NUNDA – These models don’t fly, but they travel far.
When George Lucas, a former Mount Morris elementary art teacher of no relation to the moviemaker, began building his first life-sized model airplane, he had no idea that they would circle the nation’s museums as some of the world’s most accurate reproductions.
“They’re mostly wood, untempered masonite and whatever else I could find around the house to fill in the details,” said Lucas, 75. “I used construction paper. I used paper mache. I used golf club handles. I went to Sedam Tire in Perry and asked for the baldest 15-inch tires they had for the landing gear on my German jet. I spent six years and 27 gallons of body filler on that one.”
But, they are accurate. Even legendary German pilots who made their military careers and warped world history in these infamous airplanes consider Lucas’ to be flawless reproductions.
“I have been fortunate enough to meet a few old German pilots in my research for the models, before some passed away,” said Lucas. “Some of them were the nicest guys. Erich Hatrmann, ‘the Blonde Knight of Germany,’ the most accomplished fighter pilot of all time, said that my Messerschmitt 109 was the most accurate he’s ever seen. He said it was like he could climb into the cockpit and take off.”
Sometimes, Lucas’ concentration in the shop is broken by the intercom system he and his wife installed. It’s another museum asking to check their historic plane designs against his hand-drawn plans for his models.
“I was contacted by the Smithsonian once,” laughed Lucas. “They wanted to see my plans for the Heinkel 162. It was just unbelievable that they had even heard of me, let alone wanted to see my plans. I have donated all of my models to museums, from San Diego to right in Geneseo.”
Indeed, two of Lucas’ models arrived at the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo last week: the Japanese Navy Yokosuka MX-7, also known as an OHKA or ‘Cherry Blossom’ and the German Jet Heinkel HE-162 or ‘Volksjäger.’ These are among Lucas’ seven models of rare World War II airplanes. The Messerschmitt 109 is a classic, but some of these planes are so experimental and obscure that they are foreign to even serious war buffs. All told, the fruits of his labor are: the Messerschmitt 109; Messerschmitt 163; Bakam 349 ‘rocket plane;’ Heinkel 100 ‘Propaganda Fighter;’ Heinkel 162; Yokosuka MX-7 ‘OHKA;’ and Heinkel 178, the world’s first military jet.
“I wanted to make rare airplanes, ones that either never saw real service or were used only for a few years and with limited success,” said Lucas. “Like the OHKA suicide plane. It’s a human-guided torpedo, basically. Americans called it ‘Baka.’ That’s Japanese for ‘idiot.’ The Japanese only sank six ships with these, and the pilots were always killed.”
He added with a laugh, “I wasn’t able to find anybody who had flown one.”
You can see Lucas’ assembled Yokosuka MX-7 and Heinkel HE-162 models in the exhibit hangar at the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo.