CALIFORNIA – When First Baptist Church here announced the theme for this summer’s Vacation Bible School is “Amazing Wonders Aviation,” the wheels in Dale Carlson’s head began to turn. Or, more precisely, the prop in his head began to spin.
LifeWay’s “Amazing Wonders Aviation” builds off an aeronautical premise – the opening worship rally is called “The Hangar” and each stop on the daily rotation is a layover in an around-the-world “flight” examining God’s creation and awesome power.
A former Army helicopter pilot who builds light sport aircraft as a hobby, Carlson’s church has asked him to give a practical talk on aviation to help get the VBS students in the spirit. He took the theme into the wild blue yonder and immediately began the planning and construction of a VBS-sized plane inspired by World War II-era PT-19 and PT-23 trainers.
“I wanted to make it fun for the kids,” he said, “but I also wanted to teach them something about actual airplanes. The control surfaces all work like they would on a real airplane. It’s just like the 747 you go to see grandma in or even the space shuttle. They’re small, but the elevator, the rudder, ailerons, the control stick, and the pedals all work.”
To connect those control surfaces to the stick in the kid-sized cockpit, Carlson used actual pulleys and cables left over from his previous airplane builds. Once the internal engineering is finished, he has until June 24, the first day of FBC’s VBS, to cover the “plane” in a light-weight, poly-fiber canvas material actually used on light aircraft and paint it to match the model plane’s blue and yellow color scheme. He’s even made decals from the VBS clipart to give it authentic-looking nose art sporting the theme verse, Psalm 147:5: “Our Lord is great, vast in power; His understanding is infinite.”
A friend, Lanny Crawford of Memorial Baptist in nearby Jefferson City, welded the landing gear for him. Carlson originally planned to connect the throttle in the cockpit to a battery-powered hand drill to spin the hand-made prop slowly, but he said he may not finish that linkage in time. The fuselage is more than seven feet, nine inches long with an eight-foot wingspan. The wings hinge like the plane is at home on an aircraft carrier, though in this case it’s so the project can fit in the back of Carlson’s truck. He shows a little annoyance that he doesn’t have the “right” instruments for the plane it’s modeled after, but he does plan on installing working leftover gauges from his previous flying builds.
“On a real airplane you’d use spruce or some nice, close-grained, knot-less wood for these ribs,” he said. “These are just screen door slats. But, if I had the right wing on it with enough power, you could fly it.”
This one definitely won’t fly, but the mayonnaise jars he painted to look like the pistons of a radial engine are enough to make you wonder. However, this one has only taken a few weeks to build, instead of the seven years his previous projects took. Carlson even refers to it as actual plane, calling it the third one he’s built (the first two actually flew).
“I’m plane-less right now, so it’s nice to come down here at night and see an airplane sitting in the garage,” he said, “even if it is a play airplane. But once I get the prop finished and get the covering on, it’ll start looking like an airplane. I hope the kids have fun.”
After VBS at First Baptist and a possible tour of other nearby churches’ VBS weeks, it will even take up residence in the local private airport’s hangar.