A Salute to Aeromodeling’s Lindbergh

As seen in the supplement to Model AviationThe First 75 Years of AMA

June 7, 2021, marked the 10th anniversary of the passing of Maynard Hill. 

MANY HAVE SAID that if there was a Mount Rushmore for aeromodelers Maynard Hill would certainly be on it. He was one of a kind who passed away in June at age 85. Maynard will be sorely missed.

I had the distinct privilege of not only knowing him but also the honor of landing his TAM-5 RC aircraft on the coast of Ireland in August 2003. That airplane, designed by Maynard, had just spent 38 hours, 52 minutes, and 14 seconds, traveling 1,882 miles from Cape Spear, Newfoundland. It did what no other model aircraft had ever done. The TAM-5 crossed the Atlantic Ocean—on less than a gallon of fuel.

Only two ounces of Coleman Lantern fuel, slightly modified with a lubricant, remained in the tank. This fuel was Maynard’s solution for long-term engine runs that he developed during years of research. No one had ever flown a model a third of that distance before. It was a giant leap for
modelers everywhere.

Maynard Hill has been hailed as “aeromodeling’s Lindbergh,” and it’s not much of a stretch. Crossing the Atlantic was another world record, his last, for an aeromodeler who has few peers at this level.

Maynard’s records were in speed, altitude, and distance. Closed-course and cross-country records, powered flights or gliders—no record was safe from Maynard Hill.

January 2001. Maynard Hill’s building workshop.
Photo by Barrett Joseph Foster.

Although Maynard accumulated 25 world records between 1963 and that day in 2003, he was much more than a record-breaker. He was a great innovator and a metallurgical scientist, but mostly a tinkerer who could solve nearly any problem. He was also one of the greatest storytellers I’ve ever
encountered. He could enthrall you for hours. I think he was to aeromodeling who Goddard was to
rocketry. His “backyard laboratory” and basement workshop were places of reverence for all who were privileged to enter.

Maynard took the propellers from all his record-breaking airplanes and nailed them to his workshop door like scalps. The display was his chronology of world records. Maynard focused on surpassing whatever was the best at the time, especially if it was a record held by the Russians during the Space Race of the 1960s!

He quipped, “Communism is very bad—no balsa wood!” Visiting his basement was such a thrill. Aside from his records, Maynard was absolutely driven to develop practical and usable new technologies. His electrostatic autopilot invention was an incredible feat and a great service to the hobby and sport.

July 2002. A strategy session in Maynard’s building workshop.
L-R – Russell Howey,
his father Paul Howey, Joe Foster, Maynard Hill.
Photo by Leroy Leslie Hamilton.

Maynard was an early pioneer in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, for the military, presaging what has become a key component in our war on terror today. Many such projects were funded by Pentagon grants while he worked at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics
Lab.

Inspired by heroes such as Jimmy Doolittle, Wiley Post, and Amelia Earhart, Maynard grew up in the Golden Age of Aviation. He often said that he had acquired a serious addiction to balsa and glue before he was 10 years old!

August 2002. Cape Spear, Newfoundland.
Maynard Hill and Nelson Sherren wait for launch time.
Photo by Leroy Leslie Hamilton.

Although he was partially deaf and legally blind for the last 10 years of his life, Maynard Hill saw possibilities where others didn’t. If aeromodelers of the present generation have the forethought and ability to push beyond boundaries, it’s because they stand on the shoulders of a giant: my friend, Maynard Hill. MA

—Dave Brown
Contributor

 Visit Maynard’s History Project biography to learn more about his life, career, and honors.

4 comments

  1. My name is Rick Bell, and when I was an editor for Model Airplane News (MAN), I had the honor of interviewing and documenting Maynard’s transatlantic flight and then wrote a feature article in MAN. I visited Maynard a couple of times at his home and was totally thrilled with my visits! Maynard told me several stories of his record-breaking endeavors, and yes, I saw the door with the props on it that Dave Brown mentioned. It was truly an honor to meet Maynard as he was an inspiration to me as I was growing up. I was extremely saddened when Maynard passed away.

  2. The Electric Powered Aeromodelers of Scotia, NY was honored to have Maynard visit us at the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in Glenville, NY shortly after his world record flight. There he spoke to us and members of many other clubs in the area. He brought along one of his TAM 5 models and thoroughly explained the technical innovations he had to develope and employ to accomplish his transAtlantic flight. It was a remarkable afternoon spent with a remarkable man. A DVD of the event was donated by the EPA to the AMA Museum.

  3. I remember reading of his record breaking exploits in the late 60s and through the 70s in the pages of Flying Models where he also had a column for several years. As a teen it was really inspirational stuff. Especially interesting were his altitude records,

  4. Never met him but wish I had. I followed his many exploits in the magazines and the museum thru the years. He inspired many of us to inovate as we built our models. Great article!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *