Do you remember Berkeley kits?

Do you remember Berkeley kits? If you were aware of model airplanes during the period from World War II until the early 1960’s, you probably do. There were dozens of them, maybe half of them free flights and the rest control-liners (except for a few intended for something exotic and mysterious called radio control). Nearly all of them were scale jobs. They were all balsa wood models…former-and-stringer construction and sometimes solid (carved) balsa fuselages for the designs intended for bigger engines. By the late 40’s you could count on finding die-cut parts and silkspan covering material in the boxes. During the 50’s, when I was a kid trying to learn everything about model planes all at once and building whatever I could afford to buy at the local hobby shop (which wasn’t much), a Berkeley kit was a special treat. The typical Berkeley “Flying Scale” kit was a free flight job of about three-foot wingspan intended for rubber power, or maybe conversion to use a 1/2A glow engine like a Wasp or an OK Cub, and I remember that most of them were priced at $3.95. That was a lot more than, say, Comet kits of about the same size that sold for fifty cents or maybe a dollar. There were some bigger Berkeley kits of four or five foot span, but they cost at least seven or eight bucks and I never permitted myself to get very excited about them.

I had two of the carved fuselage control line models, a P-51 and a P-38, both Christmas gifts, but never got up the courage to try flying them even though I was by then pretty good with something like a Ringmaster. I built a whole series of the 1/2A free flight models and tried to fly most of them without really knowing what I was doing. A few years later when I was a bit more grown up and a whole lot more skilled at model building, the quality of the entire Berkeley line suffered from the use of really bad balsa as a cost control measure and before anyone really noticed, they were gone. These days you won’t find the name Berkeley on a hobby shop shelf anywhere, and most modelers have never heard of them. There is one balsa wood model airplane kit now on the market that can be traced back to the Berkeley lines…do any of you know what it is?

There are Berkeley kits around, if you know where to look. Check out model airplane swap meets, poke around in the stacks of dusty old kits you might be fortunate enough to run into, and you could be lucky enough to spot one of the old red, black and white kit boxes. They are considered collector’s items, and the few that have survived the years in excellent condition command serious prices. I have never considered myself a collector, but I am very much interested in old time balsa wood airplane kits like the Berkeley line that are no longer pristine or even complete but preserved well enough that a determined, skilled aeromodeller can actually build an airplane from them. For me, building a model airplane I remember from my youth, using all the skills I have acquired over the years to do a far better job than I could ever have dreamed of in those days, and then actually flying it using state-of-the-art micro radio control and electric power is a nostalgia trip to write home about.

That’s what I just finished doing a few weeks ago on one of those building benches out in my shop. Not so long ago I got the chance to bring home one of those old Berkeley kits, the 36” span Piper Super Cruiser from the free flight scale series, one of the designs I’d never tried to build as a kid. At first I intended to build it exactly per the old plans, add a simple geared brushed motor and a pair of servos for the rudder and elevator, and give it the silkspan-and-clear-dope finish intended by the original designer. But…somewhere along the way my imagination took control and I ended up finishing the Super Cruiser as if it had become the answer to a fantasy I might have had as a thirteen year old modeler. I altered a bit of structure here and there to add scale dihedral and ailerons, included a working cabin door and a steerable tailwheel, included a brushless motor and four-function micro radio and gave it a covering of Japanese tissue and a finish of nitrate dope and airbrushed Stits PolyTone color…just as if the most outrageous, never-in-a-million-years kid’s dream of the perfect scale model had come to life in my hands.

I think she looks great…and I’ll get some flight shots to show you once the weather gets better.

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  1. Steve Douglas says:

    Bob,came accross your website today (saturday 4-23-2011) I can relate to the old Berkeley’s, as
    i’m in my late sixty’s. 1st Berkeley was the Culver V. Over the years, I have collected the
    Berkeley kits of which I now have close to 50 or
    so. Along with others (Sterling, Sig, Comet, Cleveland, Etc.) You are correct that the value has gone skyhigh on these kits. I guess when the Lord takes me , I will build them up stairs.
    Take care, Steve Douglas, Charlotte, NC

    • Robert Benjamin says:

      Steve,

      It’s good to hear from you. Are you planning to build any of them, or are they more important to you as unbuilt kits? It works both ways.

      I took the little Super Cruiser out for her first flight a couple of days ago…all went well. I need to tweak a litle more rudder coupling into the aileron input to get nice smooth turns( because I built in scale dihedral) but she’s gonna be a winner for those calm summer evenings coming up.

      Bob

  2. George Gillburg says:

    Only one kit from Berkeley still available? Obviously, the Sig J-3 is Chuck Hollinger’s design which was a Berkeley kit but the Astro Hog (I know, not scale) was also a Berkeley kit, tho Sig doesn’t say their kit is descended from the Berkeley.

    • Robert Benjamin says:

      George,

      You’re right…I didn’t think about the Hog. Clearly you have been around this game for a while to know that the J-3 was originally Chuck Hollinger’s design. If I have my facts right, when Chuck designed that airplane he was living in Tacoma, Washington, about twenty five miles from where I am sitting.

      Bob

      • George Gillburg says:

        If I recall correctly, he also did a PT-19 which I believe Berkeley also offered. Too bad its not still available. Speaking of PT-19s, what plan or kit is the PT-19 in your photo gallery? Nice pics but they could use some captions to explain what is going on. It looks like tissue covering. Very nice little model.

        And yes, I’ve been modeling off and on since about ’48, starting with Strombecker Solids (Piper Super Cruiser)and progressing to Monogram Speedi-bilts. If that doesn’t date me, nothing will. Your build series on the Flyline Great Lakes makes me wish I still had my kit.

        • Robert Benjamin says:

          George,

          I think the Hollinger PT-19 was a Jetco kit. If I could find one I’d probably snag it.

