"P.E." - Britain's Best Designer
February 1962 American Modeler
call P.E. Norman multi-talented doesn't do him justice. Aside
from being recognized, at least circa 1962, as Britain's most accomplished
aeromodeler, he made and played professional violins (aka luthier),
wa a wood carver, a silver smith, a sculptor, and even an artist
who painted the image used on the cover of this February 1962
American Modeler. P.E. is credited with designing, building,
and flying the first pendulum-operated-elevator free flight model
and has designed and built many ducted fan scale jet models (long
before commercial ducted fan units were available).
Britain's Best Designer
Britain's most skilled model plane builder is a quiet, still youthful
looking fellow who just celebrated his 50th birthday.
Surrey's Norman with five fine flying radio controlled ducted-fan
"jets" (Aeromodeller pix).
in 1927 he built and flew the first pendulum-elevator fitted free
flight - a rubber-driven Fokker D-7.
In '59, he chalked
up another world "first" by demonstrating unassisted take-offs with
a highly successful ducted-fan propelled R/C plane which later won
the R/C spot-landing event of a big model meet!
"Rapier" (depicted in his own painting on this month's cover) is
the most advanced model of its type now flying.
He has never
built or flown a control line craft.
His name is P. E. Norman
and he is "P.E." to practically every British modeler.
he's not building planes, P.E. teaches sculpture, wood-carving and
silver-smithing. An accomplished painter in both oil and water color,
he is a regular exhibitor at the famed Royal Academy in London.
He has received numerous awards for his violin and viola playing
- often accompanied by his wife, who is a concert pianist. P.E.
plays on" his own hand-made violins 1
If you've been aboard
the liner Queen Elisabeth, you probably admired the magnificent
mural wood-carvings in the main lounges. Many of these were executed
by P.E. His book, "Sculpture in Wood," is considered one of the
best on the subject. Some of the most original and elegant trophies
awarded at the British Nationals and other major model-plane contests
have been designed and crafted by P.E.
P.E.'s model plane building started in 1925 inspired by annual visits
to the famous Lympne Light Aeroplane Trials. This was a Beardmore
"Wee-Bee" - a particularly unfortunate choice because of its almost
complete lack of stability! This was but a minor setback to one
whose earliest memories were of stories dealing with WW/1 aircraft
as related by his two older brothers, both Royal Flying Corps pilots
who had flown such exotic mounts as Sopwith Pups, Camels and Bristol
Something we didn't realize England's Epsom Downs race track
attracted (above): P. E. Norman, surrounded by scale free
flights and usual fascinated crowd.
Not only does P. E. play a professional violin, he makes
them! Each takes about 5 weeks, after which varnishing and
final finishing requires a full year.
Long Midget R/C is recent, fairly rare prop job.
Most of P. E.'s attention these days is given to modern
Trophy was designed and crafted by the sculpture-teacher.
Soon P.E.'s models were staying in one piece longer
and turning in better flights. He was building and flying compressed-air,
gas and diesel powered types, as well as rubber jobs. One thing
has" always stood out on every one of his scale models - they were
and are true scale, with no enlarged tail-surfaces, boosted dihedral
angles or oversize props.
Right up to his present-day ducted-fan
jets, P.E.'s scale free flights have always looked like the real
aircraft, as well as having near-scale speeds and flight characteristics.
To watch a P.E. Spitfire part company with the ground and start
its climb skyward recalls the contrail-festooned skies during the
Battle of Britain. Or when a P.E. ducted-fan MiG-15 whips around
in a tight bank, it seems natural to look for an attacking Sabrejet.
Most Norman models still in existence are in top flying
condition. P.E.'s idea of fun is to fly at least three or four every
time he can get out to his usual flying field - Epsom Downs Race
Track, scene of the world-famous Derby. How can P.E.'s models keep
on flying year after year? They are probably the toughest, most
rugged ever to become airborne.
The first flight by one
of P.E.'s pendulum-controlled scale models usually results in the
spectacular kind of a crash you associate with such movies as "Hells
Angels!" Pieces fly off in all directions. Even hardened model builders
avert their eyes. But as the dust starts to clear, P.E. can be seen
busily putting all the bits back together again - snapping fasteners,
replacing bands and balsa dowels.
In a few minutes he's
flipping the prop for another attempt. The next crash will probably
be a little less violent. Before long P.E. has it trimmed perfectly,
with all the bugs ironed out!
