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Hal deBolt
by Bob Noll
As seen in "Vintage Viewpoint" in the November 2016 issue of
Model Aviation



Many Hal deBolt-designed airplanes were flown at the annual VRCS deBolt In-Memoriam event. Seen here with the pilots are a Live Wire Trainer, several Champions, a Live Wire Yankee, an Acrobat (biplane), and a P-Shooter.



I attended the 2016 Vintage Radio Control Society (VRCS) Hal deBolt In-Memoriam event hosted by the Radio Control Club of Rochester, New York, and VRCS Chapter VIII. This annual event recognizes the many contributions that Harold deBolt made to our hobby, and it seems reasonable to share some of those contributions with you. My thanks go to Scott Wallace, who collected most of the following facts.

Hal was born in 1918 in Geneva, New York, and spent most of his adult life in the Buffalo, New York, area. He began modeling in 1927 and competed in Free Flight (FF) before World War II, during which time he designed several advanced FF models.


Hal attended many VRCS events after he retired and moved to Florida. Here he is seen using a Pro Line single-stick transmitter and smoking his trademark corncob pipe.


After the war, Hal became interested in Control Line (CL) Speed and kitted several CL Speed models when he founded his own business, deBolt Model Engineering Company (DMECO).

In the early 1950s, Hal began developing and kitting RC models. He was on the USA team for the first RC Aerobatics World Championship in 1960, held in Switzerland.

Here are some of Hal’s early contributions to our hobby. He developed the first model kits designed specifically for RC (earlier models were converted FF models), including:

1952: Live Wire Senior for .19 engines (1,500 kits sold)

1952: Live Wire Trainer for .09 engines (15,000 kits sold)

1953: Live Wire Cruiser for .19 engines (5,000 kits sold)

1953: Live Wire Kitten, the first 1/2A RC model (5,000 kits sold)

1955: Live Wire Champion for .19 engines (25,000-plus kits sold)


One of the first Hal deBolt designs was the Live Wire Cruiser. This is the author’s scratch-built version, painted as it was on the DMECO kit box.


The Champion remained in continuous production from 1955 to 1990 (through DMECO and later Midwest Products) and was one of the most successful RC kits.

Many of Hal’s other RC designs were published and/or kitted from the mid-1950s through the 1980s. He also designed and engineered kits for Midwest Products from 1977 through 1987.

Items Hal pioneered and marketed for RC include:

- Sheeted balsa-constructed airframes
- Aluminum-sheet landing gear
- Clunk-type fuel tanks
- Symmetrical airfoils
- Plastic, flexible hinges
- Strip ailerons for model use
- The first two-channel radio system, transmitter, receiver, and servos (marketed through Citizen-Ship Radio Corp.)
- Retractable landing gear
- Pressure cowls for RC Pylon Racing

Hal’s numerous contributions to RC in its infancy should be remembered. He was inducted into the AMA Model Aviation Hall of Fame in 1976. In 1980, he was inducted into the VRCS Hall of Fame as one of the organization’s founders. (Note: In October 2015, VRCS member Giuseppe Fascione had a replica Live Wire Trainer with an original engine and radio system accepted for display by the National Air and Space Museum.)

Hal passed away in 2005 at the age of 86. While looking through my archives, I found the following “Live Wire Trivia” written by Hal shortly before he died:

“Once upon a time, in 1950, my buddy George Swank had built a Rudderbug. Another club member, Tom Parry, had demonstrated R/C flight with one all afternoon at a control-line meet. This convinced me that R/C was finally for real and I had been waiting for that to happen. George could not get his Aerotrol R/C system to work, so I was able to con him out of the Bug and got it flyable. We flew the Rudderbug every evening for three weeks. From that we learned what an R/C model needed and determined the Rudderbug design was sure not right. This was 1951.

“Good friend Bill Winter had R/C experience, so I consulted him. Between us we came up with 14 factors we felt would make a good R/C plane. I was delegated to see if I could produce a design to feature them. I did my best and the result was labeled Live Wire. This you would know as the Live Wire Senior, as we added the Senior name when we ran investigative kits after the Live Wire was in production.

