Written by Rachelle Haughn
The Other Side of the Tree Line: Rachelle Haughn interviews Dick Sarpolus
As seen in the Summer 2020 issue of Park Pilot
Rachelle Haughn: How did you get started in model aviation?
Dick Sarpolus: In the 1940s, I was very young. My father gave me a Strombecker “solid model” airplane kit. [I] assembled it and painted it using a couple [of] old toothbrushes, but I wanted a flying model, not a solid model. So, we moved to the Jim Walker American Junior Aircraft balsa ready-to-fly airplanes—the small balsa glider, the catapult-launched balsa glider with the folding wings, and the rubber-powered balsa model. They all flew well, and I’ve been seriously active with model airplanes ever since.
RH: When and why did you switch to foamies?
DS: When electric power for models came out, I tried it. But with brushed motors and NiCd batteries and no decent throttle control, I didn’t like the results. I didn’t touch electric power for some years until technology got to brushless motors, LiPo batteries, and electronic speed controls.
Now, electric power was practical, but because I was so much older, after building and flying larger and larger heavy airplanes, I just couldn’t do that any longer. Foam construction and smaller models were the answer. Electric power provided just as good performance from the airplanes.
This twin-engine airplane was Dick’s CL Stunt design. He flew it at the 1953 Nats at Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Pennsylvania.
RH: When did you start designing model airplanes?
DS: When I started in the hobby, there was no epoxy glue, no CA glue, no fiberglass, no plastic or foam, no ARF models. Building an airplane was a lot of work, but it was the only way to get one.
I found I could design and scratch-build my own airplanes that would perform as well as or better than the available kit models, and I had some success in flying competition with my planes. Then [I] found other modelers would build and fly planes of my designs.
I enjoyed designing, drafting the plans, taking photos of the planes, and writing about their design and construction—so I began submitting [them] to magazines.
Dick’s Firebolt—an experimental canard with a forward-swept wing and pusher engine aerobatic design—is now in the National Model Aviation Museum in Muncie IN.
At a contest in 1968, after Dick and a friend crashed their planes in a Pylon Race, they convinced notable modeler Leon Shulman to give them one of the trophies he’d won so they could split it in half and share it. Fun stuff.
RH: Of the aircraft that you’ve designed for Park Pilot, what has been your favorite so far?
DS: I’ve done quite a few electric foamie designs for Park Pilot and Model Aviation, but my favorite has to be the sheet foam, electric-powered B-29 that carried the rocket-powered X-1 up and released it to “break the sound barrier.” When I saw the smoke from the rocket motor ignition and saw my friend fly the X-1 around while I piloted the B-29, well, that was a lot of fun—all with some small sheet foam airframes. A lot of other designs were my “favorites” at the time. That’s what makes this stuff so much fun.
RH: What do you enjoy about designing and building park flyers?
DS: Over the years, I’ve belonged to several clubs and built and flown competitively about all of the different types of RC aircraft. At this point in my life, I wanted to simplify the hobby activity, so [I] moved to smaller, lighter, quiet electric-powered aircraft types. Just as much fun [as other aircraft], the designing and building is easier, the thrill of aerobatic flying is still there, and the fun out at the flying field with the other [pilots] and seeing all of the other aircraft being flown is still there. Although I do seem to be more interested in what food is being served at the field, I make sure I have a comfortable chair to sit in, and probably take a nap while out there.
Dick’s one turbine-powered model, built in 2005, was of balsa/plywood/foam construction and a practical, fun aerobatic flyer.
RH: Have you ever met any “legends” in the hobby? If so, whom and how?
DS: The best part of all my memories is the people I’ve met in the hobby. Back in the early days, I think there were more “heroes” around, active in promoting the hobby and starting the businesses to produce the equipment we needed. These icons of the hobby were accessible, easy to talk with, and fun to fly with.
I can recall many names—most are probably little-known today. [Of the] people I’ve met, many of them I got to know as friends, [and] to fly and do some work with. I’ll try: Hal deBolt, Bob Palmer, George Aldrich, Dr. Walt Good, Howard McEntee, Walt Schroder, Art Schroeder, Don McGovern, Bill Winter, Maynard Hill, Bill Northrop, Duke Fox, Walton Hughes, Leon Shulman, Bob Hunt, Frank Zaic, Nick Ziroli, Larry Scarinzi, Sal Taibi, Larry Wolfe, Tony Naccarato, Bob Peru, Bob Kress, Bob Champine, John Worth, Bob Aberle, Frank Lashek, and so many more that my old memory won’t help me with at this time.
Dick’s latest design is a twin EDF-powered Learjet. It has plenty of power to take off from the ground from short grass or a geotextile strip.
RH: What would you like to design next?
DS: I recently sold my house after 50 years and bought a condo with plenty of room for my airplane stuff, but I’m not sure how much more designing and building I’ll be doing. I hope there are plenty of younger guys in the hobby to continue doing that stuff.
I have plenty of foamie electrics and Old-Time stuff to enjoy flying. The hobby, of course, continues to change, technology brings new stuff and ways to do things. At 82 years old, my hope is that flying model airplanes—all types and technologies—is something that will continue for many years. For any who’d like to reminisce about the old days and stuff, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.