Reginald Denny and Walter H. Righter
Mail #1 : Reg Denny Jr. writes to Fran Righter, daughter of Walter Righter
I hadn't thought about Radioplane since sometime during the early fifties. This except for a couple of occasions. Once in the mid to late eighties when I sold a car to a young man who worked at Radioplane in Newbury Park. I drove the car to that facility for the loan to be approved by the Northrop credit union. Also, in the early nineties when I met a Northrop Public relations guy at a restaurant here in San Pedro. When I Introduced myself I was surprised to discover he knew much about Radioplane, Whit Collins and dad. He sent to me that Northrop book.
The next time I had occasion to think about the model shop or Radioplane was when I came into contact with Pete, Steve Joiner, Russ and perhaps most importantly to me, you. I say that because I have nothing but my memory, and you have documentation and pictures. Dad took hundreds, perhaps thousands of feet of 16mm color film and color 35mm slides of the drones in actual functional operation. All of those were left with Radioplane Co. upon dad's departure.
Dad was an actor but this was just something he did. Aircraft, model planes and these drones were his primary interests. Dad often took me to the studios when he was making movies. I however, spent much more time with him at air shows, the models shop, Radioplane Co, various aircraft related companies and manufactures of which Douglas and Vultee stand out in my memory.
Now, talking with you, I've learned a lot and at the same time become a bit uncertain about the sequence of events pertaining to the model shop and Radioplane. Dad spent much time building models which included planes, trains, boats and race cars which were near perfect, particularly by todays standards. We had an entire room dedicated to an HO gauge railroad in our house in Hollywood.
This model train layout later gave way to the drone project. There however, were much more competent model makers than dad at "The Industries". That plane given to Robert Montgomery is an example. It was perfect and dad didn't build it. A very good model maker at the industries made that plane along with many others. These were the master model builders. I don't recall their names or even their faces. Perhaps Fred Hardy was one of these.
To my memory, your dad designed and built all engines for the Dennyplanes and Radioplane drones. I was of the opinion Ken Case and another young "Radio ham" as dad referred to them, brought the radio control idea to "The industries".
Now, after talking with you its apparent Case was employed with Righter Mfg. Hence the entire idea may have come from Righter Mfg. Co. Or did Case first come to "The Industries" and later go to work with Righter Mfg. Co? I have no idea. I do recall our back yard and a couple of rooms on the lower level dedicated to drone and related radio control work. I don't recall the individuals involved, just several young men.
They had transmitters and receivers strewn all over the place. I also recall dad laboring over the airframe design but using wood for prototype frames. The triangular fuselage was one of these projects. I never gave much thought to where the original steel tubing drones were designed and built. But its logical Righter Mfg. was the only facility in which this could have taken place. There were no other individuals or available facilities willing and capable of contributing to the design and fabrication these of these drones.
It seems when Radioplane opened the plant at Van Nuys Airport, your dad may have decided to remain involved only with engine design and manufacturing. Correct? I don't recall seeing him at the Van Nuys plant. Mostly a bunch of people I didn't know. Paul rather passively, and occasionally Whit, Powel and Larrabee. Ferris Smith came later. As I recall, Collins, Powel and Larrabee spent most of their time at Elastic Stop Nut Company in Beverly Hills. Dad went to the Van Nuys plant every day. That was his job.
Mail #1 : Reg Denny Jr. and others in an eMail exchange
Pete Soule comments: "I only have old Model Airplane News -- but just looking at them the first reference to a "Dennyplane" is in the December, 1936 issue. The ad is from Jay's Models on Melrose in Hollywood -- not too far from Denny's model shop.
It advertises a Dennyplane under the banner of a "New NAA Record 1 Hour 47 minutes -- flown by ..." etc. The expensive 'everything' included combo included a Guinn Aero engine. At that time Los Angeles County hosted the Bunch engine company in LA on Hoover street and the Baby Cyclone out in Burbank. This latter engine I think may have been the best of the lot -- Jim Dunkin can say perhaps and the Guinn engine looked like a copy of the Bunch (??).
Anything earlier? Were the kits made by Denny and sold to Jay's? Jay's Models asked for dealers to inquire about wholesale prices for the kits so they were at least a distributor. The only other ad that mentioned Jay's that I found was 2 months earlier. There was no mention of Denny anything in that ad.
Now because the magazine appears on the newstands late in the month preceeding the month on the cover and the delay between submission -- page make up at the magazine and printing is about 2 months -- I would guess thatone possible scenario is that the record and/or the deal to sell the Dennyplane Jr. was made in September, 1936 or earlier.
