American Junior Aircraft Co.
Perhaps no company in the history of model aviation
was more famous or highly regarded for their line of great flying RTF
gliders and ROGs than was American Junior Aircraft. The company was
founded in the late 1920’s by model airplane legend Jim Walker
(1905-1958), and was based in Portland (OR). Walker and his staff spent
countless hours experimenting, engineering and test-flying “toy” gliders
and model airplanes from the late 1920’s through the 1950’s. Jim never
wanted any kid to be disappointed in the performance of an
The company also developed complex production
equipment for cutting and slicing balsa to very high standards of accuracy
and quality, and machinery for steam-forming airfoil and dihedral into the
wings of gliders costing as little as 5-10 cents. And if (when) your
glider got damaged, you could buy replacement parts without having to
spend extra money to buy an entirely new airplane.
Walker … ever the showman … travelled all over the
country, demonstrating his gliders and model airplanes to spellbound
audiences of all ages. He competed at regional and national model
airplane contests, and his company also provided needed sponsorship.
(One lucky contest winner received an around-the-world trip, courtesy of
American Junior.) Walker spoke just as energetically to his young
audiences about the importance of education and flying safety.
During WW2, Walker devised a cost-effective method
for soldiers to hone their anti-aircraft gunnery skills … shooting at
folding wing gliders launched by portable company-designed catapults.
AJ Army Interceptor gliders went to their doom for the war
effort at bases all over the world. In addition,
AJ produced large,
radio-controlled target drones for the military.
The company sold hundreds of different products …
from 5 cent gliders to gas-engine powered aircraft and boats ... and of
course, model airplane pieces and parts of all types. You would be
hard-pressed to find a model airplane enthusiast who hasn’t flown
airplanes of some type. Many folks started in the hobby with the “74”
glider, folding wing Interceptor or rubber-powered Hornet ... all top
performers of their time.
AJ Experimental ROG (1934) – This one-of-a-kind
prototype became the design basis for the smaller Hornet and larger
Pursuit ROG’s. It was
AJ’s first use of a metal prop hanger, wire landing
gear legs and a wood veneer propeller.
“Hornet” ROG (ca 1947-51) – The Hornet was probably
the most widely flown and fondly remembered ROG in the entire
Even novice flyers could get long and stable flights with the Hornet right
out of the package. This particular example is notable for its metal prop
hanger and somewhat unusual blue-inked wing (red was standard).
“AJ Bomber” toss glider (ca 1937-42) – Based on the
Martin B-10 Army bomber, the AJ Bomber was the company’s answer to the
cheap, wire & silk gliders from Japan that were flooding the US market in
the 1930’s. At only 6 to 7 cents per plane, it was a great flyer. Its
sales success helped to keep American Junior financially “afloat” during
the economically challenging years prior to WW2. This example is in
remarkable condition for its age and one of the few known with
“Americobra” toss glider (ca 1940’s) – The Americobra
was based on the Bell P39 Airacobra fighter and replaced the pre-War AJ
Bomber in the product line. It is notable for having an exterior aircraft
view printed on one side of the fuselage and an “x-ray” interior view
printed on the other. A rare “bird” indeed.
“Army Interceptor” (ca 1939) – The AI was one of the
first high-performing, mass-produced folding wing gliders sold in the US.
To launch the glider, the wings were folded up and pivoted back against
the fuselage. Once ready for flight, the AI was shot high into the air
using the catapult stick provided. Air pressure kept the wings tightly
folded. As the glider reached its maximum altitude and slowed, the rubber
band at the wing roots overcame the reduced air pressure against the wings
and quickly snapped them into place for gliding.
This particular example is believed to be among the
earliest produced, due to its nose weight configuration, wing printing and
large catapult stick. It came to me with its original box, which
protected the glider extremely well for many decades. However, the box
itself took quite a beating in doing so.
