At the age of 14, Donald C. Burnham won the 1929 Junior Division, Outdoor competition, at the 1929 Nats in Detroit. He won a trophy, $200 cash, and a trip to Canada and Europe. Besides these perks, he also published his A-frame pusher design in Carl H. Claudy’s 1931 book Prize Winners’ Book of Model Airplanes. As a contributor, his copy of the book was signed by Carl.
This wasn’t the first time, though, that Don and Carl corresponded. In 1930, Carl published the Beginner’s Book of Model Airplanes (They Fly!). Don owned a copy, his name proudly noted inside the front cover. He must have enjoyed the book, because also glued into the front cover is a letter from Carl to Don dated October 22, 1930. The letter thanks Don for his kind words regarding the book and notes, “I wish I might have the pleasure of inscribing your copy; failing that, perhaps you will slip this letter under the cover and let me thus vicariously sign it!”
The letter closes with, “May your next model fly farther and longer than all the rest!”
Don’s success with his next model led to it being published in Carl’s next book, which led to Carl signing his next book directly. Funny how life works out, isn’t it?
Vic Cunnyngham, Sr. met Don Burnham at a contest in the early 1990s. Vic researched and built a reproduction of Don’s 1929 A-frame pusher and had it authorized by Don in the mid-1990s. Vic. donated the model to the museum in 1996. Two years later, Don donated his boyhood books to the library.
Thanks to Vic Cunnyngham, Jr. for sharing memories of his father with me.
For more on Don’s winning design, please read the History Preserved column of March 2014’s Model Aviation.