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On his 18th birthday, Tom Brett enlisted in the Navy and was a pilot in training until the end of World War II. After he was discharged, he studied aeronautical engineering, but changed to mechanical engineering because of a better employment outlook. However, his earlier training wouldn’t be forgotten.
Like many former military pilots, Tom initially continued in his love for flying, but with a young family, flying was put on hold. Tom made a deal with his wife, Helen, that when their two children were older, he’d return to flying, and Helen would learn how to fly as well, because they liked to do everything together.
Sometime later, they happened to visit a hobby shop for supplies for Helen’s hobby. While she was shopping, Tom roamed the store. Helen left with her supplies, and Tom with his first airplane kit!
Tom immersed himself in his new hobby, progressing rapidly from that first kit to an improved trainer he designed himself. Before long, the new reed-type radio systems were on the scene, making precision aerobatics possible for the first time. Tom discovered that he was a natural at manipulating the radio’s toggle switches.
Within two years, Tom was making a name for himself by designing and competing with two airplanes he named Nimbus I and Nimbus II. The Nimbus II proved to be popular enough to merit Tom’s first construction article for American Modeler magazine.
Tom Brett delicately maneuvers the TBX back to the “hangar” at the 1965 Nats. All of the wheels must be inside of the circle.
Inset: Tom’s wife, Helen, was his caller and flight crew. They did everything together.
Tom qualified for the US team that would compete in the 1962 World Pattern Championship. He decided to create a smaller, improved version of the Nimbus after the demanding vertical maneuvers for the FAI Championships were announced. The resulting Perigee and its sister model, Apogee, became his best-known design after he placed first at the 1962 World Championship.
The Perigee became the subject of its own construction article and was later kitted by Hal deBolt. It was arguably the best-looking, sleekest aircraft around in 1962, with its subtle, curved lines and a swooping fin. The Perigee is on permanent display at the AMA’s National Model Aviation Museum in Muncie, Indiana, next to Ed Kazmirski’s famous Taurus.
When Tom was president of the RCCD, he hosted the annual Great Lakes Invitational, which was a prestigious Pattern contest that many of the best pilots of the day attended. People such as Hal deBolt, Ed Kazmirski, Don Lowe, and Jim Kirkland, among others, regularly attended.
It is fitting that the RCCD honors Tom’s memory with the annual Tom Brett Memorial Pattern contest. Helen regularly attends and Tom’s Apogee and TBX-1 are put on display.
Tom was everything I admire in a pilot. He was meticulous in everything he did, with building skills, workmanship, and flying skills with reeds second to none. Tom remained a reed flier, being comfortable with the challenging radio format.
Tom accomplished a great deal in his few short years of modeling. He was among RC Pattern’s earliest trailblazers. In 1965, the Outstanding RC Design Concept Hurst Award deservedly went to Tom’s TBX-1 as he competed in his final Nats competition.
After his RC experiences, Helen was true to her word, and the couple flew full-scale airplanes together. Tom began work on a full-scale homebuilt Pitts Special, but he suddenly passed away at the age of 48. Tom was a role model for many, and an RC hero to a young, impressionable teenager. I’m honored to have the opportunity to tell you about him.
A Very Special Airplane
This is the story of a unique model airplane design that is just as exciting and cool today as it was 50 years ago, in 1965 when it first appeared. Now, after five decades, a replica of Tom Brett’s amazing TBX-1 is flying again! ...
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