the three pieces of my shattered plane and carrying then under my arm, walked the long way home.
I took the parts into my room and set them on the shelf where the plane had sat when intact and went downstairs to watch television. A but later my mom came into the den where we kept the TV and looked at me sadly for a few seconds, then came over and hugged me. “I’m sorry about your glider, Honey. I saw it on your shelf.” I told her it was okay, like dad had said I would just have to fix it. Later on I did repair it, but it wouldn’t fly properly at all. It would fall off on a wing and nose into the ground with every throw. I had to repair it again a couple of times, but finally gave up and hung it from my bedroom ceiling. It stayed there for a long time and then my parents sent me to a boarding school. When I came home for vacation it was gone. No one mentioned it to me and I didn’t ask what happened to it. It no longer mattered to me anyway. What I remember most about it was how well it flew and how long it stayed in the air and how far it ranged before it crashed.