Oba St. Clair

Model Aviation Hero: Oba St. Clair

Oba St. Clair is alive and well, living in Eugene, Oregon. If you see a black Vega wagon with model airplane paraphernalia in the back, you'd better get out of the way. That's Oba and he drives like Art Scholl flies. Oba lives alone, next to his flying field and over his workshop where he has designed and built his own machinery to produce “stooges” (they hold and release your Control Line airplane).

Oba has invented a control handle that allows him to do spins – yes, you read it right – he does flat spins with a Control Line airplane. The handle is a converted U-Reely that automatically winds in when line tension of the airplane decreases. If the wind were to blow the airplane towards the pilot, the handle would pull the lines in without any movement required by the pilot. The way Oba does spins is to loop the airplane until it stalls overhead. He holds the up control as the reel automatically winds in the line and the airplane does a flat spin.

When the airplane gets close to the ground, Oba gives a little down control, the airplane levels off and picks up speed. Oba designed the handle in 1949. He claims it has saved him at least 1,000 crashes. Oba doesn't fly much competition, but when he does, he never places higher than second if the kids are flying. He has designed and built a flight stimulator that is used to train prospective pilots at the local contests. When the Prop Spinners of Eugene, Oregon, set their world record of 64 hours and 33 minutes of sustained flight on September 3, 1957, Oba was club technical adviser and one of the 13 pilots.

Oba has all the gas airplanes he ever built except for his single-line biplane he gave away for lack of space. Most seem to be ignition, with his own designed and built magnetos. A few glow plug designs are around. All were original airplane designs. The P-40 in the photograph was built in 1949 and is powered by an Atwood 60. The fuselage and fin are aluminum and the shock gear works.

When Oba was asked how he feels when he looks back on what happened, if he has any regrets. He replies that he does regret not having money to patent his system, because he always recognized the potential of Control Line flying. He said he recognized Jim Walker as a great promoter of Control Line flying and has great respect for his coordination and dexterity. His only regret is that Jim didn't cooperate with him. Wouldn't they have made a heck of a team!

We asked Oba what was the biggest loss – the lack of financial gain or the lack of recognition. The reply was financial; he didn't need recognition. The money was the true loss. The money would have given Oba the time to do more inventing and this was his life.

Information about Oba St. Clair is taken from two articles that appeared in Model Builder magazine’s November and December 1981 issues. The articles were written by Charles Mackey and Dale Kirn. Charles Mackey submitted the information to the AMA History Program.