Paul K. Guillow’s model airplanes have
been buzzing over parks since 1926.
By Andrew Leonard
“This is pretty cool,” my 13-year-old son,
Eli, admitted, as we waited for the glue
to dry on the wing of a Cessna 150 balsa
wood model airplane. I couldn’t disagree.
Way back in the last century, when I was
13, I devoted many happy hours to building
scale model “stick and tissue” airplanes
— Sopwith Camels, Fokker D.VIIs, P- 51
Mustangs, and Mitsubishi Zeros. To see
my son groove to the simple pleasures of
balsa wood construction struck a familiar
chord. Snapping together the plastic parts
of a sci-fi Japanese robot is fun; building
a wood-and-paper plane that can fly generates a higher class of satisfaction.
Time froze as we stood in front of my
basement workbench. We were using the
same set of X-Acto knives my grandfather
gave me for my 11th or 12th birthday. Our
Cessna came from a kit made by Guillow’s
— the same company that manufactured
all the airplane models I put together as
a boy. When I examined the construction
plan, I noticed that the copyright date
was 1971, and it occurred to me that I had
hunched my back over the identical plan
three and a half decades earlier.
My son’s interest in the Cessna was all the
more rewarding when I considered that, as
a kid in the early 1970s, we didn’t have Xbox
The die-cut balsa wood part sheets were
also intimately familiar — for all I could tell,
they had been crunched out by the very
same machines in use 35 years earlier.
360s or Angry Birds or all the Japanese
anime we could stream from Netflix to while
away the hours. My son’s generation enjoys
unlimited access to the most immersive,
distracting, and addictive digital entertainment options the human mind has ever
devised. But there he was with a sanding
block in his hand, carefully smoothing out
fuselage joins — and enjoying it!
When I clumsily snapped a wing former
out of its sheet and accidently broke it, the
déjà vu feeling was as strong as the smell
of the airplane “dope” that modelers use
to stiffen the tissue covering the wings and
fuselage. I convinced myself I could recall
breaking that same piece, long ago.
Andrew Leonard ( email@example.com) is a staff
writer at Salon. He lives in Berkeley, Calif., and is still
cleaning the glue off his fingers.
34 Make: makezine.com/28