Saturday, January 23, 2016

Clancy, Jefferson County, Montana: Don Paul talks of his hours in the air before demonstrating remote-controlled aircraft

Don Paul, of Clancy, holds an illustration he made of an unhappy child watching aircraft overhead, during a display and demonstration on Saturday of remote controlled aircraft that he brought to the Jefferson County Museum. He said as a boy he chose a career in flying after watching aircraft at the airport near his family's farm in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

At an early age, Don Paul knew he had a choice in life.

His family’s dairy farm wrapped around the airport in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Beyond it were the runways where the roar of commercial and military flights called to him.

“The take-offs and landings they’d come right over the house,” he said.

“There was something really exciting watching them come over,” he recalled and remembered asking himself what he wanted to do with his life: milk cows or fly.

It was an easy decision for him.

In the roughly 49 years since Paul applied for his pilot’s license after serving four years in the Air Force, 1962 through 1966 where he worked in electronics, he’s logged 10,000 hours behind the windscreens of some 80 aircraft.

Add in another 5,000 hours as an aircraft instructor.

He had time to talk about flying and his life Saturday as he was preparing for a demonstration of his remote-controlled model airplanes that he built.

Four of them sat on a table at the Jefferson County Museum in Clancy, a former two-room schoolhouse built in 1898. Paul’s demonstration that afternoon would show how the remote controls gave life to the aircraft, although none would actually leave the ground.

The display of Paul’s aircraft and seven of the 1928 Wright Aeronautical Corp. prints of original watercolors helped tell a story of aviation, as did other enlarged color photographs of Vietnam War aircraft on loan from another person.

The chance to fly for a living lured him away from a steady job with United Airlines repairing aircraft instruments just four years after leaving the Air Force.

“I wasn’t making the money, but it was ‘Wow. This is neat. I get paid for doing this,’” he said.

“It turned out to be a real love.”

Don Paul, of Clancy, displays one of the wooden pieces that come with a kit to build a remote controlled model airplane that's part of an exhibit he assembled for the Jefferson County Museum in Clancy.

A 26-year career with the Federal Aviation Administration as an aviation inspector and other duties that included pilot certification, accident investigation and roles in FAA compliance and enforcement left him with certifications to fly everything from single and multi-engine aircraft to seaplanes, helicopters, gliders and hot-air balloons.

His work took him from one side of the county to the other. It gave him passage to Guam and Saipan, where the detritus of battle could still be seen in the surf of the Pacific Ocean decades later.

At 71, Paul with his graying hair and gold rimmed glasses, hasn’t lost his passion for flying.

In an F-16 military jet, you can go like this, he said as he raised a hand and then rotated it to illustrate how the aircraft rose like a rocket and rotated in a corkscrew fashion as it carried him and the pilot years ago.

“It was a wild ride,” Paul said, his voice soft even if the memory remained vivid.

Medical issues and fewer friends who have airplanes has kept him on the ground in recent years.

But the 32-year resident of Clancy can be found many days out by the Helena Regulating Reservoir when the weather is clear. There on BLM land he and other members of the Helena Flying Tigers will have their remote-controlled aircraft buzzing overhead.

A balsa wood kit to build an airplane can be $75, plus say another $35 for an engine that will carry it along at 25-30 mph, he said. A more powerful engine will rise in price to the $100 range and speed up to perhaps 70 mph.

Aircraft designed for racing will be traveling at between 120 mph and 150 mph.

A nearly ready to fly model airplane complete with motor can be had for well under $200, Paul said.

Flying remote controlled aircraft takes your mind off everything else, he said.

“It’s kind of exhilarating.”

And this is the same word he uses to describe what it’s like in the cockpit of an aircraft.


He struggles for words to describe the sensation, what’s been his passion for so many years.

“You’re just free to move around,” he said.

“Some of the scenery that you see that people will never see, it’s quite spectacular.”

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