Clarence F. Lee – Model Engine Maestro

Clarence F. Lee – Model Engine Maestro

His name synonymous with RC engines, Clarence Lee was an icon of the RC aviation hobby.

Model Airplane News - RC Airplane News | Clarence F. Lee – Model Engine Maestro

Left: Here is just a small example of some of the engines in Clarence’s personal collection.
Right: Clarence holds one of his Lee 45 #001 engines. Incidentally, the photo on the wall is of Clarence Lee and a P-51 he flew.

Engine builder, tuner, and competitor

Born in Los Angeles in 1923, Clarence grew up in Glendale, California. He built his first model at the age of seven and entered the world of powered aircraft at the age of 14. He worked for a year doing odd jobs so that he could buy an unassembled 1938 Bunch Mighty Midget. After gradu­ating from high school in 1941, he started work at Vega Aircraft Corporation (a division of Lockheed Aircraft Company). Clarence entered the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet trainee in December 1942. He had flight time on a number of aircraft, including a PT-19, AT-10, B-25, P-38, and P-51. Clarence was assigned to the China, Burma, and India theater, where he piloted C-47s and C-46s for the combat cargo group flying the “Hump”—the Himalayas—from Burma to various airfields in China. In 1946, he was discharged from active duty and returned to the United States, but he remained in the Army Air Corps Reserve for 7 1/2 years. Once back on American soil, Clarence married his wife, Peggy. Pilots who had returned from the war a year earlier had filled all the commercial piloting jobs. So Clarence raised enough money, by cashing in some war bonds, to rent a building in Tujunga, California, and opened a floral business, where he and his wife worked for several years.

While in active service, Clarence started flying control-line models and continued until about 1956. After taking up remote control, Clarence was not happy with the power and performance
of the current engines available for RC use. Because of this, he designed and built his first Lee .45 engine just for RC planes in 1959. Clarence’s custom-made Lee engines became an instant success and were used by many of the top pattern fliers at the time. Clarence sold the rights to Veco Products, and the engine became the Veco .45. After that, Clarence was commissioned by Veco to design a number of engines, including the Veco .19, .61, and .35.

Clarence regularly participated in pattern competitions for about 10 years but grew tired of the constant practicing required to be competitive. But Clarence found his calling when the new Formula I Pylon racing started. His first racing team was with his good friend Wayne Wainwright, and later he teamed up with his son, Jack Lee.

We all appreciate the knowledge and practical advice Clarence gave us in his “Engine Clinic” column, which ran for many years in Model Airplane News after RCM ceased publication. He was a true RC icon.

Updated: January 3, 2023 — 3:56 PM


  1. So sorry to hear this. A true gentleman. Gave full attention to this brazilian guy in Brazil, with some queries in 2001 or so.

  2. Clarence Lee like Joe Bridy was well received and remembered in UK alongside Peter Chinn and John D. Haytree (UK Slangly referred to as “Mr UK Fox” from his long association with the Duke Fox Empire ).
    These Icons can never be replaced and nor should they as They were all pioneers of the day without whose passed -down knowledge a lot of us would not be as wise
    Again like the earlier Brazilia’s Tome Clarence Lee was extremely helpful to this Londoner some 12 Years ago with the genuinity of the well-known Guy next door
    approach — unbelievable

  3. It was a colum that was a must read, since 1965!!! (I started in 1960 with hand launch glidders and U control)
    Always fine, ilustrative, great lessons, teachings and a pleasure to read oversaeas.

  4. Clarence was a true legend in the modeling world. In my opinion, one of the truly greatest influences in the hobby. He always made the effort to help others whenever he could. His legendary Lee .45 series set the bar back in the day. I was deeply saddened to learn of he and his wife’s passing. RIP

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