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Thomas-Morse S4C Scout Model

Note: This model is currently on display in the museum's Early Years Gallery.

How Airplanes Were Built 100 Years Ago
This model of a Thomas-Morse S4C Scout training plane is a faithful 1:5 scale reproduction of the real aircraft. It shows how airplanes were built in World War I using wood frames and metal fittings. A real Scout is on display in the Early Years Gallery.

Early aircraft like the Scout were carefully hand-built. They had to be light yet strong, since their engines were not very powerful. Spruce wood was the ideal building material for airframe structures, and builders selected the best wood, without knots or other defects.

Metal parts in airplanes included the engine and various fittings. These were mainly steel, aluminum, tin, brass and bronze. Since wood changes shape with temperature and humidity, airplanes had adjustable wires to keep the wings and other components in the right shape. Making sure the aircraft was well adjusted was often called "trueing up" or "tuning" the plane -- something like tuning a piano or a guitar.

Unbleached, finely woven linen stitched to wood frames formed the airplanes' fabric coverings. Builders brushed on liquid cellulose called "dope" to tighten the linen and give it a smooth, glossy, weather-resistant finish. Dope also prevented air from "seeping" through the fabric. Doped fabric weighs about a pound for each ten square feet.

The Thomas-Morse S4C Scout was a popular single-seat training airplane used by American pilots, who called it the "Tommy." After the war, many private pilots flew surplus Scouts, and some S4Cs appeared in Hollywood films.

The Builder and the Model
Don Gentry of Indianapolis, Ind., was inspired by the museum's real Scout. He built this model from illustrations based on original drawings -- creating it took him 7,000 hours over five and a half years. All the parts are handmade except for the wire and tiny screws. The model is made mostly of boxwood, a traditional model building material, along with brass, steel and aluminum. Gentry donated it to the museum in 2014.

The miniature flight controls all work, and they are connected to the control stick in the cockpit. The turnbuckles are functional also, and are used to "true up" the model's frame, just like the real airplane. The engine does not work, but it is complete with a carburetor, magneto and ball bearings. The instruments all have separate needles and are covered with .006-inch microscope glass. The cockpit is complete down to the manufacturer's data plate. Barely visible wood tapering was achieved using dial calipers and extremely patient and skillful woodworking.

Click here to return to the Early Years Gallery.

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Thomas-Morse S4C Scout
S4C Scout Model (00:04:21)