On September 26, 2017, the first RC model of a Vietnam Era EB-66C made its maiden flight on the dry lake bed in Eldorado Valley, Nevada. The model’s flight was the culmination of nearly two years of work by a volunteer team of 13 people, a labor of love created in tribute to the veterans who flew the actual planes in wartime.
The first thing you notice about the EB-66C model is its size. Second, it's incredibly detailed.
On launch day, I walked up to the model as Tony Accurso, John Morgan, and their team were busily working on last-minute preparations. This 1/8 scale model has a wing span close to ten feet and a body length of nine and half feet--it's big. Every part of the model is astonishingly detailed, especially the cockpit. The team had only photographs to go on and used them to make a 3D printing of the cockpit, which was then hand painted. It even includes tiny maps of Southeast Asia. Tony and John led the team who built the model, and they describe themselves as “a little obsessive.”
With the launch imminent, it was an all-hands-on-deck moment. While the team worked on the final adjustments, USAF pilot and retired Lt. Colonel Robert Stamm looked on. He flew reconnaissance missions in the EB-66C in Vietnam, and he and his wife were both there to see the model take flight. He commented on how accurate the model was.
When the model was ready, the team positioned it for takeoff on the lake bed. “Everybody step back,” Tony told the assembled group. “I don’t want to be distracted by the cameras clicking.”
All of us dutifully retreated, and the EB-66C taxied along before lifting itself into the air. The desert mountains in the background had just started catching light, and the solar array in the distance almost looked like a lake.
Tony became fascinated with the EB-66C when he saw the 1988 movie “Bat*21,” which was based on actual events. In the movie, the main character (Lt. Colonel Iceal "Gene" Hambleton, played by Gene Hackman) is the sole survivor when his plane is shot down in North Vietnamese territory. A massive operation takes place to rescue him. It was a film (and an airplane) that stuck with Tony as a young airman--and remained with him.
Years later, retired vets Tony and John discovered there were no RC models of the EB-66C. An 18-month project was born, and it was completed entirely with donated time and funds. The team decided not to accept corporate funding because it wasn’t in tune with the mission they’d given themselves: to honor the men who had flown the plane.
The entire model plane world followed the build, but they weren’t the only ones interested in the storied airplane. Tony contacted the B-66 Association and found Vietnam vets like Lt. Colonel Stamm. I heard about the flight from friends of mine, Diane Ciz and her husband, retired Major George Ciz, who flew 144 missions as an EWO (Electronic Warfare Officer).
|Retired Lt. Colonel Robert Stamm in background. He was an EB-66C pilot during Vietnam.|
“You lost a wheel,” someone said right after the takeoff, but Tony was too busy steering the plane through the sky to say anything.
Tony said he had to remember to fly the model just like the real plane, with a long, shallow climb. The real EB-66C was not a powerhouse of speed, and neither was the model. It was, however, an incredible sight.
The plane slowly circled around us twice, then bounced down in a touch and go, soared back up into the sky, and made one more loop before setting back down roughly, skidding a little before coming to a stop. After the dust settled, the team walked out to retrieve the plane, which was sitting slightly askew because of its missing wheel, but that was the only damage.
The flight was a success and truly met its mission to be a tribute to those who served on the EB-66C.
You can see the entire video of the flight here:
Special thanks to Tony Accurso for allowing me to be there for the flight and to George and Diane Ciz for letting me know about the EB-66C model project.
Kudos to the team who put the EB-66C together:
Tony Accurso, Evelyn Accurso, John Morgan, Brenda Morgan, Kirby Morgan, Wade Joos, Birger de la Pena, Scott Ramirez, James Klassen, Chris Wolfe, Chad Veich, Gary Gioia, and Karen Gioia.
All pictures by Terrisa Meeks. I'll be posting more pictures from the flight on my Flickr page soon.