2nd Lt. Maurice Mealing’s SE5a

Well, I think I’m done with this plane. I’m happy with the result but there are certainly things that I will change in the construction of the next airplane model I do.

airplane etc 079airplane etc 082Just as a reminder, this model is made mostly of cardboard and wood scraps. The wingspan is approximately 36″.

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Let’s take another look at that pilot. The plane I choose to copy belonged to 2ndLt. Maurice Edmund Mealing of the Royal Flying Corps.

airplane etc 076Mealing was originally in the infantry but transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 where he succeeded in shooting down a fair amount of enemy airplanes. After receiving his pilot training, he was transferred to 56 Squadron. The pilots of 56 Squadron had quite a reputation and their ranks included Capt. Albert Ball, VC, DSO and Capt. James McCudden, VC, DSO and Cecil Lewis, MC. Cecil Lewis wrote a great book, Sagittarius Rising, about his experiences as a pilot in WW1 that you must read. This was also the first squadron to receive the new SE5a aircraft. Mealing cut his teeth on this ruggedly built fighter. He scored 14 victories in them before he disappeared on a patrol, never to be seen again.

Maurice MealingHis Military Cross award commends him “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in aerial fighting. He destroyed three enemy machines and drove three down out of control. He also drove down an enemy balloon in flames. He always showed a splendid spirit of courage, keenness and determination.”

russPaintingse5aThanks for reading my blog. I promise I will start posting more.


Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 12:06 am  Comments (8)  

“We shot them under Rule 303″****

It’s time to talk more about machine guns! We have already talked a bit about the Vickers machine gun mounted on the fuselage.  It was synchronized to fire directly through the propeller. There was also a machine gun mounted on the top wing – a Lewis gun. They look rather like this:

lewis with shroudThe Lewis gun was invented by a US Army colonel – Isaac Newton Lewis and was adopted by the British military who used this gun widely. They were especially liked by the aviators who removed the water jacket which normally surrounded the barrel. Water cooling wasn’t needed at high altitude and these parts were jettisoned to save weight.


The gun fired over the propeller so no synchronization was needed. It was fired via a lanyard that led from the gun to the cockpit.

Both the Vickers and the Lewis gun fired the venerable British 303 cartridge.


The Vickers used cloth belted ammo while the Lewis utilized round ‘drum’ magazines to hold the rounds. The 303 was relatively reliable and it had plenty of power to knock down an aeroplane.  It doesn’t look like much but see it in action: Lewis gun    Vickers

The Lewis gun was mounted on the top wing as shown below. To reload, the pilot had to unlock the gun and pull it down the curved rail, remove and replace the magazine. To do this, you had to expose parts of your body to the high altitude, freezing cold, 100 mph wind. The plane was frequently steered with the knees when this was going on.

foster mount

The results were less than stellar. To get an idea of what it was like, read this first hand account by Cecil Lewis:

“On the first Offensive Patrol, with two others, we attacked five German scouts: four bright red and one green. I chose one and dived, got  him in the sights, and pressed the trigger of the Vickers. Not a shot! I continued in the dive, trusting to the Lewis gun to do the trick: it fired two shots and jammed! Damnation!


“I zoomed away, trying frantically to clear the Vickers jam.Nothing would shift it, so I pulled the Lewis down its sliding quadrant to clear it and reload. The spade grip of gun knocked down the hinged wind-screen, and the blast of a 100 mph wind nearly blew my head off. This was a pretty state to be in surrounded by five enemy scouts! I was a sitter for any Hun, so I turned west and climbed away, working all the time to get my screen up and clear the Lewis jam. At last I managed it; but then, try as I would, I could not force the gun up the quadrant back into place on the top plane.

“The slide was twisted. I came home fed up, my gun pointing straight up into heaven. Nevertheless, that day the squadron got four Huns: a good start.”

