"Little Traveler" Model Airplane Flight for St. Jude Hospital

Monday, October 12, 2009
The Plane and It's Crew!

This past Saturday in Olmsted, Illinois, the calm of a peaceful Autumn evening was briefly shattered by the high-pitched whine of a tiny model airplane engine. Above the fire station, in the middle of town, a small red and white radio controlled airplane spiralled up into the sky, gaining about a hundred feet of altitude before leveling and racing out the north end of town, with a pick-up truck/chase-vehicle in hot pursuit!

Pulled through the air by a Cox "Red Scorpion" .049 engine with no throttle, it left a slight vapor trail of mist against the dark blue sky. These small engines are often labeled as hard to start and not very dependable...this one would have to run for at least a half hour to get to Boaz.

The model plane was named "Little Traveler", and it was beginning it's 15 mile cross-country flight to Boaz, Illinois, where it would land in the back yard of Wayne Stricker, my uncle. Built from plans and patterns of a 1960's Sterling "Minnie Mambo" trainer, the small model was fulfilling a childhood dream for me, and raising money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

On it's 36 inch wingspan, rode donations and pledges that would total over $1400 for the hospital...if it could make the trip. Some pledges were outright, fixed amounts for the effort, while others were made on a money-per-mile basis...so the pressure was on! I'd calculated that the 4 ounce fuel tank should have enough capacity to get the Little Traveler to it's destination, but winds or a cranky engine could easily make that estimation meaningless.

For the next 37 minutes, the Little Traveler cruised above the Illinois farm fields, past Levings and Grand Chain, then turning right with it's chase vehicle on Rt 169, heading East for Karnak, with Driver Mike adjusting our speed to keep the plane in sight.

We'd designated a large field West of Karnak as a stopping point in case anything wasn't right, because, once we entered Karnak, I wouldn't have a acceptable place to land the plane for almost a mile and a half without causing some considerable trauma to it's light balsa frame!

Rory was ramped up and ready to shoot for it, so we told Mike to be sure and obey the 30 mph speed limit, and I'd just zig-zag the throttle-less plane to keep it beside us.

I don't know what the residents thought, or even if they noticed the tiny plane with it's screaming engine passing by overhead, but we made it through without my having to guide it to a landing through the labyrinth of light poles and wires of the town's main drag.

The last four miles were made without incident, and my Uncle Wayne greeted us as Mike pulled the truck into the backyard. Rory had been running a video camera the whole time, and now, we just had to wait for the engine to use up it's fuel and stop. After another three or four minute, the Red Scorpion shrieked it's last breath, and the Little Traveler glided to a landing in the middle of Wayne's yard.

We're now counting the donations and chasing down pledges, and looking forward to doing this all again at some point, with a new route, and maybe the same plane! Or total donations are now over 1400 bucks...thanks to all who took part in this little adventure!

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