BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL P-51 LVR License Plate cropped


“Flying a good airplane doesn’t require near as much attention as a motor car.”  —Charles Lindbergh

* * *

I love flying.  I’d do more if I could, for I have no fear.  But bad back and arthritic knees make for discomfort.  I cannot imagine an eighteen-hour flight nowadays.  Maybe at one time.  There was that trip to Frankfort then on to Istanbul; or the New York to Athens, non-stop; and my six visits to the UK (Anglophile? and summer school at Cambridge University); and I’ll always have Paris (2013).  Still, my bucket list contains the word “Reykjavik.”  Maybe.  Someday.

iceland mapIceland Map

My flying life began in spring 1961.  I was a passenger, with a gift-ticket from my parents, to visit home for Easter Break.  Saint Louis to Midway Airport, Chicago, a four-engine turbo-prop…  I’ll Never Forget My First–within the wispy clouds of the heavens.  And so it began, little by little, but enough for me: a DC-3 and others, graduating to the luxury of a British Airways 747, bigger and better.  I have been fortunate to see the Concorde, up close and personal, and in a museum, sitting in its rather futuristic seats.  Indeed, I have seen it fly, even take off and land.

As an airplane enthusiast, I’ve made trips to airshows and aviation days (Duxford, England, even); I have listened to stories told by fighter pilots, collected books and magazines.  I have visited with World War II bomber pilots, have tried to squeeze my portly non-regulation body over the catwalks in the bomb bay of a B-24.  No way could I make it into the pilot’s seat.

However–oh, my!–what a birthday gift from my wife: One Ticket to Ride in the Collings Foundation B-17G.  One hour.  What a present!  Ten passengers.  During takeoff, I was in the pilots’ compartment, sitting on the floor, hearing every command, feeling every bump on the runway.  Reaching altitude, flying above Fort Myers, Florida, and Sanibel, out over the Gulf, and back to Page field, we riders were allowed to walk through the plane, from tail area to look through the Plexiglas nose.  I even stuck out my head, able to look at the tail as we cruised at many miles an hour, my head being blown about.  (That hour flew by…)  Speechless.  In awe.

B-17 Flight Birthday Gift Oh, The Places We WentJimmy in Birthday Present Ride B-17

[Aside anecdote: That B-17 ride?  I was so child-like nervous-excited (at age 50) that I had to make two visits to the WC before takeoff.  Then one more, as I was about to crawl into the plane: “Do I have time…?”  The plane had to delay takeoff to wait for me from my third “potty stop.”]

collings b-17GCollings Foundation B-17G

I am a dreamer, though, dreaming, hoping someday, of being in the cockpit of the Cadillac of the Sky, the P-51 Mustang.  If I can fit. 

Mustang LoverJimmy Dreamer Next to His Favorite Plane


The dreams, though, actually began long ago, those memoriesofatime.  That early airplane- enthusiasm life began with balsa wood, hanging around hobby shops, smelling Testor’s paints and glues.

testors-full-paint-setModelers’ Dream of Testor’s Paints

Real stick models, tissue-paper sides.  Then came “Plastics!”  Snap-apart-parts then glue-together models, fighters and bombers from World War II especially, sizes 1/32, 1/72, or 1/48 scale mostly.  And metal: lead and zinc: Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Maisto, others.  No more toy soldiers for me that I had made in my own little foundry when I was young; I had metal airplanes for a while.  And then?

Then I put away, for a very long time, “the things of a child.” (“When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”  Paul 1Cor. 8.11).

The lure of metal airplanes became strong, stronger, as I neared retirement age: “Diecast metal construction with some plastic components.  Realistic panel lines, antennas, access panels, and surface details. Pad printed markings that won’t fade or peel like decals.  Opening canopies, revealing detailed cockpit interiors.  Interchangeable extended/retracted landing gear.  Presentation stand.  Accurately detailed underside.”

In addition, more and more companies moved into the market, while others, like Franklin Mint moved out.  Others began to attract older collectors who grew up with those plastic models, now making transitions to Corgi, Witty, Hobby Master, Dragon Wings, and Gemini Aces, detailed with the “fiddly bits” that made authenticity and squadron markings paramount–and arguable for “purist collectors.”