-Cecil Lewis, Sagittarius Rising

Cecil Lewis beside SE 25

Cecil Lewis standing by his new SE5a. This one has just been delivered to France and Lewis hasn’t had a chance to alter things to  his taste. You can see the odd cockpit canopy. Pilots refer to this as “the greenhouse” and the cumbersome shields were generally discarded because they obstructed the pilots view and they increased to likelihood of facial injury in the event of a crash. They were replaced with a smaller, simpler windshield.

Here’s some more from this great book:

“I dived with the others, testing my guns. The Vickers jammed, and I had to take off my glove to clear it. It was very cold at eleven thousand feet early in the morning. My hand went numb. I blew through it, banged it on my thigh, and crouched into the cockpit to keep warmer, still trying to clear the jam. Seeing the Huns dive away, I did not follow the patrol right down, but remained a thousand feet above, hoping to get my gun right while they reformed and climbed up to me again.

Thus, inadvertently, I became a straggler – alone in the sky – but what matter when the heavens were so utterly empty of danger? Then,  faintly, I heard the intermittent chatter of a machine gun. I looked round. Nothing. No sign of a fight, no one in the sky – but the chatter became a jabber and then a stuttering menace – the sun ambush was down on me. I tried vainly to look up, but the glare shrivelled my eyes to sightlessness. But tracers were whistling through the planes, and suddenly a white-hot rod was flicked along the round of my back. I jammed over stick and rudder and went flashing into a spin, then shut off the engine and collected myself to look up. It was one of the latest [German] Pfaltz scouts: the SE was no match for that machine.”

So, I guess it’s time to show you what I came up with.

Here is the real thing:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here is the copy:

SONY DSCI cobbled it together with bits and pieces from the shop. Most of it is wood but the barrel is copper tube and the various U-shaped pieces of metal are staples.


We’re getting there….



Those are louvers I made for the radiator. You like them? I was pleased.







****did you get the reference?

If not, watch Breaker Morant as soon as you can. This fabulous movie is about an incident which occurred during the Boer Wars (1899-1902). It was a fascinating time in history as big empires were learning that Imperialism was not all it was cracked up to be.

Breaker_MorantHarry “The Breaker” Harbord Morant

SecondBoerWarBoer commandos with their Mauser rifles.

boer6Canadian troops

When I was a kid living in San Diego, my mother and I would take the city bus. I remember her pointing out a dapper, elderly man who she said was a veteran of the Boer Wars. I thought that was pretty cool.

Published in: on July 9, 2014 at 1:44 am  Leave a Comment  

A Momentous Day

Okay, so I realize in the big scheme of things this is no big deal but I FINALLY glued the top wing on the SE5a! I’ve been puzzling over how I was gonna do this for weeks.  I guess the secret is to just plunge in there and do it.

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aasdasd 003This part will be folded down and glued in the near future. I just wanted to give you a little idea of how the wing is constructed. Those four white blobs are the ends of the support bars. I got a new (used) glue gun and used it today to beef-up all these contact points.

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You can see from the green paint that I am getting ready to put some color on this beast. It’s really starting to come together now!

aasdasd 007More soon….

Published in: on June 18, 2014 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Progress on the SE5a

This model is taking an amazing amount of time to finish. It seems that when one has ‘the cancer’, one moves at a much slower pace than before. Six months since the diagnosis,  and I’m STILL learning this lesson. Stupid cancer.

Se5 Construction1 014

Do you know what an empennage is? I didn’t either. It is the tail assembly  of an airplane. The vertical part of this assembly is called the vertical stabilizer. The trailing edge of this vertical fin is called the rudder. It affects the side-to-side motion of the aircraft.

The horizontal piece is called the horizontal stabilizer. The rear section of the horizontal stabilizer is movable and is called the elevator. It affects the up and down motion of the airplane.

Se5 Construction1 020 Since this will be a non-flying (static) model, neither the rudder nor the elevator are made to work.

Armament – we mustn’t forget the machine guns! The SE5a was armed with a Vickers .303 mounted on the bonnet and a Lewis Gun mounted on the top wing. We’ll focus on the Vickers right now.




