Flying Club Adopts Silent Film Studios; Provides Planes and More

In March, Steve Arrington, retired JTA engineer, called to arrange a tour for one of his groups, the National Railroad Historical Society. He thought the members who help care for the locomotive on display at the Convention Center in Jacksonville, would enjoy seeing the 1916 machines that produced power for the silent film complex on Arlington Rd. An hour later, a tour was scheduled, but a new relationship had begun.

When Steve heard that Norman Studios was searching for a replica of Bessie Coleman’s famous bi-plane for an upcoming exhibit at Cade Museum, he mentioned that his Gateway R C Club might help. The Norman Studios Exhibit would feature THE FLYING ACE, a film inspired by Bessie Coleman’s correspondence with Race Filmmaker Richard Norman at his Arlington film studio. Although the Gateway Club takes on many projects, one primary mission is teaching people about aviation through building and flying all sorts of model planes and aircraft. The Gateway RC Club is located at 3461 Lannie Rd in Jacksonville where visitors are always welcome!

The Club purchased a Curtiss JN-4 kit that replicated Bessie’s Curtiss Jenny, a plane widely used during WWI. Because of his varied experience with tricky projects, Richard Corbin was designated the “master” builder. Steve and Vice President Robert Hoisington took on specific parts of the project. Working under a tight deadline, the team completed the beautiful Jenny; Steve ferried it to Gainesville and hung it in the gallery for the opening.of May 14.

Meantime, Gateway member, Ed White discovered and Steve refurbished two more planes that help tell a part of Norman Studios’ fascinating story. He has chauffeured and hung the unwieldy planes for displays.

So why have they donated over a thousand dollars and uncounted hours to a project for a previously unknown museum group? Why facilitate participation by numerous other folks? Steve and Richard will connect the dots of their community service at Norman Studios’ new Traveling Exhibit November 2, at the Main Library downtown. Their program will be at 2PM in the 4th Floor Map Room.

John Holmgren, president of the Railroad group, a contributor, intends to shine up the 100 year old generators as part of the many displays available to Norman Studios visitors.

Next is an opportunity for Norman Studios to say a heartfelt “thank you” at a small reception next Saturday, September 28. They will also be honored at the “BENEFACTORS BASH” TBA.

Another beneficiary of the Gateway RC Club is the Jacksonville Agricultural Fair, Nov. 1-17. For several years, the members have been setting up a display at the Fair’s KidZone program. For the 10 days of the fair, there will be 10-12 planes, helicopters and drones hung from the ceiling and 3 PC-based RC Flight Simulator stations for folks to give a try at flying a RC type plane. This display gives the club an opportunity to further education about aviation and aircraft modeling and allows members to give back to the community.

After building, hauling, and hanging the model, Steve Arrington poses with JENNY, donated by Gateway RC Club members, at the opening of the Norman Studios Exhibit at Cade Museum of Creativity and Invention. Steve brought friends to each of the events during the three months.

Ever a trooper, on his way to the “Meet the Inventor” event, his car’s brakes malfunctioned. They limped back to Jacksonville, picked up one of his passengers’ car, made it to the event, and stayed to see THE FLYING ACE.

Other “above and beyond “ contributions are bringing planes he got donated, and refurbished, to the suffocating Studios and hanging them for the Black Flyers display. (See below)

He arranged a presentation for Norman Studios at his Kiwanis Club. He is finishing work on a model of a plane that Eugene Bullard flew as a real life black American hero. Bullard won awards as a pilot in the French Air Force, and was a possible inspiration l for the “FLYING ACE”, after Bessie was tragically killed at Paxon Field, just before starting to film with Richard Norman.

When the Exhibit ended August 18, Steve drove to Gainesville, brought Jenny to be hung in Norman Studios in Arlington.

Steve swelters in the unfinished Norman Studios as he hangs Jenny in THE FLYING ACE display. This vignette is a place holder until the City is able to finish the interiors of it buildings. On another scorching afternoon, Steve hangs a German Fokker, the type of plane Eugene and his French compatriots would have battled during WWI.

Having nearly finished Eugene’s plane, it will soon be hung in the Black Flyers display. After the City completes the Production Building, NSSFM will install an interactive museum. The Black Flyers display will be an integral part of the expanded theme.

