Hobby takes flight for Hollidaysburg model airplane builder
To say Guy Forshey is talented with his hands is like saying Les Paul played guitar. It tells half a story as it overlooks Paul’s innovative contributions to the music recording industry. So it is with Forshey.
Upon entering the Hollidaysburg home he shares with his wife of 41 years, Nancy, the lit cabinets, curios and sideboards reflect Guy’s advanced carpentry skills. In one of the cabinets sits a reduced-scale model of the Victorian time machine in H.G. Wells’ film “The Time Machine.”
Forshey’s time machine works in the sense that its lights flash and whirring noises emit from the intricately-detailed model.
The beautifully designed furniture and the time machine model hint at Guy’s passion — creating sophisticated, functional, radio-controlled model airplanes — mostly planes from early aviation history.
His most recent and complex scratch build is a rare 1928 Boeing 80A-1 airliner. The 40 pound bi-plane made at 1/8 scale took five years to create and is historically accurate down to the tiniest detail — the Boeing logo reading lamp shades at each passenger seat and the miniaturized roll of toilet paper in the plane’s restroom.
And, it’s not just the decorative elements that are correct — the plane’s lighted cockpit and passenger cabin, landing lights drop down and the exterior paint and markings all fly true to the original.
Yet, come spring he plans to fly his labor of love.
“That’s half the challenge of it,” Guy said, “My knees will be banging together when I take it to the field. I will be quite nervous.”
The 80A and Guy’s craftsmanship will be featured in the February edition of Model Aviation Magazine, a national publication by the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Guy has had several of his earlier builds featured in this and other national magazines.
The couple’s son, Brenton, 34, can’t recall a time when model or radio-controlled airplanes weren’t around the house or being worked on in the family basement workshop. His childhood was filled with trips taken in the family’s plane — both his parents are instrument-rated pilots on multi-engine aircrafts — to flight museums, plane fly-in events and more.
Brenton is also a pilot but “flies for fun” in his personal time and for work as a flight test engineer for Boeing: “I sit and watch the gauges and tell the pilots what to do to make sure the airplane is working correctly.”
Guy said the five-year commitment to the 80A has been his most challenging project since he started building model airplanes at age 10. Those early planes were made from a kit of balsa wood and were powered by a rubber band.
Both father and son lament that airplane model building isn’t popular today. Brenton was about 10 when he built his first model plane. But the family’s trips to air museums and air shows “were such a treat. I knew early on I wanted to do something with airplanes, and when I got into college and explored careers, I settled on aerospace engineering.”
His father’s extraordinary vision and ability to build from scratch were also a big influence on his career choice.
“My dad has a big box of junk he keeps in the rafters of the basement. If you look at it, it looks like an odd collection of wires, hoses, doodads off of calculators and random things. As a kid, it amazed me that if he needed something for a cockpit, he would pull down this box and pick through it and then he would say, ‘This is it. This will work.’
“It was like a magic trick to me because then he would take it and make what he needed. … He could look at everyday items, like a metal top to a salt shaker and it would become a light for a Spitfire,” Brenton said. “He can see the potential in everything around him. It is one of the most amazing qualities. He is a great builder and designer and a pilot, but if I could do that, it would be a great skill to have. I am continually amazed by him.”
It’s an even more impressive skill as Guy is self-taught and describes himself as “a continuous adult learner.”
Most of the airplane builds his father has done, Brenton said — planes from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s — have historical significance, like the 80A.
“We saw the plane when we visited the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Wash., with our son in 2015,” Nancy said. “He saw it and just became enamored with it.”
The museum’s biplane is the sole surviving example of the 18-passenger plane that made history for being the first to include a heated cabin, leather seats, individual reading lights and a lavatory that featured hot and cold running water. It also had registered nurses on board — the first stewardesses — to assist passengers on the air mail route between San Francisco and Chicago. Boeing Air Transport married utility — air mail service — with paying passengers and revolutionized the airline industry, Guy said, in explaining the 80A’s historical significance.
For its time, the airplane boasted of its luxury as passenger flight was in its infancy. It still lacked a pressurized cabin, and according to the museum website, conversation was “difficult,” and despite heaters, the cabin “was sometimes very cold.”
Brenton said his dad’s 80A scratch build is also unusual because of the amount of engineering work his father had to do.
“He basically had to re-design the airplane and redraw the plans. There’s an awful lot of engineering work on it,” Brenton said.