The Vickers machine gun was Great Britain’s heavy machine gun of choice from 1912 to 1968.


The Vickers peered out from under the bonnet and the trigger end of the gun emerged in the cockpit for easy firing. Originally a water-cooled gun, all coolant was drained on the models destined for airplanes, since water cooling was redundant when flying in the freezing altitudes of aerial combat.

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plane project 025The SE5 was usually powered with the 200 hp (149 kW) Hispano-Suiza 8b V-8 engine.

exhaust details

plane project 031My version.

plane project 029I sprayed a quick coat of white primer on just to pull everything together.

I am currently working on the top wing, so stay tuned for that next time!

Published in: on June 12, 2014 at 10:21 pm  Leave a Comment  


Greetings from CancerLand!

amusement park

I have ridden all of the rides and I have eaten the highly poisonous funnel cake and I am ready to come home.

I hope you have missed me  because I sure have missed y’all. Last year in the Fall I began to realize that something was wrong with my body. I became aware of a frequent pain in my gut and I found that I was exhausted all the time.

My wife and I went to the doctor and I was diagnosed with fourth stage colon and liver cancer on December 18, 2013. What a shock. I started chemotherapy in January and it’s been an interesting journey since! I am fortunate in that I tolerate the chemo cocktail fairly well. However, the side effects make it extremely difficult to work. I have a hard time holding tools in my hands and my ‘brain fog’ is persistent in encouraging very poor decision making. Not the condition I want to be in while I am building musical instruments!

So, for the last five months, I have done a lot of navel gazing and soul searching. What does a ‘Maker’ do when she/he can no longer make? In the winter months, I sat by the fire and carved wooden spoons. That was fulfilling for a while. Then I rediscovered my interest in model airplanes – specifically the ones that fly. I retrieved my old airplane books from the attic and have had the best time reading through them! Many of them were written between the beginning of manned, powered flight (1903) and America’s involvement in the First World War (1917). This is really fascinating stuff for me.

penaud styleRight now, I am slowly working on a non-flying 1/8″ scale of one of the great British WW1 fighter planes: The Royal Aircraft Factory’s S.E.5

russ sefiveaPrimary building materials are cardboard and balsa wood. I am building from scratch (no plans) which is challenging but satisfying.

WP_20140516_001(Chihuahua added for sense of scale)

So this is how I am spending my time these days. I sleep, do battle with the insurance company, take the dogs for short walks, nap some more and build this damn model airplane. Not a very dynamic life I assure you, but everyone says I need to rest and get better. Fortunately, the end to chemo is in sight – just one more month! I hope to shake the brain fog soon so I can get back to building my lovely resonator ukuleles.

I look forward to talking with you soon.

For now, so long from CancerLand!


Published in: on May 19, 2014 at 7:43 pm  Comments (9)  

Eine hübsche Ukulele für Michael Z

I just finished a pretty tenor resonator for Michael Z in Germany. It isn’t quite ready to ship yet as it is still settling in and I want to take it by Michael King’s pad so I can hear it properly played and hopefully get a recording.


Ebony fretboard, sycamore top and cherry resonator cover


SONY DSCCherry back and sides

SONY DSCI love that line that separates the sapwood from the heartwood. Also, check out the insect holes – they match the holes on the other side.

SONY DSCSONY DSCThe headstock veneer, end graft, heel cap and binding is padauk.

SONY DSCMichael decided to upgrade to the heavy-duty planetary tuners with ebony knobs. We both like the solid Mercedes-like feel that these have!


Published in: on September 27, 2013 at 9:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Making Kerfed Linings for the Ukulele

I started two new ukuleles last week. Both of them are tenor resonators – one is going to MIchael in Germany and one is going to Marco on Reunion Island. I don’t know about you, but I have NEVER heard of Reunion Island. It turns out it’s a French colony near Africa. Small world, eh? Marco wants the full rope treatment on his uke. He wants rope binding on the top, back and neck! Rope binding is totally sexy

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but a real pain in the rear to make. More on that later – we’re talking about kerfed lining today.

