My name is Brenton Shank and I was born and raised in south central Pennsylvania. I’ve been happily married to Tricia since 1994 and have three beautiful daughters, Emily (1995), Jenna (1998), and Kari (2000). I am currently employed at a local architectural firm where I perform CAD drafting and some CAD Management duties. I have been using AutoCAD and related software since 1994.
While building / flying radio controlled aircraft is my main hobby, I also enjoy playing video games occasionally. I have been enjoying both hobbies since 1981.
A (not so) brief history of my model building career…
I don’t remember exactly what peaked my interest in aviation but I do remember that it was at a very early age. I was born in Chambersburg, PA in 1971 and have lived here all my life with the exception of a few years living in Reading, PA. There is a small airport just outside of town that was fairly active in the 70’s and into the 80’s but most of the activity now centers around the skydiving club that has pretty much taken over the airfield. I can remember going to a few airshows when I was young so perhaps that’s what fueled my aviation interests. Like many small towns/airfields, the airshows fizzled out in the 80’s due mainly to insurance rates being too much for the small venues to swallow.
Some of my earliest memories in the 70’s are of time spent traveling with my maternal grandparents (Pic01). They were antique dealers and would travel around to different shows and/or sales during the weekends. Most weekends I would tag along in the hopes of finding plastic model kits for a dime or quarter which they would usually buy for me. Often times these would be bought at yard sales so it was 50/50 whether or not the parts would all be in the box when you put it together. It wasn’t long before I started “kit-bashing” models that had missing parts and making whatever I could out of what I had available. I was only about 7 or 8 at that time so the models ended up with glue prints all over them and the paint jobs always left much to be desired. I would build anything I could get my hands on at a yard sale but when it came time for birthdays and Christmas, there was always an airplane model or two on my list. In the grade school years it seemed that everyone you knew was always building some model or another and we would often get together at someones house and work on them for hours. Most of my friends would be building the latest hot rod but I would always have some sort of aircraft on the table.
In the mid 70’s, my Uncle Roger (dad’s brother) was doodling around with the little .049 plastic control-line models made by Cox. I can remember the ever popular PT-19 (Pic02) and also the P-40 Warhawk (Pic03). And, I can vividly remember Roger and dad cracking up that plastic PT-19 so many times that no amount of tape or glue would ever hold it together. In the beginning I was thought to be too young so I never really got the chance to bust one up until I was 9 or so. When that day finally came I don’t know if I was more excited or terrified of that little PT-19. The old Cox .049 engines (Pic04) would just scream at full throttle and spit castor oil out both sides for about 10 min until it ran out of fuel. So this time I’m at the controls with dad standing next to me and uncle Roger fires up the PT and lets her go. I don’t recall exactly how many but it couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 laps until I was dizzier than a drunken bat and had to hand off control to dad. Of course I’m stumbling around him now which causes the inevitable crack up onto the parking lot. We must have gone through a half dozen of those little PT-19s and I was quick to find out that control-line flying just wasn’t for me.
Not long after that fiasco, Roger progressed into radio controlled aircraft. Things started out with a Cox Sportavia glider (Pic05) and a Futaba 4-channel radio. The Sportavia had that same screaming Cox .049 bolted on the front that just scared the bejeezus out of me every time I had to hold the thing for him to start it. Knowing I would get a chance to fly it eventually got me over being scared of it though. I would give the glider a pitch and Roger would take it up to altitude and then let me fly for a few minutes before he would take it back for landing. I remember one day watching it fly away when there was some sort of radio failure (probably Rx battery looking back on it) and thinking that would be the end of that for a while. But, another Sportavia was purchased from Tower Hobbies and we were back in the flying business after a week or two. The original one was found some years later slammed up against a fence in a remote area of a farmers field and was actually returned to my uncle. The next plane I remember was a Great Planes Soar Birdy glider that my uncle had built and modified to put a Cox .09 on the nose…Great, a screaming .049 x 2.
Up until now I’ve done a good deal of flying gliders but they were all my uncles and I had been bitten hard by the R/C bug. Its now 1981 and I’m 10 years old. Dad had finished getting his real estate license and had formed a partnership with a local builder to build custom homes. When school left out in June I was asked if I would like to start working construction in the summers for the experience and to make a little money (I believe minimum wage in 1981 was somewhere around $2.50/hour). I had always enjoyed ripping things apart and building them back up again so it sounded interesting to me. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. For the first 2 summers I just did what was asked of me and absorbed what everyone else was doing like a sponge. By the time I was 13 I was doing trim work in custom homes and everything I’ve learned about construction has been useful in some way ever since.
July 1981…It’s my 10th birthday and my uncle Roger shows up with a wrapped box that looks very familiar. I know what this is but I just don’t know which one it is. I tear open the wrapping to find a Carl Goldberg Eaglet 50 kit. Finally, I get to build and fly something of my own. I couldn’t wait to dig into the forest of balsa and plywood and get started on the Eaglet but dad wanted to make sure that the whole process was monitored for the first one at least. So, I started building in intervals that could be inspected by my uncle and he would stop by time and again and offer help and suggestions. At one point the airframe was built waiting to be covered and I think I “finish” sanded it 8 or 10 times just to have something to work on. Eventually Roger brought me some Monokote and an old Fox .25 motor he wasn’t using at the time so I could finish up the Eaglet. (The Eaglet 50 is shown in its original color scheme in Pic06 and in its new scheme in Pic09 after being re-built with ailerons.)