“When the Live Wire design was offered to the industry, the reply was that no one would pay the $15 needed price. At that time the highest priced model kit was $7.95, so I needed to have an R/C kit at that cost. The answer was to reduce the size of the Live Wire about 50% and cut material costs. The result was the Live Wire Trainer, of which we sold several thousand kits.

“At that time, all R/C equipment and required batteries were very heavy and could not be made lighter for a smaller model. What was amazing, the little .09-powered Live Wire Trainer flew fine with the heavy radio. Later on I tried it with Schmidt five-channel reeds and even that did not phase [sic] it!

“The Live Wire’s success and our investigation showed that guys would indeed pay $15 for a kit. So we added scale like features to the Live Wire and called it the Cruiser and it also did well. Now we had a .09 and a .19 kit while others had .15 kits. It was thought [that] DMECO needed a .15 also, so in effect we modified a .15-size Live Wire design as a full-scale Champion lookalike. When it was ready to kit, the shop was at capacity, so it was put on the shelf and forgotten for more than a year.

“Finally, demand slackened and something new was needed, so it was easy to slip in the Live Wire Champ. This newly released kit was a surprise, as it seemed everyone wanted one. Again we had a kit that was produced by the thousands, more than any other R/C easily.”


The author with his scratch-built Live Wire Yankee. Hal designed and kitted the Yankee in 1961.



This RC pioneer has given much to our hobby, and many VRCS members are flying Hal’s kits or have scratch-built his designs. Read more about Hal by visiting his AMA History Project biography at the link listed in “Sources.”

Until next time, enjoy the fun of building and flying a vintage model. Why not add a Hal deBolt design to your fleet?

Sources:

AMA History Project
Biography of Hal deBolt

www.modelaircraft.org/deboltharoldhal

VRCS

www.vintagercsociety.org

Midwest Products

www.midwestproducts.com

5 comments

Greetings! Oh how this event and the participants bring back some wonderful memories! However, it saddens me to see the lack and loss of youth to carry on.

In a way it reminds me of the Doolittle "Last Man Standing" Memorial. In June, 2018, at a ceremony to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Lt. Col. Richard Cole lifted a goblet of cognac aloft and toasted his 79 comrades that were lost on the mission or had passed away since. With that, he turned over Thatcher’s goblet, leaving one silver cup still standing upright. Tuesday, April 9, 2019, someone turned his cup over.

I have always considered the DeBolt Champion as the finest RC Trainer I have flown. As an 85 year old nautical artist I highly regard DeBolt's natural talent as a designer of beautiful models. I have published designs in model magazines such as Model Aviation and Flying Models myself , and, on the cover of the October, 1978 Model Airplane News two of my boys are holding two sizes of my DeBolt Champions. Both flew wonderfully. Should you like to see that cover, send me your email address and I will send you an image of that cover. I still have those two models in very good shape and both boys are now in their late 50s !

In the late 60's I bought a Live Wire Champ. I flew this little plane in weather I would not fly most of my fleet. I never total re kitted it from flight but many repairs to the fuselage were made and many years of hanger rash is evident. The wing still has the original red covering on it. I only wish I knew how many flight hours and the distance it has covered.

The Tigre 23 was very dependable on idle and low speed. A notch of power over idle would keep the Champ airborne. I retired the plane about 10 years ago. The nose section of the plane is flexible as if it has a rubber nose. Definitely this little plane was a strong favorite of the fleet.

The Champ flew Ohio, Indiana,upper and lower Michigan and Rio Grand Valley Texas. In the later years the little engine was not appreciated in some areas because of not having a muffler.

Happy landings

I have a Live Wire Senior in the cellar which I built and flew at the Eastwood site in the 1950s.
2 speed Fox .19 with a Bonner compound escapement. Miller hard tube radio. 27.255Mc. One of these days, I'll recover it in silk and float it around in the evenings again.

What a trip down memory lane! It brought back some good times for me. I was getting started in RC in the mid and later 50's (as a kid) so I saw Trainers, Cruisers (my favorite), Champs and Rudderbugs, Smog Hogs, Esquires, etc. I built a Kitten -- it flew away on me never to be seen again. I was given a Champ later on that had a Babcock MkII escapement that gave me the up elevator at the 3rd stop. Had fun with that plane. Thanks for all your work on the origins and history. When I get done flying pattern I'm going back to the old stuff for the pre joy of flying!

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