AMA Chartered Club #563
STARS History by Walt Hibbard
On January 10, 1938, Kenneth Koeppel, and seven others, started the Olean Model Airplane Club (Charter # 13). The club's name was subsequently
changed to the Southern Tier Aero Radio Society in 1972, or as we are more popularly known today, the STARS.
Long before large scale (commonly called quarter scale) model aircraft became popular, STARS member James (Jim) Messer conceived the idea of enlarging an existing 1/6th scale model. This resulted in the now famous 76 inch wingspan Bristol Scouts of which several were originally built, as a
group effort. As the club membership totaled only 24 at that time, this was a titanic undertaking and required phenomenal effort and dedication to
complete the protect as no one knew exactly how to go about building such large models. The airframe’s structural design alone required much work
and the talent and resources of the entire club were needed to accomplish the task. Engines were another problem as none yet existed which could
provide enough power to fly such a large aircraft.
Much experimentation was needed to determine what affordable materials could be used in the airframe. It was found that woods such as light white
pine, basswood and light ply, in conjunction with balsa, were strong enough to handle the stresses imposed by the larger flight loads experienced in the quarter scale environment. Since coverings add substantially to the strength of an airframe, silk/rayon or silk/nylon cloth was used because of it’s light weight and excellent strength. Even angle iron was employed as part of the spar’s structure. Amazingly, a weight of only 14 to 19 lbs. was finally achieved which, even by today’s standards, would be considered light for a 1900 sq inch model.
The engines were the next hurdle and trial and error was needed before an adequate power source was perfected. Jim Messer's original idea was to
pair up two 60’s in an opposed twin configuration, mated to a 2:1 reduction gear unit. This worked but was not satisfactory due to high gear wear, unreliability, and excess noise levels. Other engines, such as a Cox-Roper 1.4 (converted to glow), and O&R 1.4, were tried. The converted Cox
worked well but was eventually changed back to its original ignition configuration which proved equally successful as no radio interference problems resulted, as had been expected.
As a result of this 3 year effort and with the advent of engines such as the Quadra, giant scale aircraft became a hobby-wide norm. However, today’s
modeler no longer has to spend hours building their own spoked wheels, converting their own “weed eater” engines, designing and carving their own
props, or experimenting with airfoils and materials . This, because of what was done back in the l970's by STARS members such as Jim Messer, Bill
Messer, Bob Dunn, Ken Koeppel, Dr. George Clapp. and George Privateer, just to name a few.
Several of the 24 members involved in the development of giant scale modeling have gone on to a higher place. However, they will always be
remembered: not only on the monument at the Stars Flying Field near Ischua. NY, but also in the hearts and minds of all those who enjoy building, flying, or just watching giant scale aircraft
2005 marked the 28th Year that the STARS have held a scale radio control aircraft rally. Back in 1977, it was not only one of the biggest rallies in the
country, it was one of very few in all of Western New York State. To the best of our knowledge, the STARS rally was the first to feature giant scale aircraft. It has attracted modelers from all over the United States, Olean and from foreign countries, especially Canada. It features hundreds of types and sizes of scale aircraft, and in recent years it has included evening flying of electric models. It is held at the Olean Municipal Airport near Ischua NY, which is closed to full scale aircraft for the two days of the event.
On August 28th of 2005, at our annual open house, the STARS were honored by the Association of Model Aeronautics for their pioneering work with
giant scale model aircraft. For only the second time in the history of the AMA, a bronze memorial plaque was awarded to a member club. This plaque
recognizes the supreme effort of the STARS in the development of Giant Scale Model Aircraft. At the same time, a second plaque was awarded
naming the STARS flying field as a national AMA historic site.
This is only a brief and partial history of the Southern Tier Aero Radio Society and will be added to in the future as time permits.
By Walter (Walt) Hibbard
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