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After 2-plus years, Beaufort County veteran ready to debut replica of historic plane
Island Packet - 1/1/2021
Dec. 31—As kids growing up in Foxborough, Mass., in the late 1940's and 50's, Tyler Gault and his friend would watch a man fly model airplanes around town.
"I guess you could call that the beginning of my interest in models," Gault, 82, said with a chuckle. "That got me interested in making models, and I started building them and painting them to scale — World War II planes."
Gault, a retired plumber and Coast Guard veteran, recalled the hobby that fed his lifelong passion for planes. Building models married his joy in flying and his love for history with his patience and attention to detail — and culminated in a labor of love: his creation of a replica of one of the most famous flying machines ever built.
Now, in his community on Coosaw Island in northern Beaufort County, others admire Gault's handicraft with much the same wonder as he did his neighbor many decades prior. A former pilot, Gault continues to build model airplanes, his latest piece being his greatest feat yet.
In December, Gault finished a quarter-scale replica of the Spirit of St. Louis — the custom-built, single-seat, fixed-wing aircraft flown by Charles Lindbergh from Long Island, N.Y., to Paris in 1927. Lindbergh's 33.5-hour trip marked the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
Gault spent 2 1/2 years, "on and off," building the plane, which is for display only. He used a set of plans to calculate proportions, but after that, he built everything using photos. On Jan. 6, he plans to travel to Woodruff, S.C., to donate it to Triple Tree Aerodrome, a 400-acre property in the Upstate that hosts aviation events and displays historical aircraft.
The model Spirit has an 11-foot, 6-inch wingspan, and is "uncovered," meaning observers can see all the internal details where there is no shell covering. The mannequin pilot, a Ken doll-sized Lindbergh, sits inside, dressed in a leather jacket, aviator hat and goggles. He has a periscope to see where he's going.
"You can see all the pulleys for the control tables, he's got the plumbing that he did for the fuel, the instrument panel — everything, you can see," said Gault's friend, Dennis Ross.
It's not the first plane that Gault has given to the nonprofit Aerodrome. In 2015, he donated a quarter-scale model of the Curtiss JN-4D "Jenny," which served as a trainer for the Army Air Service during World War I and later became popular with barnstorming stunt pilots. He spent 3 1/2 years building the Jenny model.
The Spirit will be kept in the "pilots' lounge," where visitors to the Aerodrome check in for general aviation events, Aerodrome executive director Robb Williams said. The organization plans to move the model to the new flight deck conference room once the room is completed in 2022, Williams said.
"Triple Tree is unique, and Tyler's contributions are very welcome to us," Williams said. "We couldn't do what we do without people like Tyler helping us out."
The Aerodrome is open only to members of the aviation community during scheduled events, including school tours and festivals.
Gault's replica "adds an art and history component for school tours," Williams said. "It's the Spirit of St. Louis and a piece of art."
Ross, a commercial pilot and retired U.S. Air Force veteran, said his friend has completed the model with exacting detail.
"Pictures won't do it justice," he said. "It's just incredible. And for a guy in his 80's, he still gets around like a 20- or 30-year-old."
Gault figures he spent $2,500 on the plane. With contacts he made on the internet, he got the motor made with a 3D printer, and "a fellow in Utah made the instrument panel and fuel manifold and generator."
He has to be reminded to tell about the connection to a famous movie. The ribs on the fuel tanks, he said, are made with balsa wood from the dock that Forrest Gump's shrimp boat crashed into.
Despite the awe and reverence others have for him and his true-to-life plane, Gault is humble about his project and skills.
"I have a hard time with people 'oohing' and 'ahhing,'" he said. "It's a plane and so forth. I have seen planes that look a lot better than this."
His wife of 62 years, Joan, said she had some idea of her husband's passion for planes so many years ago because "when we were dating, we made planes from balsa wood." The couple, with five children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandkids, have been in the Beaufort area for 46 years, the past 23 by the marsh of Coosaw Island.
Gault does not have plans to build more planes anytime soon. Instead, he wants to fly the six radio-controlled models he has already built.
"I am not a multi-tasker," Gault said. "I've been doing nothing but working on this plane and no time to fly my other planes. So now, as soon as this is gone, I'm going to fly my planes."
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