• Last modified 5000 days ago (Sept. 15, 2010)


Artist turns cans into model airplanes

Staff writer

Chester Brown’s love of airplanes inspired him to create aluminum can airplanes out of his house in Marion.

He started making three varieties of planes — a biplane, a P-51, and F-4U Corsair — for his grandchildren six months ago. He made the first few from Mountain Dew and Coke Zero cans until one of his granddaughters wanted a pink plane. A flavor of Welch’s juice provided the needed pink cans.

Brown uses designs he bought from, which he has slightly modified from the first planes.

“That’s my problem, I look at something and I say ‘How can I make that better?’” Brown said.

Cardboard fills out the wings underneath a can shell. Engines are fashioned from a can that is molded into a square and then Brown uses six pull-tabs for each of the cylinders. He was running out of pull-tabs when he asked the designer at BC originals and was told to to purchase tabs over the Internet.

Wheels for the planes are made from a chopped up broom handle. He uses plastic from 2-liter bottles for a cockpit. Brown carves each of the propellers, which is one of the most time consuming parts of a plane; if he makes a mistake, he discards that propeller and starts over.

Since he started making can airplanes, he has sold 10 planes and given away eight. He has used a variety of cans — Christmas Coca-Cola cans, Cherry Coke Zero cans, and gold Pepsi cans made some of Brown’s favorite planes.

He will have a display at Art in the Park Saturday in Marion for his planes. He can fashion planes from any can for $35 and $40. He uses 18 washed cans.

“I’ll see how they sell,” Brown said. “If they don’t sell, I’ll give them away.”

Can airplanes are an extension of a model and remote control airplane hobby that Brown has fostered since his grade school days, in Wichita. Around the same time, he wrote letters to McDonnell Douglas and Boeing asking for pictures of airplanes. Both companies responded by sending Brown 8x10 pictures of planes that he displayed all over his room.

Brown was in the Navy from 1961 to 1969 during the Vietnam War. Among other tasks, he worked on airplanes.

The intricacies of model airplanes helped Brown work on mainframe computers for 36 years. He worked for IBM, EMC, Amdahl, and Memorex. He lived in five cities — Dallas, Tulsa, Omaha, Kansas City, and Sioux Falls, S.D. — and his model and remote controlled airplanes always followed him. In Tulsa, one section of his two-car garage was his hanger.

Brown met his current wife, Donna, in Dallas. Donna grew up in Florence.

They moved to Marion and Brown worked for Kansas Department of Transportation until he retired. They have lived in Marion for five years.

Brown’s first marriage ended in divorce. His ex-wife moved to Pensacola, Fla. with his 8-year-old son, Chester Arthur Brown Jr. Shortly thereafter, Brown’s ex-wife remarried and changed her name. Chester Jr. also changed his last name.

He searched for 30 years then this past year he unsuspectingly received a phone call.

“Is this Chester Arthur Brown?” the woman on the other end asked. “I think we’re related.”

The woman was Chester Jr.’s wife. He had been searching for his father nearly as long as the father had been searching for his son.

Before they were reunited, Brown was wary that the two of them might not like each other; that anxiety was quickly relieved.

“It was like we were never apart,” Brown said.

Completely separate from Brown, Chester Jr. had developed his own love of airplanes. He works at Gulfstream in Savannah, Ga., although an accident with a circular saw resulted in Chester Jr. losing his right hand.

When they met in Kansas, partly to see Brown’s extended family, Chester Jr. saw Brown’s collection of can airplanes. He was immediately interested and the two of them constructed an airplane from Diet Dr. Pepper cans.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Brown said of reuniting with his son.

Last modified Sept. 15, 2010