Most guitar-like instruments have lining. The lining gives you more meat at the joint where the top and the back join the sides. In the old days, they used individual pieces of wood glued next to each other.

martin interior

This Martin guitar was made in 1887. See the little wedges of wood glued all along the perimeter of the body? That is lining. On later guitars & ukes, luthiers made their lining so it was all connected in a strip. Like this:

kerfed liningThis is called ‘kerfed’ lining. if you cut halfway into a board with a saw, it would leave a slot where the saw blade cut away wood. This slot is called a kerf. All those slots in the above strips of wood are saw kerfs. Hence the name.

There is also solid lining and it looks like this:

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I prefer the solid lining but since Marco wanted rope binding, I thought it would be wise to have the extra bulk of the kerfed lining.

You can buy kerfed lining but it is fairly easy to make. Here’s how I make mine.

I bought 3 thin saw blades at a wood show years ago. They are thin so they create a thin kerf. I made some wooden spacers to go between them and mounted them on my old Craftsman table saw.

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My good friend Roy Moon gave me this saw and it has been a great second saw to use for special purposes like this. Here’s how it looks once it’s ready:

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Now all I need to do is prepare some wood strips and start cutting!

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Pretty cool, eh? Now I have a flexible strip that I can easily glue into a ukulele body.

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This is the inside of Marco’s uke.

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Published in: on August 20, 2013 at 10:26 pm  Comments (4)  

A Painted Tenor Resonator for Caleb

Thought you might like to see some photos of my latest ukulele. Caleb in Oregon ordered this one and I think it really came out well. He wanted a painted body and natural wood for the other parts. The body is poplar painted with dark brown and black milk paint. The neck is mahogany and the resonator cover, biscuit guard and fretboard are walnut. He also flattered me by choosing my old f-hole design. I always like that design but I didn’t know anyone else did!



I laminated two thin pieces of walnut with a thin plywood core to create this new biscuit guard. Very light, very thin and very strong!




The nut is horn and I’m not even sure what kind of wood that headstock veneer is – I just liked it!


Caleb opted for the Peghed tuners which are geared tuners that look just like old-style wooden peg tuners. They are lightweight and accurate.

SONY DSCCan you see the bug holes? They are symmetrical since the top and back are sliced open and glued in a book-match manner.

My friend, J. Michael King, was kind enough to take time out from his busy guitar teaching lessons to record a sound sample for me.

Published in: on August 7, 2013 at 12:56 am  Leave a Comment  

A Painted Resonator Ukulele

Do you remember those guitars and ukuleles they made for kids back around the 50’s? Usually the instruments were cheaply made plywood versions  and, to save money, the “bling” was simply ‘painted on’. There was plenty of variety:

harmony archtop

harmonyThese Harmony instruments have the trim painted on.

Here, the soundhole and trim are painted as well as a tuning reminder.


red guitar

I like this red one.


The National company went hog wild and painted the ENTIRE instrument, fretboard and all!

national uke

Needless to say, I fell in love with the look of these Nationals! Since an original like this will cost as much as I paid for my used Honda wagon, I decided to build one instead.

And here it is: I give you

The Painted Ukulele


This is a tenor resonator ukulele with a milk paint finish. The body is poplar, the neck is mahogany and the biscuit cover is aluminum.


new thug1 019Nut is horn.

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Peghed tuners have been installed.


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The strap button is hand-turned out of  dogwood (very tough wood). The strap is paracord. There is a leather tab which cinches the strap to the button.

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This uke is for sale. Here is a sound sample:

Published in: on June 18, 2013 at 8:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Town Magazine Article

Don’t you think I look like I belong in DEVO?

town portrait

More photos and words here:


Published in: on June 1, 2013 at 1:50 am  Comments (2)  
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