Jim Riggle is a man who is a long time R/C plane hobbyists, a big fan of HLI‘s golden age aircraft, and owner of the what he calls the Veteran Cub that has been collecting signatures from U.S. veterans since he started by having Chuck Yeager sign it more than 3 years ago. When I had heard that he had a remarkable story about his first flight and I “had to hear it” I called him up and asked him about it. With a recommendation that strong from other hobbyists, how could I refuse?
Jim answered the phone having just gotten back from a meeting with the Rotary Club. It was funny to hear Jim refer to his time at work and time doing things for the Rotary Club “time between flights.”
After catching up a bit and hearing how some of his more recent flights had gone, I decided to ask Jim about his first flight experience. As soon as I mentioned it, I could hear him chuckle a bit and continue with clearing his throat as he prepared to tell me the tale.
“When I was seventeen, I had a real bug about flying airplanes,” Jim began. Apparently he had gone to a small hobby shop that used to be in downtown Oregon City, Oregon. The airplane itself was a kit from Jetco called the Thermic 50.
After buying the plane, Jim proceeded to take it home and put it together immediately. He glued it together, covered it with paper, and finished it off by painting it the most beautiful yellow with orange accents. When Jim had finished it to his liking, he took it out to the edge of town where there was a big field that he had been wanting to fly in.
The day itself was beautiful and only partly cloudy. Jim admittedly knew nothing of thermals at that time. Beyond what the instructions told him, he had no concept of anything that might happen after he did everything they instructed him to do.
Taking off had proven to be more difficult than he expected, due to the highly temperamental Cox .010 engine on it. Jim was finally about ready to give up on this flight altogether, when he decided to give it one last try. The little engine fired up and Jim hand-launched the plane as shown in the instructions.
The airplane went in circles over his head as it ascended higher and higher into the sky. It was at about 150 feet when the engine finally cut out. Jim waited patiently below and watched what he felt was one of the most amazing things he had ever seen. As Jim waited, however, a cloud had passed over the plane and a thermal seemed to reach down and snatch that model right out of the sky. Jim watched in awe as his plane was swallowed by the clouds overhead. It was the first time he had ever flown and the last time he ever saw that plane.
Decades later, Jim still remembers that experience as one of the greatest flights in his R/C history. In fact, he later purchased another Thermic 50 and put it together as an engine-less model that now hangs from the ceiling in his house. Like his first, this model is always out of reach, but never forgotten.