Leo Opdycke–Delving into the Past

Leo Opdycke–Delving into the Past

By Henry M. Holden

Leo Opdycke, shown with his wife Sandra, first became interested in World War I airplanes as a young boy.

Leo Opdycke, shown with his wife Sandra, first became interested in World War I airplanes as a young boy.

Leo Opdycke first became interested in World War I airplanes as a young boy.

“While I was attending the University of Rochester a professor was building a World War I SE-5 reproduction airplane,” he recalled. “He was collecting parts and correspondence and I started helping him.”

One of the aircraft Opdycke became interested in was the Bristol Scout. The original Scout was the first attempt by Britain’s Royal Flying Corps to develop a true fighter. In March 1916, the Scout D became the first British fighter to be armed with a synchronized machine gun. Soon outdated by more efficient designs, it was withdrawn from service in the summer of 1916 and used as a trainer.

Several years ago, Opdycke took on the project of building a reproduction Bristol Scout. When he started the project, he turned to subscribers of his magazine, “WWI Aero–The Journal of the Early Aeroplane.”

“They were a lot of help,” the publisher said. “I got a hold of the original factory drawings, and people helped me find and fabricate some of the parts. The folks at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in New York were a big help in covering it. I even picked up a Le Rhône air-cooled, nine-cylinder rotary engine for just $500. It flew beautifully.”

Opdycke eventually sold the airplane to the RAF Museum in Hendon, outside London. Later, the grandson of Sir George White, the Bristol’s designer, bought it. Today, Opdycke’s airplane is suspended in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm Museum, in Yeovilton, England.

That professor at the University of Rochester also inspired Opdycke in another way.

“We started a newsletter, and put together a ‘wants and disposal’ list,” he said.

That newsletter grew into “WWI Aero,” which has been in publication since 1961, and is one of the most comprehensive magazines on World War I and pre-WWI aviation on the market today. It fills a deep niche that stretches from Canada and the United States to Europe and Asia, down under to Australia and as far away as South Africa, according to the publisher.

“I never lost any money and never put any of my own money into it,” he said. “At first I depended on what people sent in, and the magazine kept growing. Eventually we started offering subscriptions, and many subscribers contributed a good deal extra each time. Almost all of our advertising is exchange ads with other publications, and we do attend some air shows to promote the magazines.”

“WWI Aero” isn’t a history magazine, but a technical survey of machines from that era.

“It’s designed to share full-scale reproduction drawings,” Opdycke said. “It’s not primarily for modeling, although one can build a technically accurate model from the drawings.

He said there are too many drawings to publish in the magazine, so they have a catalog offering all the drawings.

“Some are from original drawings and others are redrawn from the originals,” he said. “No one else is publishing such a magazine.”

He adds that “WWI Aero” is the only magazine that deals substantially with pre-WWI aviation.

“I try and portray how aviation was practiced, what went right and what didn’t, and most importantly, how the practice was described and reported on,” he said.

The magazine’s 145 pages are full of interesting stories and obscure or little-known events. There are many articles for the technically savvy, such as “Airfoils and the Turning Ability of WWI Fighters,” by Scott Campbell, which appeared in a recent issue and included math equations, airfoils section charts and bar charts, showing maximum turn radii and turn rates for every German and allied aircraft.

Skyways--The Journal of the Airplane 1920-1940” covers the period just prior to World War II.

Skyways–The Journal of the Airplane 1920-1940” covers the period just prior to World War II.

Although not a glossy magazine, the photographs in “WWI Aero” are for the most part crisp and well-contrasted–even the vintage shots dating back to 1910. If you’re a World War I buff, or interested in pre-WWI aviation, you’re going to love this magazine.

Opdycke also publishes another magazine. He started “Skyways–The Journal of the Airplane 1920-1940,” in 1987. Edited in Virginia by David Ostrowski and about half the size of his other magazine, it’s an excellent and exciting publication.

“I wanted to do something for the time period just prior to World War II,” Opdycke said. “It’s not a magazine that one can build full-scale reproductions from; those machines are too big and too costly to build. It’s more of a technical pictorial history album.”

As the title indicates, the glossy publication covers another niche in the vineyards of aviation history. A recent issue covered one of my favorite airplanes, the Ford Tri-Motor, but from a little-known point of view. A trip by Evangeline L. Lindbergh from Detroit, Mich., to Mexico City to visit her famous son, Charles Lindbergh, was obscured by history. It languished for more than 60 years in one of 200 boxes of Ford history and photographs that the author, Tim O’Callaghan, had acquired. What is especially fascinating about the article is that O’Callaghan included the letter he found written by the copilot describing the trip.

Opdycke laments that many of the people who enjoy these publications “are disappearing.”

“Many of the younger people have other interests such as the Internet, and other pressures,” he said. “That’s OK; I’m 76 years old, and I’ll continue to do this as long as I’m enjoying it.”

Opdycke publishes both magazines through World War I Aeroplanes, Inc., which is tax-exempt and nonprofit. Each publication is available for a minimum subscription of $42 a year; any donation above that amount is tax-deductible.

To contact Leo Opdycke, write to World War I Aeroplanes, Inc., Dept. W, 15 Crescent Road, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. 12601, call 845-473-3679 or visit [] or [].