The Liberty Gazette
March 31, 2015Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: As a kid I, like many, built models. Model cars, trains, boats and of course, airplanes. While they were never masterpieces my model airplanes fueled my imagination and took me on many adventures to other places in the world. When I was about eight someone gave me a control-line gas powered airplane. It really flew, for a few minutes anyway, because my dad, thinking it might be a bit much for me, tried it out first in the circle of our cul-de-sac and crashed it. It never flew again. I still have to laugh about that.
When I was studying aerospace engineering we strapped down specially constructed models in the wind tunnel to gather data and learn how the air flowed around them. This helped us make designs with less drag and thus more efficient. We tested models in both subsonic and supersonic wind tunnels, some reached as much as four times the speed of sound as we photographed the shock-wave of air splitting off of them.
Though not as much so as was when I was a kid, the airplane model kit industry is still going strong. There is even a whole specialty industry that has developed around high quality model airplanes used as calling cards for business deals. When airlines are courted by aircraft manufacturers, or when airlines begin serving a particular city executives often come bearing gifts – models of their planes, painted in the airline’s paint scheme. During conferences the model planes serve as centerpieces.
These models are typically one to two feet in length, mounted on stands and are not the lightweight plastic types found in hobby shops. I see them on desks, in trophy cases and in museums. Aircraft manufacturers order a lot of them. Last year Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, took in 1,456 orders for new airliners purchased by 67 different airlines. They bought over 30,000 models of their airliners to give away as gifts – that’s just over 20 models per customer. Boeing Aircraft Company here in the U.S. and Embraer Aircraft in Brazil have made similar purchases. And while manufacturers of airliners by far buy the most, business aircraft manufacturers hold the same tradition. These are far more effective marketing tools than a business card as they are always out where the recipient can see them, not in a drawer or a contacts file, but a constant reminder of the company who gave it.
Some people just like to collect model airplanes and there are companies that oblige them. If you want a model of an Airbus 320 in Alaska Airlines livery, it’s available in sizes from six inches to several feet in length. I prefer older airliners, and I have my favorites. Many younger people would never know they ever existed without the presence of models. With airlines merging and legacy lines fading into memories, it’s nice to look at a model and remember when the airline flew that airplane or had that paint scheme.
When I look at a Lockheed Super Constellation painted in TWA colors it takes me away, back to when I was a kid when I was flying to the Orient or some other exotic location in the world, if only in my mind.