Written by Rachelle Haughn
The Other Side of the Tree Line: Rachelle Haughn interviews Dick Dave Platt
As seen in the Summer 2020 issue of Park Pilot
If you’ve ever built a kit, especially one of a scale aircraft, there’s a chance that you’ve heard of Dave Platt or Dave Platt Models. If not, perhaps you’ve attended the Top Gun Invitational (franktiano.com/events), held in Lakeland, Florida, which Dave helped start. If you’re still drawing a blank, have you heard of kit manufacturer Top Flite, for which Dave worked and designed models? Dave, now 87 years old, shared some of his backstory about how he got involved in the hobby industry for which he is known.
Dave Platt is pictured second from right at the 2021 Top Gun Invitational, where he won the Free Flight contest. Dave helped Frank Tiano start the event, which takes place in Lakeland FL. Photo by David Hart.
Rachelle Haughn: How did you end up in the US, working for Top Flite?
Dave Platt: In 1964, I was working as a designer consultant in London and got a call one day from [a company] and they said to me, “We’ve got a visit from Carl Goldberg coming up.” They sold his stuff. They said, “We want you to get one of his kits and build it because we want him to fly it on the day he visits us.”
I built it and met Carl and we had some conversation. I asked him what it would take for me to get a job in America. And he said, “I’ll get you a job.” And I said, “That would be great.”
For a while, I was going to work for Carl and started the immigration process. I got a visit from Sid Axelrod of Top Flite. He said, “I’d like you to work for us.” I told him that I would soon be working for Carl. Sid said that if I worked for Carl, I would be a draftsman, but if I worked for him, I’d be a designer. I started working for Top Flite in October 1967.
Fortunately, there were no hard feelings involved and I got to know Carl quite well [after moving to the US]. (Carl Goldberg Models and Top Flite were both located in Chicago.)
RH: What was your job at Top Flite, and how long did you work there?
DP: I designed models and that was it. The first one was an S.E.5. It was a 1/6-scale RC model. That kit, which sold for $39.95 in those days, fetches big money on eBay these days.
I later designed a P-51, the original Contender, of course. That’s still made today, but not in the original form. [Also] the old red box-series P-51, P-40, and P-39. And there were some little CL (Control Line) airplanes for 1/2A engines. I worked there for 5 years. Then I got an offer from some bloke to go into partnership with him to form a new company, which became Dave Platt Models. That was in 1972.
RH: What made you later decide that it was time to sell Dave Platt Models?
DP: Maybe about 5 years ago, I just got to where it was time to move on. I sold it to an outfit in England, Belair Scale Kits (belairkits.com), and these days they produce the kits that I used to make.
RH: How many model aircraft would you estimate that you have designed throughout your life?
DP: I once made a list, but that was some years ago. By now, it’s somewhere around 60 airplanes that I’ve had either published or kitted. But I designed hundreds that were not published or kitted.
RH: How did you get involved with The Battle of Britain movie, released in 1969?
DP: What happened was the producers of the movie had this idea to use models for the movie, but they realized that they really didn’t know anything about working models. They could build models to run along a string, but as far as RC models, they really didn’t have a clue. They went to the editor of AeroModeller magazine and asked him who he would recommend to help with models for the movie. [He] gave them four names [of those who] would be a good team, and I was on that team.
RH: What aircraft did you build for that movie? Were you allowed to keep any of the models?
DP: My job there was to design, not to build, but I did build a Stuka and flew it for a while. I left the movie project halfway through because my Green Card for America came through. Nobody did (keep them). They really didn’t want anybody to know that there were models for the movie, so it was pretty hush-hush back then.
RH: How did Top Gun come about, and what was your role in its creation?
DP: Frank Tiano came to me one day and said, “I’m thinking about starting a new venture here,” and he wanted me to get involved in it. I wrote the original rule book for it, and I did the pentagon logo. I was more or less in a consulting capacity. Whenever he’d have a question, he’d come to me with it. (Dave moved to Florida in 1972.)
RH: If you had to pick one type of model aircraft to fly for the rest of your life, what would it be?
DP: Well, these days I’m limited. I can’t stand up for very long. I’m 87 years old. I’m lucky to have made it this far at all. I can fly CL briefly—not a whole flight. I have to give it over to somebody else. But I mostly do FF (Free Flight) these days—returning back to my original old love.
When I started modeling in 1945 at the end of World War II, there was only FF. CL was just starting in America and in England, and Radio Control was science fiction. That was many years away yet. That’s how I started and what I’m returning to these days.
RH: What are your favorite models to build and fly?
DP: Anything. I was brought up to be a total modeler. It matters not to me what kind of model I build. Now I just build FF. That’s what my health limits me to. I would do it anyway.
Doing FF, to me, was returning to my origins. These days, we’ve got trackers to help us [find our aircraft]. But when I started, I was a fetchamite (the kid who used to hang around the men [who] were flying the models and squabble over whose turn it was to fetch models for the pilots), and I graduated to building the models myself.
Dave enjoyed competing in the 2015 CL Scale Nats. Photo by Rachelle Haughn.