Maynard Hill “Little Lindy”
Finding a modeler in the model aviation industry who was more beloved than Maynard Hill would be a struggle. He is remembered as one of the best to ever fly or design a model airplane. Most noted for his epic flight from Newfoundland to the west coast of Ireland in 2003, with his balsa-and-Mylar airplane, Hill was nicknamed “Little Lindy” after pilot Charles Lindbergh. His support of model aviation continued after he retired from designing and flying. He was a supporting patron of the AMA’s National Model Aviation Museum and made several contributions to the museum’s collection.
Maynard Luther Hill was born in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 21, 1926, during the Golden Age of Aviation. Like many other young boys, Maynard became interested in flight at a young age, mesmerized by Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight, Wiley Post’s altitude and speed records, and the smile of Amelia Earhart who flew alone across the North Atlantic. His fascination was not only for full-scale airplanes, but also for miniature ones. By age 9, he had written in his autobiographical essay; “I had acquired a fairly serious addiction to balsa wood and glue.” He longed to launch and design models because it allowed him to learn something new and acquire a skill with each model. “Success was not always easy; patience and persistence were among the valuable lessons,” he once said.
His fascination continued throughout college, where he was enrolled at Penn State University. He found it hard to concentrate on his studies, instead working on his models. He was roommates with fellow aviation enthusiast Warren “Bud” Yenney. They decorated their room with glider wings, and their bookcases stored fuselages, balsa, and other materials. Bud, “had the audacity to pursue almost any idea that came to him,” Maynard once wrote. He even contacted Walter Good, an RC pilot on a whim. Maynard and Bud made the trip to speak with him. Their trip was one that neither would forget. It led to a great relationship. Walt became a mentor to Maynard and taught him learn more about electronics, design, and building model airplanes.
Although he eventually became a world-class competitor, Maynard’s road to success required practice. With Walt’s help, Maynard became a prolific flier by the summer of 1959 with an original-design mid-wing model called the Pittsburgh Pointer. He learned to fly a Pylon course upside-down and do smooth Outside Loops and Cuban 8’s. He nearly qualified for the inaugural Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) RC World Championships in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1960, but came in fourth place so he was not permitted to attend.
In 1960, Maynard left his job at the research laboratories of Westinghouse Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and took a job at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. Shortly after, he was asked to be a judge at the second World Championships for Aerobatics at Kenley Airfield in London, England. He was excited to be part of the competition. In his autobiography he detailed the experience, and how he was proud to be an American during the competition. Pilots there from other countries did not have access to the advanced materials.
The contrast with other countries’ models and equipment was astonishing. Each pilot had handheld transmitters, except for the Soviet team. It had dull black-and-white shoulder-wingers and ground-based recycled transmitters. The Soviet team came in last. Still, Soviet competitor Pietrov Velitchkovsky wore a small pin on his T-shirt that honored him as a “Hero of the Soviet Union” for having set seven FAI world records for RC aeromodels. Maynard couldn’t believe this. But, it got him to start thinking that if Velitchkovsky could set records with such poor equipment, Americans should be able to raise the marks considerably with their far-superior equipment.
Maynard shared his thoughts with fellow District of Columbia Radio Control club (DCRC) members. They were excited to get started on a plan to break Velitchkovsky’s altitude record of 7,100 feet. Soon enough, Walt Good and Howard McEntee broke it using Maynard’s Skyrocket model. This was the first of many world records for one of Maynard’s models. It traveled 13,320 feet— nearly doubling Velitchkovsky’s record.
In his autobiography, Maynard shared how excited he was about breaking this record and how it inspired him to break more. By 1968, he was quite accomplished with RC records in duration, speed, distance in a straight line, and distance in a closed circuit. Unfortunately for Velichkovsky, Maynard’s beat all of his records.
Throughout the 1960’s Maynard continued to judge at the world Aerobatics championships until he stopped after Gorizia, Italy, in 1973. He then began to train the new judges. He was very adamant that the judges should be objective and write scores strictly on the basis of what the airplane does—not who is flying it or how it looks.
In 1992 he made the attempt with Old Faithful, which flew for 33 hours and 39 minutes. The airplane automatically steered toward a beacon, made a loop downwind when it passed the beacon, then repeated this pattern for most of the flight. Maynard said, “I was half asleep on a chaise lounge most of the time.”
After this success he came up with the idea to fly an 11-pound airplane for 60 hours. His experience, along with research into equations to figure out the required drag and pull, Maynard began to think seriously about a Transatlantic model. He set the rule for himself that it would have to meet all of the requirements for a true model airplane. It would have to weigh less than 11 pounds and use a 10-cc-maximum engine. He also came to the conclusion that putting this project into motion would be expensive. At the urging of Les Hamilton and John Chirtea the Society for Technical Aeromodel Research (STAR) was formed. The new organization began twisting friends’ arms, asking for contributions for the effort in exchange for membership.
During the winter and spring of 1999-2000, the organized group flight-tested a model in a horse pasture on a farm that Beecher Butts owned. Maynard called him a “legend.” The combination of the team’s admiration for Beecher and the need to rise above the technical struggles they endured led them to name the TransAtlantic model The Spirit of Butts’ Farm.
In August, John Patton, Roy Day, Joe Foster, and Maynard flew up to Newfoundland to look at the terrain and meet Carl Layden, the Atlantic province director for the Model Aeronautic Association of Canada (MAAC). Carl had volunteered to be the Canadian FAI observer for the first record attempt.
Nelson Sherren, president of the 150th wing of the North Atlantic Royal Canadian Air Force Association, heard about the mission and told the group that he would arrange for low-cost housing on a military base when they returned in 2002. He also promised a large workspace with telephone service at the association’s clubhouse on the base. The group members were happy about this because they had envisioned themselves working out of motel rooms.