          Go back to the Building Model Airplanes page on my site and click the TOP tab, which will open another section including all the text material that goes with the photos of each of those airplanes.

          The little PT-19 began life as an Easy Built ff rubber kit, much modified for electric RC.

          • George Gillburg says:

            I found the caption page yesterday, finally. THIS is the page I had trouble finding again. I remember that Easy Built had a couple of kits that they touted as R/C models. I suppose the PT-19 was one of them? I did find a TigerKitten kit on eBay yesterday and its now on its way to me. I always liked the lines of that model.

          • Robert Benjamin says:

            Actually, the PT 19 was (and is) one of the kits Easy Built promotes as a rubber power FF. The stuff I included in the text you had trouble finding alludes to all that. BTW, the glitch in finding those text files has been fixed…have a look.

            Bob

    • faye says:

      Found several models of berkeleys few days ago in ceilin of house that was purchased. Most were damaged. Original boxes an instructions. Might put in garbage because i dont want them

  3. George Gillburg says:

    Well, it seems I don’t have a TigerKitten kit after all. The sale was canceled after the fact! So, how are you coming with your laser cut version?

  4. Dan Ziehlke says:

    I’m just getting back into the hobby after a long absence and I’d never heard of Berkeley before. I’ve been cruising through the balsa kits on Ebay and mostly been checking out Guillows, Comet and Sterling. I also found a nice selection of Berkeley. You’re not kidding when you say they command a premium price.

  5. Don Doherty says:

    Interesting to hear the name of Berkeley kits. In the 60′s my uncle was briefly partners in a hobby shop. When it closed he gave my dad a Berkeley models “B26 Invader” model kit with 87 1/2 inch wingspan. Its huge! The kit was half built.A guy contacted wanting to “borrow” it. He let the guy take the plans with him only to find out he left a false phone number! My uncle did not know the guy either so the plans were gone. I still have the kit and someday hope to figure out the proper locations for the fuselage bulkheads. The wings are built. To date I haven’t found anyone who has ever heard of the kit let alone has a plans set.

    • Jim Sineath says:

      Don,

      Let me know if you still are in need of the plans for the B26 Invader. I have them will be more than happy to send you a copy for the price of copying and shipping.

      Jim

  6. clayton says:

    hello mr Benjamin i picked up an old berkeley king size flying scale model kit it is a aeronca c-3 it is a 1 1/2 scale 54 in. wing span. it is unbuilt in the box decals and huge single instruction sheet included copy write 1957 i cant say every peice is there but the box is packed with balsa strips, planks, different shaped blocks and several sheets that are covered with parts that you cut out.and the paper to cover the wings and fuseloge etc etc have no idea of value . i paid 30 bucks is this something you would like to own?? clayton 208-713-0632 thanks.

  7. Steve says:

    I need some help, looking around the Berkley line I came across this message board. If you go to the video “Flicks planes” you will see 6 videos his grandson his posted describing his grandfather (Flick) getting back into control line flying. He has brought back to life a 65 year old airplane the yellow and red profile with solid wood wings. I’d like to determine what this plane is and who made it, possibly a Berkley but I doubt it. I recall this plane and realize was the first plane kit I built. I’d like to find the drawings and build it for my Grandson. anyone that can help will be appreciated.

  8. Jim Johnson says:

    I also built a flew several of the Berkeley control liners; a Sr. Puddle Jumper was about the first. Later, a P-6E very neat model. Also my first R/C was a Henry Struct “Bootstrap”, then a “RC Sea Cat”. I know I bought a scale B-25 but never built it and I do not know where it got lost. I still have an in the box, control line stunt .60 size “Snark”.

  9. Richard Leahy says:

    For Don Doherty. This is probably a bit late, but just in case you are still watching this web site, I have the Berkeley B-26 Invader kit that you have. I also have a set (two sheets) of plans.
    Would be happy to copy them for you and post from here. There would be maybe three sheets per plan (total six sheets) and I would need to send in a tube.
    Am happy to do this for you at cost. A valuable kit like that is of little use without a plan.The copies would be about $5.00 per sheet ($12), the tube I don’t know and the AIR MAIL about $30.00. I live in Australia.
    My e-mail is jrichardleahy@gmail.com. Regards, Richard Leahy.

  10. Al Robinson says:

    Does anybody remember a little .020 profile Berkely kit called “Baby Yank” ?? It was an early “ARF” FF and flew quite well as a small field sport flyer.. Love to find one.
    I also reciently scratch built an old Laumer design called “Twin Lizzie” .. I had waited 50 years to build it.. Scaled it to 137% RET.. flies a peach on 1300mah 3 cell Lipo and brushless..

    Thanks for the website.. this was fun..
    “Love an Oldie”
    Al

  11. Al Robinson says:

    Does anybody remember a little .020 profile Berkely kit called “Baby Yank” ?? It was an early “ARF” FF and flew quite well as a small field sport flyer.. Love to find one.
    I also recently scratch built an old Laumer design called “Twin Lizzie” .. I had waited 50 years to build it.. Scaled it to 137% RET.. flies a peach on 1300mah 3 cell Lipo and brushless..

    Thanks for the website.. this was fun..
    “Love an Oldie”
    Al

  12. clete rodocker says:

    I have an old berkeley kit of a B-25 was wondering what it was worth

  13. clete rodocker says:

    I have an old berkeley kit of a B-25 was wondering what it was worth. That was not wasn’t me.

    • robert says:

      Clete,

      My best guess would be between $100 and $200, depending on the condition. A pristine, as-new kit might be worth more if you could find the right collector. As that kit was expressly designed for control-line flying, it’s not one in which I’d have any interest myself as an old time conversion project.

      Bob

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