Building Dekno’s 1930 Thompson Trophy Winner
By Wayne E. Moyer
B.F. Goodrich’s Vice President for Aviation, Lee Shoenhair, made a late (VERY late) decision to enter the 1930 National Air Races to be held in Chicago. More specifically, he wanted to enter the unlimited Thompson Trophy Race, in spite of the fact that he had very limited air racing experience and didn’t have an airplane. He couldn’t get the “hot” airplane at that point, and veteran racing pilots Frank Hawks and Jimmy Hazlip were already entered in their brightly painted Texaco and Shell Mystery Ships anyway. So he went looking for an airplane, and by the time he talked to E.M. “Matty” Laird only three weeks were left before the start of the race. Laird was already building his “Speedwing” biplanes and felt that the biplane configurations shorter wingspan and strong but streamlined “I-Strut” configuration would allow him to use thinner (i.e., faster) wings with fewer bracing wires (less drag), than the strut-and-wire-braced monoplanes then flying. Shoenhair signed a contract to have a Laird LC-DW-300 airplane just 21 days before the scheduled date of the Thompson Trophy race. Shoenhair stipulated that he would fly the airplane in the Thompson and that it would be powered by the new Pratt & Whitney 300-horsepower Wasp Junior engine (hence the 300 in the designation) which he would arrange to have leased to Laird.
With his full crew working literally 24/7, Matty’s Laird aircraft rolled the black and gold Laird out of the factory door less than 2 hours before the scheduled start of the Thompson race! Shoenhair had never flown a Laird of any type (great planning for a VP!) and so experienced race pilot Charles “Speed” Holman, who’d come to Chicago hoping for some kind of ride and pretty much attached himself to the Laird factory, was asked to make the test flight. The cockpit had been designed around Shoenhair; at over 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, Holman’s head stuck out well above the windshield. After a short 10-minute hop Holman landed, noted that the rigging needed adjusted, and that was done while the new airplane was fully fueled. Somewhere along the line Shoenhair’s friends and family convinced him that flying a new, virtually untested airplane he’d never flown before in the country’s fasted race wasn’t the best idea, so Holman squeezed back into the cockpit for the 5-minute hop to Curtis-Reynolds airport and the National Air Races.
Upon landing, Holman was directed to the Thompson Trophy starting line. While Laird’s crew, who’d rushed over, adjusted the rigging once again, someone applied race number 77 with a broad brush and whitewash. Besides the two Mystery Ships, in line for the race-horse start were Captain Arthur Page, who was expected to win in the Army’s one-off parasol-wing Curtiss XF6C-6 Hawk, Paul Adams in an earlier travel Air, and Benny Howard in his tiny “Pete” monoplane.
Hawks and Adams dropped out early, and Page was clearly the class of the race until he wandered off course and crashed on lap 17, the victim of carbon monoxide fumes. That left Holman and Hazlip neck and neck; Holman, with his head above the windshield, was getting a full dose of Wasp fumes and Hazlip had his own problems with a poor fuel mixture that was causing engine problems. On the last lap Holman, flying a bit higher, dove across the finish line to win the 1930 (and officially, the first) Thompson Trophy race. When he landed, the Laird had less than 45 minutes total flying time! Nobody but Laird’s crew had seen the airplane of course, but when someone asked what kind of airplane it was, Matty had the answer: “it’s the Solution” to the Travel Air Mystery”!
I built all of the post-war Thompson Trophy winners a few years ago but had little hope of completing a full collection. After all, what manufacturer would invest money in tooling to make an airplane that has only one configuration and color option? Fortunately Dekno Models has the ability to create very accurate masters and RTV molds and the desire to models that no one else has done. The Laird Solution is their 4th pre-war TT winner (their Weddell-Williams represents the 1931 second-place airplane, and will hopefully be modified to make the 1933 and ’34 winners) and it, like it’s predecessors, is a beauty.
