When I was about 13 years old I remember getting for Christmas what I considered the best present ever. This was a F.R.O.G. model aircraft kit, a huge step up from the Airfix type kits made of plastic which had adorned my bedroom ceiling for years. The model Spitfires, Stukas, Dorniers and Lancasters hung from cotton threads, and at night I would lie in bed with the aid of a small torch and my fevered imagination re-create air battles and bombing raids.
My new kit was a WW1 fighter biplane called an S.E.5a, it was to be made out of Balsa wood,an amazingly lightweight wood that you could cut with a razor blade!
Construction involved the accurate measuring and surgeon– like cutting skills from myself, but above all patience! Parts had to be sanded smooth then glued and clamped and left to set; all these things were very trying but also necessary if I ever wanted to see this aircraft in flight.
I started this task just after the New Year, my preparations were mainly to commandeer one end of the kitchen table straight after tea, curious small brothers were alternately bribed or terrorized to stay well away!
By the beginning of April my S.E.5a was ready. First off I made a carrying box out of cardboard, so that I could put all the parts away after use, and so avoid any damage.
Building it was surprisingly easy, I even finished her off by painting her in the colours of WW1 pilot Ray Collishaw’s aircraft ‘Black Maria’, a hero of mine. I deliberately chose a clear still Spring day for the maiden flight, and carried the whole lot up to the ‘Mutton Tumps‘ overlooking Lawrence Park, this was in the days before the rugby pitch was built. Climbing up to the top, I took the plane out of the box and commenced the pre-flight checks, re-read the instructions and made sure all moving parts were free from obstruction? Carefully winding the elastic band ‘motor’ the required 36 times, I launched her into the air. It flew, It flew like a dream, across the open space straight and true. I was so proud of myself, at that moment I could have exploded. Then, it happened: there was a change in the flight pattern. It dipped, well it dived actually, straight down like a lead weight and directly into a bonfire, one of the many bonfires upon what was then Pontycymmer’s Council rubbish tip! Horrified I raced down the hillside and across the tip, but it was too late, by the time I got there my beautiful aircraft had gone. All that remained were the wire undercarriage and melted propeller. I am not ashamed to say that I cried! All that care and attention to detail and patience gone up in smoke. If ever there was a defining boy–to–young man moment, then this was it for me. I never made another aircraft, and eventually gave away my other models to my brothers. Whenever I go for a walk up by those Tumps I always stop, and in my minds eye see that disastrous flight all over again. And if it is a cold or windy day, sometimes I find my eyes watering.