The only time we ever saw
a P.E. model badly wrecked was when one dove into (and almost through!)
a car door. Yet with hardly a scratch on the model - that is, until
the irate auto owner broke the plane across his knee! Like all members
of the Society of Model Aeronautical Engineers (the British version
of our AMA) , P.E. carries model flying insurance.
of the structural methods and materials he uses P.E.'s models tend
to come out on the heavy side. Initial test flights are usually
made under power, with unassisted ground take-offs. Many Norman
models feature pendulum ailerons, as well as elevators and rudder
- plus such other tricky gadgets as timer-operated retractable and
extending landing gears. One memorable 1952 design was a 46" span
(1/6 scale) replica of the Percival Mew Gull. Powered by an E.D.
diesel of 3.46-cc (about .208 cu. in.), this free flight had an
all-up weight of 50 ounces and little more than 300 sq. in. wing
area. Not surprisingly, it flew at over 50 mph; gliding speed was
slowed to 30 mph by wing slots. Utilizing its pendulum elevators
and rudder, it could put on an impressive aerobatic performance
before power cut and it settled into a stable approach glide.
P.E. considers it a poor afternoon if he racks up less than
50 flights (with several models!), so he always draws a big crowd.
We remember just such a performance - back in Britain a few years
ago, at one of the annual Northern Heights Gala Days at Hawker Aircraft's
Test pilots like Neville Duke performed
aerobatics with both vintage and modern Hawker aircraft; big names
from the aircraft industry and the R.A.F. were out in force. We
even got into the act, putting on a demonstration of control line
flying for the guests of honor, the Queen and Princess Margaret.
But as usual the star attraction was P.E., happily launching Bulldogs,
Camels and Fokkers in all directions. He usually had several in
the air at one time and just kept on flipping the props, while awed
youngsters did all the recovery work.
Many of P.E.'s older
free flight scales are being converted to radio control; latest
ducted-fan models have R/C installed from the start. One of his
few prop-planes built recently is a Long Midget R/C pylon racer.
P.E.'s models are often fitted with his own home-built engines.
So far he's turned out 26, several without the use of a lathe!
P.E.'s early gas models in 1935-36 mounted Baby Cyclone,
Brown Junior and Ohlsson powerplants, He started using the "hollow-log"
method of fuselage construction for near-scale gas jobs, fore-runners
of a whole breed of clipped-wing cabin models dubbed "Antspants"
and "Natsneez." Several appeared in kit form after WW/2, but their
wing loadings proved to be too much on the high side for most fliers."
A typical P.E. model such as his 50" span Hawker Fury Mk.
II will feature separate plug-in lower wing panels, one-piece upper
wing attached to a parasol mount atop the center-section wing struts,
cowling formed from thin aluminum, shock-proof engine mount and
a sprung landing gear, with rubber bands passing through hollowed
Wing construction on a biplane like this is started
by forming the outlines with 3/16" dia. reed, curved to shape and
pinned in place over the plans. Bamboo spars 1/8" x 3/16" and balsa
1/8" sheet ribs, 1/4" x 1/2" leading edges and 1/4" x 1" trailing
edges are then added. Reed is carved and sanded until it fairs into
the airfoil section.
Fuselage construction consists of four
1/4" square hard balsa longerons, cemented to a 5-ply wood firewall
and 1/16" plywood formers. Strips of 1/8" x 1/4" bamboo are bound
and cemented to the longerons back to the cockpit area. Very hard
1/16" x 1/8" balsa stringers are used; the structure around the
engine and wing attachment points is covered with 1/32" thick fibre
sheets. Vertical triangular-frame engine mounts, cut from 1/2" thick
fiber, are tapped and screwed to 1/4" sheet fibre detachable engine
Fiber's advantages over plywood for engine mounting
are that it won't soak up fuel and is stronger. The engine former
is held by a spring. In addition, P.E. uses flexible "Truflex" props,
so engine damage is virtually unknown on his models. Fiber sheet
is used for wing-tongue boxes, the tongues being cut from 5-ply
wood. Silk or nylon covering is standard for general strength and
to provide protection from trees and bushes.
is always coming up with new construction methods or new materials.
For him a visit to a five and dime store usually yields at least
one item such as a black plastic belt. This cut into strips becomes
dummy rear braces on a "V" landing gear. He was among the first
to employ metalized silver paper to simulate the "skin" of metal
planes. Aluminum saucepans become radial cowls on his Fokker Triplanes
and Camels. Guns and exhausts are made from painted plastic tubing.
Years before anyone used fiberglass cloth in model building,
P.E. turned out cowls, wheel spats and large fairings from buckram
- the resin impregnated cloth used in binding hard-cover books.
He makes a balsa form, soaks buckram to make it pliable, then applies
it to the form (greasing latter to prevent sticking). When "the
resin in the buckram has hardened slots or openings can be cut -
before or after the shell is removed from the form. The shell is
dipped in clear dope several times, then strengthened by a covering
inside and out of silk or nylon. Parts made by this method are flexible,
yet sturdy enough to stand plenty of wear and tear.
ducted-fan models are a story in themselves - so their design, construction,
flying and the very latest dope on efficient "fans" will be given
in next A.M. There's a new world of flying fun in store with ducted-fan
free flight and radio control models!
Posted August 4, 2013
Even during the busiest times of my life I have endeavored to maintain
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through a lifelong involvement in model aviation, which
all began in Mayo, MD. There
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