After Bruce Ream retired in 2002 from flying full-scale airplanes and as a partner in the largest architectural firm in Chicago that designed multimillion-dollar buildings, he needed to keep his idle hands and mind busy. He had enjoyed building RC model kits since 1983 and wanted to continue building airplanes “from sticks,” allowing him to construct and fly complex aircraft. For instance, his project building the Proctor kit of the World War I German Eindecker included actual wing-warping controls as the real plane had before ailerons became the standard. Other planes he has built and flown over the years include a 1/4-scale Fokker D.VII, D.VIII, and Dr.I triplane.
Bruce’s latest accomplishment is another Proctor kit, the 88-inch wingspan JN-4 “Jenny.” This proved to be one of his most challenging to build, especially since, at 1/6 scale, space was extremely limited to fit things like the engine, muffler, and servos inside the cramped fuselage. On top of this, Bruce wanted to figure out how to have the wires that operate the flight-control surfaces work just like the real thing. For example, the ailerons are operated by a servo inside the fuselage with the wires routed above and below the top wing. Pulleys and control horns help precisely position the ailerons just as its full-size counterpart was designed to do more than 100 years ago.
He decided to replicate the airplane used in The Great Waldo Pepper, the popular 1975 movie starring Robert Redford. He completed it in about seven months, less time than he expected it would take.
Bruce won a special award for technical merit at the annual Warbirds & Classics Over Denver event at Chatfield State Park near Denver, Colorado. I think you’ll agree that his latest creation is truly a beauty to behold, whether on the ground or in the air.
I asked Bruce some questions about his long history building and flying RC airplanes. Here is what I found out:
Congratulations on your successful build and flight of your Curtiss Jenny. Please tell us a little about yourself and your model
I’m a retired architect and have been building and flying RC for the last 36 years. I have always liked to build my models and then getting to see them fly. I lost track of how many I have built, but it is over 25. The Proctor Jenny is my latest build. It took about seven months to build, and it is my most challenging build to date.
What about the model’s construction?
I have built several Proctor kits. I appreciate that they come complete with all the wood and hardware. The Jenny, for the most part, is spruce and plywood. All the brass screws, bolts, nuts, and turnbuckles (over 60!) are in the kit.
What radio gear do you use?
I’m a Futaba guy. I use an old TCAP 9 that I converted to 2.4GHz. All of the servos are Futaba digital. These servos are hooked up to the pull-pull systems for the elevator, rudder, and ailerons.
What power system is used on the Curtiss Jenny?
This was a real dilemma for me. I’m a four-stroke guy, but nothing would fit in the cowl with enough power, so I used an O.S. .65 two-stroke. I used a 14/8 prop, and it works just fine. The muffler was custom made by J-Tec. We had to install a pressure fitting on the muffler, and that solved the problems with the engine.
Tell us about the landing gear.
The landing gear comes partially completed. It is made from solid oak and looks great. All the fabrication and installation of the hardware is done with wood dowels. This is a lot of work, but the results are worth it. I bought the spoke wheels separately from Proctor. The final touch is the bungee cords that provide the springs to the axle.
Tell us about the flight performance
The plane flies great. When I pull back to about a quarter throttle, it flies scale. I had to add a lot of weight to the nose, like we do with all WW l airplanes. It lands very slowly, but it is hard to keep a straight line on the paved runway. In Colorado, we don’t have a lot of grass runways, but I wish we did.
Tell us about the finish on your Jenny.
The covering is Solartex. This was no longer available in the U.S., so I ordered it from England. Expensive! After I covered the plane, I sprayed it with a Behr interior latex paint from Home Depot. My friend Dave Gianakos and I spent some time studying the movie to make sure it was the right color.
Why did you choose to model a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny?
I had always wanted to build a Jenny, but I was scared that I would never finish it. At my age, I said, “What the hell? if you’re ever going to do it, you better start soon.” The Waldo Pepper scheme gave me the added incentive to get it done.
How long did it take for you to build, finish, paint, and detail your model?
I had planned on at least a year to build it, but the kit and directions made it come together in seven months. I had some help from some other club members that shortened the time by at least a month.
What was your first RC airplane, radio, and engine?
A Goldberg Eagle was my first kit. The airplane didn’t last too long. It was in the days before buddy cords. Don’t remember the radio and engine.
What do you like best, full-size or RC, and why?
I don’t fly full-scale aircraft anymore, but sometimes I miss it. I loved every minute of flying full-scale airplanes. I still like flying RC, but flying my RC airplanes like the real ones is what I like best.
By Dave Gianakos | Photos by Dave Gianakos & Bruce Ream