On July 26, 2002, Maynard and his wife Gay began the six-day journey to Newfoundland in a rented Dodge Caravan. At this time, Maynard no longer had a driver’s license because of his degenerated vision, so Gay drove, giving Maynard a chance to relax.
The first record attempt was made with the serial number 19 model, identified as (TAM) TransAtlantic Model) 1. The launch was at 8 p.m. local time on August 8. The launch was made in the evening so that the model would arrive in Ireland during daylight hours. Minimum crossing time would be as short as 28-30 hours if there was a brisk tailwind. They knew that the maximum time had to be less than 40 hours because this was the maximum expected fuel duration.
The first two attempts were not successful. They discovered the problems and were able to address them while on a break due to weather. During this time, Maynard wrote a eulogy for Walt Good’s memorial service. Maynard’s friend and mentor had died a month earlier, and his service was to be held in Florida. Because of his efforts, he was stuck in Newfoundland and could not attend. The bond they made was important to Maynard, who credited Good for his success.
The weather continued to keep them from making further attempts and the group members felt they were running out of time. On August 19 they were told that the weather would not be ideal, but they decided to try because they were scheduled to return home on August 22. The launch, now with TAM-3 was at 6 p.m. The last report from the satellites used for tracking stated that it had gone 479 miles before dropping out of sight. The likely cause of failure this time was that the model hit a rainstorm and severe turbulence. Unfortunately, they were unable to launch TAM-4 due to time constraints.
The team decided to try again in 2003. Maynard had been introduced to Cyrus Abdollahi, a high school senior who was interning at Johns Hopkins University’s APL. Maynard invited him to be an intern for the TAM effort. Cyrus was a knowledgeable model builder, a good RC pilot, and skilled with computers. He spent roughly 25 hours a week helping Maynard, who was legally blind at the time.
Gay and Maynard arrived in Saint John’s on Sunday, August 3, and were greeted by friend and benefactor, Nelson Sherren. The rest of the crew—Joe Foster, Les Hamilton, and Cyrus Abdollahi—flew in the next day. The first test flight, of TAM- 4 was conducted on August 8, 2003. People told Maynard that the climb-out and smooth, straight-line departure into the sky still painted by the setting sun were beautiful things to see. Unfortunately, Maynard had to take their word for it because he couldn’t see anything that was more than 200 feet away.
Satellite data flowed into the operations room via email messages for the next eight hours. TAM-4 was on course, the engine was fine, the speed was right, and the altitude was correct at 1,000 feet. Then after slightly 430 miles, short of the place where TAM-3 was lost the previous year, there was nothing. No further report. The cause could not be determined because the model went down during a period when all satellites were absent from the North Atlantic. There was no rain, winds were modest, and storms were hundreds of miles to the south. Maynard remembered it as “a mystery.”
Joe Foster believed the cause was the accumulation carburetor ice because TAM-4 disappeared at roughly the same time that TAM 3 did. Maynard’s hundreds of hours of bench testing during cold, hot, and humid weather, however, didn’t support that idea.
The weather reports Saturday morning, August 9, were favorable so the group decided to try for another launch that night. The hustle to uncrate number 25, undo the safety packing, and stuff it with the autopilot and the engine put a strain on a crew that hadn’t slept much the previous night. They launched TAM-5 at 7:45 p.m. The launch was easy because of a mild west wind. Joe’s climbout was quick and smooth. TAM-5 did a graceful turn toward the northern waypoint then went out of sight heading to Ireland. When Maynard awoke the next morning there was good news, the TAM-5 was still flying and was roughly 560 miles out. The next morning, Maynard was told that there had been no satellite data for three hours. The crew decided to alert those following the trail to Dublin, and called then-AMA President Dave Brown, who had volunteered to land the model.
Within minutes of saying goodbye to Dave, the model was picked up again by satellite. The team immediately called the others to alert them. They found that the model was still flying, and flying even better. It had flown over the Gulf Stream during the night. At 9 a.m. Newfoundland time (12:30 Ireland time), or 37.25 hours into the flight, the model was approximately 70 miles from the Irish coast. Its speed was down to 43 mph. Its heading was right on target at 95°. They were all very excited, and Maynard recollected the moment as “intense.”
Soon enough, at 2 p.m. Ireland time the model came into sight at Mannin Beach on Monday afternoon. Dave Brown, a member of six US World Championships teams in the 1980s, confidently toggled the landing-gear switch to gain manual control of the airplane. Dave glided the model into a dead-stick landing approximately 5 feet from the designated spot. At 2:08 p.m. Ireland time, Dave’s wife, Sally, reported, “It’s on the ground!” The group was ecstatic. Maynard said he buried his head on Gay’s shoulder and wept for joy.
Maynard, who praised each of the team members in his autobiography, said, “I am grateful for all of the help that came from these wonderful friends.”
In all, Maynard set 25 world records for speed, duration, and altitude, for powered flights and gliders. He graduated from Penn State University with Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees, using his G.I. bill he earned while serving in the Navy during World War II. During his lifetime he also helped design early military drones, and worked for more than 26 years as a metallurgist for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. His work also included researching unmanned aircraft.
Several of Maynard Hill’s model airplanes and other items that helped him to set many records during his lifetime have been donated to the National Model Aviation Museum. Some of these items include the World Record Altitude R.C. Skyrocket II, the Stretcher II, New Faithful, Tortoise II, Old Faithful IV, TAM-5, Marvelous Martha, and Stretcher III.
Maynard died on June 7, 2011 at the age of 85 at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland of cancer. He will long be remembered as an ambassador of the hobby and a true legend.