He may be legally blind and partially deaf, but 77-year-old Maynard Hill can still perform miracles with balsa and glue: In August the retired engineer stunned the hobby world by building the first model airplane to cross an ocean.
The Spirit of Butts Farm sailed from Newfoundland to Ireland in 38 hours and 52 minutes, shattering world aeromodel records for flight time and distance.
Strict rules set by the Switzerland-based Fdration Aronautique Internationale demand that a model weigh no more than 11 pounds. So Hill and his 12-man team spent five years developing a miniature satellite-guided autopilot capable of navigating the Atlantic. Even more daunting was how to fly 1,888 miles on less than a gallon of fuel, which was all Spirit's tank could hold and still make weight.
Hill started by swapping out the stock carburetor in his four-stroke, 10cc engine for a smaller one that sucked less gas. He then wired the engine with an electronic ignition and spark plug capable of burning Coleman lantern fuel, which explodes with more gusto than the Glo fuel most hobbyists use, he says.
Another fuel-saving trick: Hill tuned Spirit's engine to putter along at an average 49 miles per hour. The result? "A typical model engine can go for 10 minutes on 12 ounces of fuel," Hill says. "Mine can go for about six hours."