Pixel Tracker

Sunday, February 17 , 2019, 6:15 am | Fair 49º


Guys & Garages: John Fodor Converts Garage into a Model Airplane Hangar

Fleet of miniature aircraft keeps aviation buff's life soaring — and it's all to scale

John Fodor has won “firsts” in the model airplane world, both for design and flying performance. But he holds one first that is unique.

“I was the first person to fly a radio-controlled plane in Nepal,” said Fodor. “That was in 1973. The country had only opened its borders a few years earlier. I was working there for the World Health Organization as a special adviser to the Ministry of Health & Population.”

Fodor recalls the local reaction to his model airplane flights.

“The Nepalese people were amazed and, when I landed the plane, one person studied it very carefully, then asked me, ‘but how do you get the people inside such a small plane?’”

Given the great care and detail that Fodor builds into his model planes, it isn’t surprising that they should be mistaken for the real thing. Take his ⅛-scale replica of a Cessna 180 that includes a pilot at the controls, complete with his navigational sectional map sitting on the dashboard and his exact reproduction of a 1930 Tiger Moth.

“I really enjoy the challenge of trying to replicate everything down to the very last detail on my scale planes,” he said.

“My interest in planes all started when I was 8 years old,” he continued. “I had a little rubber wind-up model plane. In my teens I flew U-controlled power planes, and when I was in my 30s, I got into radio-controlled power planes and gliders.

“Back then the power planes had motors that ran on a fuel consisting of methanol and nitromethane mixed with special lubricants, and castor oil.

“However, today’s planes are powered by gas motors and electric motors. Some gliders are also powered with electric motors and, with these, you just kick in the motor when you need to get some lift to another thermal,” he said with a smile. “I really enjoy flying scale models, more so than high-speed aerobatic planes where you have to do maneuvers that are both accurate and realistic.”

The “hangar” where the model planes are born, stored and brought home for repairs is John’s garage. Situated directly under the house and made with stone-lined walls edged in rough rock, the garage has the look and feel of a cool cellar.

“It is made out of the boulders they cleared away to make room for the house,” said Fodor, “and it was built in 1930 — the very year I was born.”

Looking around at all the planes straddling the rafters or hanging from his garage wall, Fodor says he’s lucky.

John Fodor, from inside his garage workshop, counts down to takeoff time with one of his model airplanes.
John Fodor, from inside his garage workshop, counts down to takeoff time with one of his model airplanes. (Helena Day Breese photo)

“I still have most of my planes,” he said. “I haven’t made too many mistakes that I couldn’t fix.”

Fodor does remember one spectacular failure with a power plane, however. He recalls when, under full throttle, “the plane inexplicably made two violent maneuvers and then plunged to earth. There was debris scattered over at least a 40-foot radius.”

Shaking his head at the memory, he admits, “I couldn’t repair that one.”

Fodor believes he inherited his resourcefulness and love of woodworking from his father.

“My dad was a cabinet maker,” he said.

When the elder Fodor came to America, he brought his big wooden toolbox from Hungary.

“It contained a whole variety of saws, wood planes that he made himself, chisels and hand drills,” said Fodor, pointing out some of those tools now adorning his garage wall.

“He never had a power tool or owned a car. He went to his jobs by bus, carrying his wooden toolbox, and he worked all his life. My mother died when I was 14 — of kidney failure. I have lots of great memories,” said Fodor, who mused, “that was an amazing generation — but many died at a relatively young age.”

At 82, Fodor is going strong. He often, flies his gliders on the thermals off Ellwood Bluffs and on most Sundays powers up his scale-model planes at a local flying club airfield. Several times a year he participates at giant-scale fly-ins, and puts his floatplane through its paces in special events held at local lakes.

Does he still have his “Nepalese” plane?

“No!” said Fodor, before pausing and laughing at the reason.

“When the batteries eventually died, it crashed and the locals ceremoniously cremated the plane and scattered its ashes,” he said.

Click here for more information on Fodor’s Web site.

— Noozhawk columnist Helena Day Breese is a freelance writer and photographer, and author of Guys and Garages. Click here to contact her.

The wingspan of a model airplane may be bigger than you think.
The wingspan of a model airplane may be bigger than you think. (Helena Day Breese photo)

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.