After reading the instructions and while trying to figure out what shade is “electric blue” and exactly where it should go in the cockpit (and I happily admit that Dekno’s English is much better than my non-existent Spanish!) I Googled the Laird Solution and re-discovered that the airplane is on display in the new England Air Museum after a restoration overseen by Matty laird himself. There aren’t many photos on their site but a second site led me to a “Laird Solution Today” link at http://www.airminded.net/lcdw500/neamlaird.html. This brings up dozens of excellent photos obviously taken “By Modelers for Modelers” and is an absolute must for anyone interested in this airplane, let alone anyone building one.
Dekno AR 720800 comes in their drawer-style box, with 22 beautifully cast resin parts heat-sealed into individual sections of the plastic sleeve. A nicely done double-sided instruction sheet and crisp decals- - with a better set of Laird emblems in a smaller sheet- - complete the kit. Both wings are one-piece castings that fit onto and into the fuselage, and while there are small, easily removed mold lines on the leading edges, both were absolutely straight with exceptionally thin trailing edges that are a lot thinner than anything I’ve seen on limited-run plastic kits. With the correct cockpit side colors (”Model Master Ford Engine Blue”), photos from the site above, and Paul Matt’s drawings I decided to add a bit of cockpit detail since the transparent sides make the interior pretty visible. Dekno’s panel shape is right, but the thickness of the fuselage halves make it sit a bit too low, so I thinned the upper fuselage from the inside.
Photos show the panel to be a very dark gray with typical black and white gauges, which came from my 40-year old “decal spares” box. Throttle and trim quadrants were made from bits of plastic, with levers from small pieces of scrap photo-etched “trees” with painted drops of thick super glue for handles and thin wire pushrods. The Solution had rudder bars, not pedals, and more small “connectors” from p.e. trees made convincing ones.
Remember, you’re seeing greatly enlarged monitors on your screens; the interior looks much better in 1:1 scale.
Dekno’s instructions show where the rigging wires should go, something not seen in most kits and much appreciated, so I drilled holes with #72 (two wires) and #75 (one wire) bits in the fuselage and wings surfaces where indicated.
Both wings needed just a little bit of sanding (a common emery board is my favorite tool) to get a snug fit. Be sure that the upper wing will sit square than seen from above as well and head-on; my kit, needed a little tweaking on the plug to align the wing trailing edges.
All in all, for a low-run resin kit, the parts are not only superbly cast and detailed, but they fit very well. The lower-wing/fuselage joint needed just a touch of putty and sanding and the fuselage seams were filled with primer.
Be sure to keep the locating holes for the landing gear struts cleaned out. The tail surfaces are much too thin to depend on butt joints so I reinforced them with brass wire “butt joints” as seen in my Mystery Ship and LTR-14 articles for Bent Throttles”.
At this point I ran into a puzzle. There are three tabs inside the cowling which serve to line the engine up correctly; the engine, by the way is another excellent casting with only minor flash between a few cylinders. That’s three possible ways to fit the engine inside the engine inside the cowling. The cowling has tiny, crisp panel lines, but they aren’t along the centerline- - one “half” is bigger than the other. Six combinations. Now there’s a four-sided plug on the back or the engine that fits into a matching hole in the firewall. It’s been almost 50 years since my statistics class but I think that’s 24 ways the whole thing can go together. Back to the Matt drawings where I found:
1) the engine should have a “Vee” (space between two cylinders) at the top with the bottom cylinder vertical and
2) the larger section of cowling is the top (panel lines below the centerline).
With that information everything lined up just fine and was marked, then the engine and inside of the cowling were painted before the engine was glued inside and the cowling attached to the fuselage and a final primer coat was applied to all the parts and sanded smooth with 3200-grit cloth.
