Winnie Mae
The Winnie Mae, by Al Sortwell, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007

Al scratch built the Winnie Mae, a special Lockheed Model 5C Vega, flown by famed aviator Wiley Post, from Model Aviation plans purchased in 1970, out of Sig Manufacturing “contest grade” balsa purchased way back in 1981.  The plane was finished in 2001.  Al likes to plan ahead.

The fuselage is built with a keel, formers, and strip planking. The wing is made of 1/16th balsa sheeting over a foam core. The engine cowling, fairings, and wheel pants are constructed of fiberglass, scratch built by Al, using his traditional male plug / female mold methods as demonstrated at previous club meetings.  Power is provided by a YS 45 2-stroke and includes an internal glow plug driver.  William’s Brothers wheels complete the plane.

There are no exposed bolts, screws, linkages, or hinges as all controls and connections are internal.  The passenger door opens to allow the wing to be bolted to the fuselage from inside the main cabin.  (Al’s granddaughter insists that the door is for the tiny pilot who actually flys the airplane.)  In reality, the pilot had easier access to the cockpit by climbing the external steps on the fuselage side and entering through the sliding roof canopy.  The scale cockpit has full instrumentation.  The engine, hub, and display propeller are all hand carved.  The exterior of the Winnie Mae is covered in countless rivets.

Wiley Post completed two around-the-world record flights (chronicled in a book by Wiley Post titled “Around the World in Eight Days”) and a series of special high-altitude sub-stratospheric research flights in the real Winnie Mae. The high altitude flights were made at 50,000+ feet above the skies of Chicago, in the un-pressurized Winnie Mae through the use of the first pressure suit, hand made from rubberized parachute cloth.

Wiley Post is also credited with discovering the jet stream during his high-altitude research, when during one flight he managed to exceed 340 mph over the ground in the 175 mph Winnie Mae.

Winnie Mae full size<= Photo is looking over the top of the Sharp DR 90 “Nemisis” and under wing of the Boeing Dash 80 (707 prototype)  Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae”

Wiley Post did perform one ridiculous stunt in the Winnie Mae that all of us R/C folks are guilty of.  He dinged up Winnie’s prop while landing on a sand bar in Alaska.  Thinking that “if we just shorten the other prop tip to match … and straighten this one out with a hammer …”, he altered the damaged prop and then he flew on to Nome.  No, no, no. If the prop gets damaged at all, replace it!

And for the record, the Winnie Mae is not the airplane that Wiley Post and Will Rogers crashed in.  They did that in an experimental kit-bashed plane – fuselage from one plane + wing from another + two sets of really big fuel tanks.  They were low on fuel in one set of tanks and flying in bad weather.  So they landed to ask for directions and found out they were only 15 miles from their destination.  So they took off … without switching the fuel intake to the reserve tanks. Low and slow with the runway behind when the engine quit. Oops.  This is the reason real pilots now have check lists.

As for the rest of the collection at the new annex, it is fabulous. The Atomic bomb dropping Boeing B-29 Enola Gay in shiny aluminum looks new.  The SR-71 Blackbird looks fast just sitting on the ground.  I.A.C. planes just litter the ceiling including Art Scholl’s de Havilland Super Chipmunk “Penzoil Special”, Patty Wagstaff’s Extra 260, Leo Loudenslager’s Laser 200, and Betty Skelton’s Pitts Special S-1C “Little Stinker”.

The space shuttle Enterprise is on display in the space wing.  It’s huge.  Really, really big, far in excess of its weight of 150,000 lbs.  As the prototype space shuttle, Enterprise never flew in space, and never carried real rocket engines, but in most other ways is identical to Atlantis, Discovery, Endeavor, and the now defunct Columbia, and Challenger.  Oddly though, there is no mention on the information placards of the gaping holes in leading edge of Enterprise’s port wing-tip or starboard wing root.

When the space shuttle Columbia had it’s unfortunate accident on re-entry and disintegrated over California, New Mexico, and Texas, NASA decided that the most likely cause was damage to Columbia’s wing by insulation foam falling off the main fuel tank and impacting on the leading edge.  To test this hypothesis, they required a piece of foam, a big air gun, and a portion of leading edge material.  Several portions of leading edge material were hacked off of different parts of Enterprise’s wings.  The foam blasted right through them.  Oops.

If you find yourself in the Washington D.C. area, make sure you stop and see the museum.  It’s easy to find, and there aren’t any lines on no-holiday days.  Just don’t forget to take your camera like I did.

Authored by Tom Bayes