By this time I had joined the AMA and the closest local club in Shippensburg, PA. I had taken the Eaglet to the club a few times but we just couldn’t get that old Fox .25 running good enough for a flight. My flight instructor, the late Bob Parr, had suggested that I also look into a 4-channel trainer since I built the Eaglet without ailerons. Being frustrated with the Eaglet and also being employed with a little money to burn, I called up Tower Hobbies and ordered a Sig Kadet MkII kit, a K&B .40 engine, and a Tower system 500 6-channel radio (Pic08). I think I had that Kadet ready for flight in less than two weeks and I started to realize that the building aspect of this hobby is just as or even more enjoyable for me than the flying. (The Kadet is shown ready to fly in Pic06 and with the engine and radio removed in Pic07.) I took the Kadet to the club field and was given flight lessons by Mr. Parr until I was good enough to do a full flight by myself. Some of the guys in the club were flying powered gliders and were getting flights of an hour or better catching thermals. I thought that this would be a relaxing experience much different than the screaming Sportavia days so I ordered a Craftair Butterfly II to build. (The Butterfly II is pictured framed up in Pic06 and covered in Pic07.) Until now, the Butterfly was the biggest plane I had built at a 100″ wingspan. I stuck an O.S. Max .25 on the front and the biggest fuel tank I could get in it and took to the air. I could take this glider off from the grass, fly to altitude in a matter of minutes, and then throttle back and sit in a lawn chair and glide around for what seemed like hours.
Lazily flying the Butterfly was a welcomed departure from tearing up the sky with the Kadet but I was always being drawn back to the building board. Being a teenager with a somewhat expendable income and a love for model airplanes turned out to be a dangerous combination. I soon started buying kits to build and get ready to fly only to sell them at the next local R/C flea market to help finance the next project. If I didn’t have anything to build, I would always find something to do. At some point I uncovered the Eaglet 50, added ailerons, and then recovered it and got it ready to fly. Ironically, I never actually flew the Eaglet. I had gotten all the basic training I needed from the Kadet and the Eaglet was later sold having never flown. I also built but never flew a Carl Goldberg Jr. Tiger (Pic07), a Sig 1/6 scale Piper Cub (Pic07), a Dynaflite Fun-Scale P-51 Mustang (Pic09), and a Carl Goldberg Skylark 56 MkII (Pic09). The Skylark was my first attempt at a “major” kit bash in R/C. There was a plane featured on the cover of Model Aviation (can’t recall the name of it) that was an open cockpit tail dragger that I just loved the looks of. Being only 14 at the time I didn’t think that I was ready for a full on scratch build so I took the Skylark kit I had and started making modifications to it to resemble the plane in MA. The only thing I didn’t attempt to change was the landing gear from tricycle to tail dragger. There were several other planes that I built as a teenager but unfortunately I don’t have pictures of all of them. The little Sig Kadet Jr. (Pics09,10,13) was one that I flew and flew hard for years. It was built in 1985 with the cream/blue/black color scheme and later uncovered, checked for structural soundness, and then recovered in 1991 (Pic14). I had cut the balsa cowling off the front because it was so fuel soaked that it wasn’t worth saving. I flew that plane just as hard for another couple of years before finally giving it to a new club member to use as his trainer.
In the mid 80’s, Bob Parr would always give us updates on the progression of his “Mulligan” when we were at the field. I really had no idea which plane he was talking about and figured it was just a regular old .40-.60 size airplane that we were used to seeing him bring out to fly. Test flight day finally arrived for the Mulligan and it was then that I found out it was the Bud Nosen 1/4 scale Mr. Mulligan (Pic11). At first sight I said to myself “Man, this thing huge! I gotta have one.” Making the plunge into gas powered giant scale all at once didn’t seem like too good of an idea at the time so I started looking through model magazines to see what I could build that was close. I soon settled on the Bud Nosen Trainer (Pics12,13) with an O.S. Max 1.08 nitro engine to carry it. The Nosen Trainer was a light high wing design suitable for a first giant scale airplane. If I still had the plans I would probably build another one at some point just for the fun of it. Before summer was out I had the Trainer all decked out in metallic purple and white Monokote and ready for its maiden. We fired it up and Mr. Parr took off, trimmed it out, and handed me the controls. I was hooked within minutes and knew that I would be doing mostly giant scale from this point on.
Sidenote: I started building a Nosen Mr. Mulligan in 2003 but it was an A&A Industries “die-crunched” kit that I bought on Ebay and was never really happy with its progress. I still have the plans and intend to scratch build another one using higher quality material. You can see the build pictures on the Mr. Mulligan page.
TO BE CONTINUED….