Starting with imagination, OC native’s hobby takes flight
Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:29 pm
Special Features Editor
“You just can’t throw a paper airplane and avoid smiling,” says Alton Wal-lace.
A longtime fan of flight — both in the “hard body” arena and in the paper realm — Wallace has put together a book that features 10 highly-detailed and colorful SR-71 Blackbird model paper planes that can be cut out, folded and taped together, following his precise written instructions in 20 steps, and then sent zooming through the atmosphere for the sheer joy of it.
Wallace, who attended school in Obion County, will be at the Obion County Museum at 1004 Edwards St. in Union City Saturday from noon-3 p.m. to sign copies of his first book and to show youngsters and their parents how to fashion their own model planes from paper.
“Anyone who is old enough to put together a plastic model can tackle this, too,” he says.
Copies of the book, which includes 10 colorful and highly-detailed planes that can be cut out, folded and taped together to perfectly resemble their actual high flying counterparts, will be on sale. So realistic are his paper models that Lockheed-Martin has given their approval for the sale and Wallace hopes to expand the first volume to a series of 12 and have them available at well-known outlets throughout the country.
Included in his plans for future books are:
• F-16 (his next model paper pattern volume)
• P-51 Mustang
• F-14 Tomcat
• A-10 Warthog
• 747 Jumbo Jet
• B-25 Flying Fortress
• YF-22 Raptor
• Stealth Bomber
• Space Shuttle
• Electra (the plane flown by Amelia Earhart)
• H-1 Racer
• F-86 Saber
Wallace has already completed prototypes for each of the model flying machines and is now hard at work creating the patterns that will help them become favorite kid-friendly and kid-safe toys.
“These will truly be all-American products — created, manufactured and produced in the U.S.A.,” says the designer. He has high hopes that Obion County might benefit from an industry emerging from his dream in the future.
The books include not only the patterns and instructions, but also specifications for the actual planes, a history of each specific flight machine in the volume devoted to its model production and information such as world record flights by the planes.
Wallace studies the actual planes and then draws all the details and figures out precisely how to cut and fold and tape to make it fly (some have been known to soar as high as a four-story building) before turning to his collaborator, John Evans. Evans, who once worked his computer magic at The Messenger, has also called Union City home. He submits the design to a computer program and provides a finished product in full and perfectly detailed color.
“The only thing I can’t do is make a working propeller for my planes,” Wallace says. “That’s just not possible with paper.”
However, considering the other challenges Wallace has overcome to create his planes, he may yet come up with a way to make paper spin at the tip of one of his models.
As an infant, Wallace was stricken with spinal meningitis. The doctors’ prognosis was grim, to say the least, but the baby escaped blindness, deafness, hydrocephalus and cognitive disability. He does, however, live with a noticeable tremor in his hands.
That involuntary movement might have discouraged some from tackling the sensitive movement requisite for cutting, folding and taping paper planes. Not Wallace.
The later loss of the ends of some of the fingers on the right hand might have had a chilling effect on the hands-on creativity of some. Not on Wallace.
Disruption in family life might have killed the hopes, the dreams, the will of some. Not for Wallace. While it set him back a little while in carrying out his plans, he never abandoned the goal. And now he is pursuing it with renewed vigor and commitment.
“Everything starts with imagination,” Wallace says. And for him, that and the grace of God explain why he is seeing his dream becoming a reality. His ultimate goal is to replace plastic models with the paper variety.
Awed by imagination that fueled flight to begin with and has moved it along step by step through the ages, Wallace wants children — and adults — to learn as they play and take joy in it all, fueling their own imaginations in the process. And who knows what will come of that?
As a 13-year-old Wallace says, he was fortunate to have a math teacher who recognized his gift for art. With help from her college professor spouse, she was able to get the youngster enrolled in art classes at Dyersburg State Community College, although he was not yet even a high school student. He also credits Marti Eakin Doss, longtime Obion County Central High School art teacher, with encouraging him in a variety of ways.
Mrs. Doss, a museum board member, is delighted that her former student will have the opportunity to present his book and to benefit the museum at the same time Saturday.
“I love doing this,” he smiled recently as he added some finishing touches to a model paper plane and then set it off around the museum office in an amazing display of flight. “My airplanes are truly 3-D. Each one has to be like ‘the bird’ to fly properly. The closer I can get it to look like the real plane, the better it will fly.”
In addition to his work on models of planes that have already taken to the skies, Wallace has designed a couple of flying machines of his own and even named them — The Sabbath and The Griffin, which mirrors the way the Stealth flies.
His book is already available in college book stores and he has found a fan club among engineers, who are enthralled by the concept of model paper planes.
The father of a daughter whom he describes as the center of the universe for him, Wallace says he loves giving the breath of life to something newly imagined.
“For men, this kind of creativity is about the closest we will ever be able to get to that privilege women have of giving birth,” he says.
And Wallace’s own creativity is a “flight”-y ideal he’s committed to bringing to life.
Published in The Messenger 2.23.11