The pigments, or metallic particles in all my “gold” model paints looked pretty huge on a model this small, so I bought a jar of Alclad II “Pale Gold” and tested that. Much better, so the wings and tail surfaces were airbrushed with that and allowed to dry overnight before being masked with Tamiya tape. To further reduce the tape’s tackiness, I stuck pieces to my forehead before using them on the model, and none of the Alclad was lifted when the tape was removed. Everything was painted with gloss black lacquer and the decals were applied before a coat of future Floor wax was airbrushed on.
Now for the rigging - - note the holes in the wings and fuselage in the photo above. I’ve used stainless steel surgical wire for more than 40 years with great success.
Once in place it never sags and really looks like steel flying/landing wires. The first step is to measure the length od wire needed; simple dividers work very well.
I put a strand of wire on a piece of flat glass and transfer the measurement to that, adding some extra length if the wire goes into the fuselage (drill fuselage holes clear through if possible) and then cut it off with a sharp (new!) knife blade.
I put a small drop of Micro Kristal Klear in one hole- - if the wire goes into the fuselage, stick it in a ways, put the KK in the other hole and pull it back out until it will drop into the hole with the glue. Another small drop in the other end will secure the wire and the hole will disappear when the clue dries clear- - or you can apply a drop of paint if it doesn’t.
Dekno’s instructions say to glue the I-struts to the upper wing before that is glued in place. That will work if you can be sure you’ve got them the right length, but I didn’t want to sand or cut on one end of these very thin resin castings with the other firmly glued in place, so I waited until after the top wing was in place before trimming and fitting the struts. That made it easier to add the last rigging wires, too. I did have to thin down each end of the struts; with primer and paint they wouldn’t fit into the wing recesses. Getting a good loose fit before the model is assembled would make this job easier. Since the struts aren’t carrying any load, I glued them in place with Kristal Klear, too; and excess that’s squeezed out can be removed with a damp paintbrush.
I trimmed the cockpit sides and windshield to fit (Dekno provides spares) and glues them in place with (what else) more KK. The flat spots on the upper wing are tracks on which the windshield slid forward so the sides could fold down, so they were painted aluminum- -there should actually be thin aluminum “tracks” under the windshield here, too.
I did make a couple of changes. Dekno’s tail skid is a really impressive and very delicate casting. So delicate, in fact that, that I didn’t think it would survive the normal handling moving, and transportation to meetings and displays that my models are subjected to. I realized that the master had to have been made from brass sheet and wire; why couldn’t I do the same? As it turned out, with Dekno’s skid as a pattern, it took just a few minutes to solder up a much more durable part.
After painting the prop with Alclad II “Polished Aluminum” I fitted it to the engine, fortunately without glue. It looked small; I checked photos and it really looked small. Out came the calipers and calculator. Matt’s plans said the prop was 8’5” (101 inches) in diameter, but this one scaled out to just 86 inches, well over a foot too short.
Fortunately my dwindling prop stash had an Aeroclub Hamilton Standard prop (right) of the correct size. Somebody REALLY needs to put those props back into production. Incidentally, if you have one of the first kits like mine, contact Dekno for a replacement.
That’s the ONLY nit in the whole kit. My finished Laird looks right from every angle, and its decals are right on the money down to the incorrect P and W logo some Laird employee incorrectly painted on the cowling; P&W is the registered trademark.
Span and length both check out right on 1/72 scale, but m ore importantly, the model looks right from all angles.
When it’s placed next to Dekno’s equally accurate Mystery Ship, its more compact dimensions show that Matty Laird really did have the correct “Solution”.
This is as close to a “shake the box” limited run resin kit as I’ve seen. Clean, crisp, and very detailed castings, no large pour blocks attached to small parts, small mold lines, and excellent parts fit made this a much easier build than I’d anticipated. It gets a hearty “Highly Recommended”. Dekno’s next should be one of my favorite race planes, and the only airplane (by serial number, not type) to win both the Bendix and Thompson Trophy races, Benny Howard’s immortal “Mr. Mulligan”. I can’t wait to show you that one!