I assume the kit standard included the engine that was used to set the record -- a Gwin Aero (made by Danner Bunch in LA).. the Baby Cyclone -- made at the Brubank Airport -- had full page ads at the time. The Brown Jr. was the first successful commercial model engine and was still OK but not at the top of the list."
Reg Denny Jr. comments: "That's interesting [Pete]. I believe Fran said her dad began making Dennymite engines in 1936. I don't know when the first Dennyplanes were sold but I should think during 1934/35. As I recall Reginald Denny Industries didn't open for business until 1935. I wonder if the Dennyplanes were marketed through some other entity.
Jim asked if I recalled a man named "Baker". Perhaps for a very short time a different store involving Baker was marketing these planes. I wonder who owned "Jay's Model Shop"? I also find it interesting Jay's model Shop was located so close to "The Industries" and selling these kits. Although, this isn't too unusual because I believe these kits were sold wholesale to model shops all over the country.
I wonder when Jay's Model Shop went out of business? This certainly presents some curious questions. I also wonder, who was the head model designer of the Dennyplanes? I keep remembering the name "Wiggy". Although dad was involved to some degree in the design. I recall him working on jigs at the shop and our house in Hollywood.
Many of the "hands on" pioneers at both "The Industries" and Radioplane probably drifted off into obscurity. Ferris Smith is credited in the Northrop book as one of the founders of Radioplane Co. I question this because as I recall Ferris was hired from Lockheed after the RP-5s were well into production.
It seems logical that Walt Righter probably played a large part in the design of these early Drones. In addition to an aeronautical engineer involved with the design of the P-38. Ferris was very active Radio Ham. He had a large transmitter installed in the trunk of his car for his personal radio uses.
The RP-1 I believe was built at least in part, at Paul Whittier's estate in Bel Aire, CA. I believe the frame was fabricated of wood. The RP-1 as one can see is pretty much a larger version of the Dennyplane. The first triangular fuselages I believe, were fabricated using steel tubing. According to Fran these were fabricated, again at least in part, at Righter Mfg. This makes sense because Walt Righter was a Cal Tech engineer and had a shop capable of fabricating steel airframes."
Jim Dunkin comments: "The first ad by Denny was in January 1937. That is when he started talking about the Denny Sky Charger. The Sky Charger was the engine used in the Dennyplane Junior to make that flight (it wasn't a record, just a certified flight).
The Dennyplane was commonly flown with a Brown jr., which was a .60 ci engine. I don't now what displacement the Sky Charger was. The Dennyplane Jr. could be flown with a Baby Cyke which was a .36 ci engine because it was much lighter and a little smaller.
I have a 5 minute video (made from a movie) of Reginald Denny out with a line-up of Dennyplane Jr's firing them up and letting them go. It appears to be at the airport in Glendale where the Baby Cyclones were made because after the Dennyplane landed, they went to look in on the Baby Cyke Mfg. and test running. It appears the Baby Cyke was the X model which was the first one and was introduced in 1936. I estimate that Walter Righter was just contacting Reginald about his engine about this time."
Pete Soule comments: "The airport in the background is the LA Municipal Airport -- of the time. It was the Burbank Airport or Grand Central Terminal. The current LAX location was not used until the 40's. The Baby Cyclone production was on the property and it also housed Cal Aero-- a technical school for aero mechanics and engineers -- much of this organized by a "Major Moseley"
Grand Central Terminal is an architectural beauty and it the airport scene at the end of Casablanca was shot there. But also, of fond memory in my youth, the song "Hooray For Hollywood" -- from Hollywood Hotel sung by Johnny 'Scat' Davis was sung as the Goodman band disembarked from a DC3 and paraded around the airport playing (1938)... no Dennyplanes ing the background but it was pretty close in time"
Reg Denny Jr. comments: "Most of what you say I believe is correct, except Grand Central Airport was located in Glendale, not Burbank. It was just off of Sonora between San Fernando Rd. and the Los Angeles River. Grand Central was our primary airport prior to LAX. I believe it acted as a secondary airport for quite some time. I think I recall Lockheed Constellations operating out of Grand Central. Grand Central was deactivate during the late sixties, as I recall. The property was converted into an industrial park, but I believe the old terminal building stills stands."
It seems probable those photos were taken at Grand Central. But that's a bit strange because this was a busy operating commercial airport at the time. I thought these photos may have been taken at Mines Field before it became LAX. But the tower appears to be a bit too tall for Mines Field. Also there is no evidence of hills in the background which should have been visible at Grand Central. One shot shows a profile in the background that looks to be the coastal cliffs behind Mines field.
Burbank Airport is the old Lockheed/Burbank Airport located of course, in Burbank."