Nfld. & Labrador

Beloved hand-crafted model planes part of 1919 transatlantic race exhibit

Dave Williams has books, magazines and pictures of aircraft all over his small bungalow, and in his garage are boxes with model after model carefully packed and stored.

Dave Williams' model planes are on display at Admiralty House Communications Museum

Dave Williams proudly poses with his favourite model plane, a Hawker Hurricane. The plane was well known as the Royal Air Force's main fighter at the start of the Second World War. (Paul Colbourne)

To say Dave Williams loves airplanes would be an understatement.

He has books, magazines and pictures of aircraft all over his small bungalow, and in his garage are boxes with model after model carefully packed and stored.

Williams said that after he completes his models, he just packs them away, never to be displayed or looked at
again.

That is — until this past winter.

This model Vickers-Vimy is based on the one Alcock and Brown flew on their transatlantic flight of 1919. (Paul Colbourne)

The 79-year-old model builder said every airplane model that he's built was a celebration. So when the Admiralty House Communications Museum announced it would be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Alcock and Brown's historic non-stop transatlantic flight in 1919 with an exhibit, Williams figured he had to help out.

That's the thing about communities and museums. It's all about sharing and promoting local people who care about events like this.Sarah Wade

Over the years, Williams has crafted hundreds of model airplanes — but his favourite is the Hawker Hurricane used by the RAF in World War II.

"It was the workhorse of the Royal Air Force," he said.

The Hawker Hurricane, along with the Spitfire, protected the British skies from the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.

This archival photo of a Sopwith in Mount Pearl is from the Margaret Carter Race across the Transatlantic, 1918-1919 Collection. (Archives and Special Collections, Memorial Libraries)

Williams has been building models since he was 10 years of age. He suffers from a bone ailment that didn't allow him to play sports like most boys his age, so building models became his way to pass the time.

Williams's model airplanes are not made from kits, however. He fashions everything from scratch.

After studying schematics from the many aircraft books he has, Williams then draws out the plans, adjusts the scale to the size of plane he wants to build and goes at it.

This is a model Sopwith, based on the single-seat fighter aircraft used in the First World War. (Paul Colbourne)

His workshop is located in the corner of his house, and with balsa wood, paper, tape and glue and the occasional pin, Williams will spend weeks on one plane. His attention to detail is surprisingly accurate.

"It's important to get it right.… Otherwise why bother?" he said.

The Admiralty House Communications Museum was overwhelmed with his gift.

You want to preserve the history. Every one has a meaning to me.- Dave Williams

Museum manager Sarah Wade said Williams is talented and "very modest about his own abilities."

"We had to find a way to include them in the display celebrating the transatlantic air race," said Wade.

"That's the thing about communities and museums — it's all about sharing and promoting local people who care about events like this."

The Handley Page, in Harbour Grace, was one of the aircraft that participated in the world's first non-stop transatlantic race in 1919. (Archives and Special Collections, Memorial Libraries )

The models given to the museum have a practical use as well.

Wade said the models add another dimension to the exhibit. She said people can walk through the museum and see archival photos taken by Margaret Carter, but can then continue into The Annex and see the model planes, making the experience that much more real.

This is a model of the Handley Page, named the 'Atlantic.' (Paul Colbourne)

Williams quickly responded to the question, "Are you an artist?" with "No, this is just something I do."

He said he makes these models to preserve history.

"Every model I make is either an aircraft from Canada or England that is being retired," Williams said. "So you want to preserve the history. Every one has a meaning to me, otherwise I wouldn't bother with it."

Williams's planes and the rest of the Field to Flight exhibit runs until Aug. 31 at the Admiralty House Communications Museum in Mount Pearl.

These are several model planes that Dave Williams made, not in the exhibit at Admiralty House Museum. (Paul Colbourne)

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Paul Colbourne

Contributor

Paul Colbourne is a film and video producer now living back home in Newfoundland. His career spans 30 years and he has won and been nominated for several awards, included a 1998 Gemini for best information segment in a current affairs show.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.