My grandfather on my mother’s side was a Navy helicopter pilot. His favorite helicopter was the Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight. He never took it into battle – the Navy was a bit squeamish about the prospect of being financially responsible for his seven children and widow – but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
My grandfather passed away in 2009. A few weeks back, my grandmother passed away as well, and my mother and her siblings began the bittersweet process of divvying up their parents’ belongings. My mom asked me if there was anything I wanted, and I remembered the helicopter model that had hung in their breezeway for at least twenty years (and is probably even older than that).
Between the process of getting the model down and bringing it up from Florida, it arrived with all but two blades broken off and covered with decades’ worth of dust. Most of the metal had turned red with rust after years of Florida humidity. There wasn’t a whole lot I could do about the rust, but I set about wiping it down with some Magic Erasers (the best friend of all toy collectors with dusty toys). I did this partly because, for some reason, I thought all the decals and so forth on the model were paint. It turns out they weren’t, and so some of the decals got a bit messed up, as you can see from the pics.
But I did get the dust off (though the Magic Erasers turned completely black, there was so much old dust and grime). There was even a layer of grime inside the cockpit, but fortunately it popped out easily for cleaning, although as you can see, a bit of the paint came off.
The rotors weren’t too difficult to reattach, as they all plugged into small holes and had basically just popped out of the holes. A little glue fixed them them up fine, although for one the peg had snapped off right at the edge of the hole, and so I had to Dremel a new hole and then plug the blade in and glue it (so that particular blade is a tiny bit shorter than the other ones).
One cool thing is the cargo bay door in the back still opens.
I miss my grandparents. I wish I’d had the chance to talk to my grandfather more about his experiences in the Navy. A few years ago, Rotor Magazine has posted an article about the 1955 Disney short film “Men Against the Arctic.” You can watch the entire film here; my grandfather appears at 5:21 – he’s the guy on the right. He helped to fly the helicopters used in the filming of the short, which went on to win an Oscar for Best Short Subject Story in 1956. But the story behind the scenes is just as interesting, featuring a helicopter being forced to land in Arctic waters and a run-in with a polar bear. You can read the article here (PDF). In the photo, my grandfather is standing third from right.
I’d like to do a bit more restoration work on it, but for that, I think I’d need another copy for replacement parts. I’ve been unable to figure out who made this model or where it came from. For all I know, it could be something made especially for the Navy. UPDATE: My uncle informs me that is indeed the case – the model was made especially for the Navy by Boeing.
But whatever its origin, I’m glad I have this small heirloom to help keep my grandfather’s memory alive.