Richard Norman’s Race Film THE FLYING ACE was a great success in 1926 because it portrayed a black hero pilot. Jim Crow prohibited this in America “Land of the Free”. However, African Americans went to Canada and France to fight the Germans in planes. And became Heroes.

Richard Norman recognized the importance of African Americans seeing themselves in the heroic role of “fighter pilot”!

Steve, Richard, and the Gateway Flying Club are helping Norman Studios illustrate this vital concept.

Richard Corbin’s father taught him to build and fly radio controlled aircraft when he was a child in Meridian, Miss. He joined the Civil Air Patrol in 1978 and soloed in a Cessna 150 at 18. He attended Mississippi State College in Mechanical Engineering.

Throughout building Jenny, his company was on deadline for a NASA project. In May he got pneumonia. Working late and weekends, he didn’t get to attend any of events during the Cade exhibit.

On the perils of being “All In”…

“I know exactly what you are talking about when you say too few people and too much to do. Seems like every project I have ever been involved with. My only problem is that sometime in my life I convinced myself that there was not anything I couldn’t do so failure is not an option for me on projects. This I know is not a healthy attitude and leads to a lot of sleepless nights figuring out how I’m going to accomplish something. I blame my dad. He was the same way and was my role model.”

The Philosopher Engineer

Demonstrating his engineer’s tenacity…

“The rigging between the wings took as long to do as covering the frame do. I definitely didn’t see that one coming. After all, how hard could it be to pull thread through tiny little holes? A lot harder than it looks actually. I’ve worked on full sized aircraft that were easier to work on than this kit turned out to be. All in all it was still a lot of fun and stretched my building skills.”

Why does he use his scarce spare time on this work?

“I am pleased that Steve got me involved with your project. Any time I can further the knowledge of aviation to the general public I will do whatever I can. You see, aviation has been and will continue to be a huge part of my life. I have been active and interested in aviation since I was 6 years old and I have been building and flying models for 48 years. At the age of 6 I decided I was going to fly in space. That didn’t happen so I did the next best thing and became a private pilot. So you see, aviation is my life! I especially love to get school children involved. My wife is a counselor at the local schools and I have been trying to get them to allow me to do an after-school project where we build and fly an airplane. My program would be open to anyone but would be aimed at STEM students with a single person being given the plane, radio and accessories needed for flying it through a raffle of those who attended the class when it was completed. School liability concerns have so far kept me from implementing this program but I will keep trying!”

Note: Norman Studios hopes to be the conduit for this project

Another great story from our Philosopher Engineer:

“Here is an interesting thought for you. I was in Hurricane Hobbies yesterday buying wheel collars to hold the wheels on the Jenny and was talking to the owner. He and I have been discussing this project since I ordered the covering and told him all about your project and what we were doing. I then showed him a picture I’d taken of the completed Jenny and he was taken by the colors. Especially the red tail surfaces. I then told him about the movie being in black and white with an all-black cast but that there was a colored movie poster which is what we based colors on. He then mentioned that wouldn’t be interesting if someone who was in the Army in 1926 went to see the movie because he was interested in black aviators. Then he said that this person could have stayed in the Army and became a leader in the Tuskegee Airmen project and when it came time to pick a distinctive color that would set his squadron apart he remembered seeing the poster from his earlier life and this was why the “Red Tails” chose to have all red tails on their planes. I can’t find any information on why or when they chose the color outside of them wanting some distinctive markings to set them apart anywhere on the internet so I can’t prove or disprove this idea. What I do know is that the timeline would have been correct from the movie opening in 1926 to when the retails were formed in 1943. Would it be something if this were true? What a fitting tribute to have an all- black squadron based on an all -black movie cast from a movie made in 1926. Just a stray thought for you to think about.”

Note: We have a poster on display and a great story from a Tuskegee Airman telling a similar story.

Eugene Bullard, his plane and his monkey:

There are several stories about the monkey. One is that the monkey was picked up when he toured the Congo on a pleasure trip. There is no substantiating or corroborating evidence of this trip though. This is not uncommon as every step the man made was not documented outside of his squadron business and transfers. The other story that I have seen is that the monkey was won in a poker game shortly after he joined the N93 squadron. Also the monkey never saw combat and was more of a companion/pet. Strangely enough I cannot find any information on what the monkey’s name was. Perhaps it was as simple as monkey.

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