I became a collector, a hobby-addict.  It’s not all ordering and unboxing, displaying and dusting.

Hobby Master warning label.jpg “Some Assembly Required.”

There can be research, reading, movies to see, stories to read.  Oh, airfields to visit–and even cemeteries to walk

I am not fanatical about my hobby.  I enjoy what I can, see what I can.  As I have previously written, here is what I have learned: The more I learn about one little bit of this or that, the more I realize how impossible it is to really “know it all”–like trying to collect it all.  When it comes down to it, as all know, it’s “whatever turns your crank,” isn’t it?  What I collect, how I collect, why I collect makes me, me.  It is fun and enjoyable.  That works for me–and guides me.

Some LVR s Models Small Part of the Collection

And that’s my story–so far, since once upon a time.  (And, happily, I no longer collect old razor blades.  https://memoriesofatime.blog/2013/10/25/confessions-of-an-addict-reflections-on-collecting/)

 © JAMES F O’NEIL 2018







  1. Virgil Likness said:

    Jim. I loved your comments. Did you ever pilot a plane? How many hours do you have? I flew a 4 place warrior for about 20 years. To me it was a great time, but decided that flying for fun and kids in college was to costly and I needed to make a choice. We bought our 12 year old grandson a model plane that he is putting together. Those terms are all familiar. Gail and I just returned from a trip through the Panama Canal. It was a great experience. Virgil

    • We remember your flying lesson stories. How I wanted to become a pilot. But a passenger status will suffice. Good to hear from you.

  2. What a wonderful, and wonderfully told, reflection of your passion! That B17 ride must have been absolute heaven for you. I do hope you manage a flight in that P51D sometime, as that’s the only thing that might top it.

    This really struck a chord with me, as my own father is a lifelong flyboy as well. He has a Luscombe 8E (tail dragger!) that, believe it or not, is rated for aerobatics. Which is why he took aerobatics lessons in it for several years. While doing that he also began building a kit 2/3 replica of Leo Loudenslager’s Láser 200. He’s a lifetime member of the EAA, and when my mom was alive they used to fly out every year to Oshkosh and other big events.

    Another parallel we have: one year my sisters and I all pooled our money and sent my dad out west to a fantasy fighter pilot weekend. It was a two day affair, the first day consisting of a classroom session where real fighter pilots would discuss techniques and strategies with all the participants. The second day they strapped all the students into 1/2 scale replica Mustangs fitted with laser “guns”, and sent them up to do battle. (There was an instructor in each plane as well, so things didn’t get too nutty.) It was probably one of the most fun experiences he ever had in his life.

    When I was a kid he also got me into model planes as well, and like you they were the wooden framed jobs with cloth coverings stiffened with “dope”. God, I still remember that smell. My dad was into Line Control planes, and the tricks he could do with his Fox-40 engined baby boggled my mind. I can see why you rekindled a love for them.

    Sadly, my dad is now too old to fly any more – at least, not without special FAA medical permits that he’s not particularly interested in getting. So he’s going to have his Luscombe pass one more annual inspection, and then sell it. And abandon the partially done Láser. Ah, the ravages of time.

    Again, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading your recountings here, and seeing the wonderful pictures. All the best to you!

  3. Suze said:

    I was given a mother’s day present of a ride in a stearman. It was an aerobatic ride that I still dream about 40 years later.

    • Aha! Great memoriesofatime. Luv it!

  4. Pit said:

    We had a B-17 here in Fredericksburg a few years ago [https://wp.me/p4uPk8-xD]. It was quite impressive to see this bird, and here the rumble of the engines. I would have like to ride in it, but it was too expensive: $450 for half an hour. And with them, 30 minutes were 30 minutes exactly, even including take-off and landing, so that it was about 20 minutes of airtime only.

    • You are right! Sitting on the tarmac, engines burning precious fuel, all counted. $400 smackers! 😎

      • Pit said:


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