The Army Interceptor’s relatively large wingspan and
airfoil wing shaping provided consistently long flights ... and
subsequently became a “toy that went to war”. As the vintage Army
photograph shows, the military used the AI as a cost-effective means to
give gunnery practice to thousands of soldiers “in the field” during WW2.
As a result, American Junior was one of the few toy companies that
received significant allocations of balsa wood during the war, since balsa
was considered to be a strategic material during this period.
American Junior’s government contracts to produce
thousands of AI’s for the war effort, was a tribute to the ability of this
iconic glider to become more than just a child’s toy. It was great fun
for youngsters and provided yeoman service to the nation in time of war.
Complete, original AI’s are very scarce today. However, high-quality
replicas have been made in limited numbers by American Junior Classics in
Oregon since the mid 1980’s.
(See also the “AI time capsule” article elsewhere in
AJ glider gunnery training, Ft Lewis (WA) – 1943.
(photo courtesy of Scott Griffith, AJC archives)
AJ product dealer rack (photo courtesy of
Scott Griffith – AJC
A-J “74” toss glider (1947-59) – Undoubtedly the most
iconic ready-to-fly toss glider of all time, the “74” was also Jim
Walker’s favorite demonstration glider. Walker could make a 74 perform
show stunts that astounded kids and adults alike. Reportedly while
visiting a prospective business client in a high-level office building, he
flew a 74 out one window … back in the next … and made a perfect catch in
With its design roughly based on the Lockheed P-80
jet fighter, the 74 made its debut in the A-J product line in 1947.
Because of its near-perfect balance, rounded fuselage edges and 12 inch
airfoil-shaped wing, it was equally adept at long glides or aerobatics by
either sliding the wing forwards or back.
The 74 was available in both blue-wing and red-wing
versions … with the blue-wing version being the most common. It could be
purchased complete in an individual poly-bag, as part of a multi-airplane
set or “built-up” by buying components from a dealer’s display box. A 74
owner could also buy replacement components for a few pennies each, when
the glider sustained that inevitable flight damage. Among mass-produced
balsa gliders, the 74 of this period was the “the best of the best”.
74 toss glider “civilian” variant (ca 1955-57) – This
unusual version of the original 74 glider uses a “civilian” printing motif
on a modified 74 fuselage profile, in place of the jet fighter motif used
on the standard 74 fuselage. The printing design is reminiscent of the
Beechcraft or Piper aircraft being flown by private pilots during this
period. However, it doesn’t appear that matching civilian-style wing or
tail printing patterns were produced for this model. The standard 74
military-style wings and tail components were utilized instead.
This example is one of two gliders of this type that
are currently known to exist. These may have been special short-run items
whose purpose has been lost to time, or perhaps they were design mock-ups
under development by the company during this period. But it seems clear
that they were never put into large-scale production ... neither have they
appeared in any known ads or catalogs. Hopefully, more examples will
appear in the future so that additional information may be learned about
“74” toss glider (ca 1959-63) – In order to reduce
material and production costs, the 74 glider was redesigned in the late
1950’s. While not having the flying performance of the original 74
glider, this new version still looked very “cool” and was a very good
flyer when compared to the competition of its day.
“Sport Plane” toss glider (ca 1959-63) – The Sport
Plane is identical in design to the second generation AJ “74” shown
above. It featured a very attractive graphics motif … like those seen on
many aerobatic aircraft … in lieu of the military-style motif of the
standard 74. The Sport Plane was available in the AJ “3 Plane” and “Aero
45” gift packs, but may not have been sold individually.
“Racing Plane” toss glider (ca 1959-63) - The third
member in AJ’s 3 glider set was this nice looking racing plane. As with
the preceding Sport Plane, this glider was the same basic design as the 74
“military” glider, but with yet another printing motif. This particular
glider sat in boxed storage in my closet for an extended period of time,
awaiting a wing bearing the correct graphics. Luckily, the needed wing
was ultimately found and took its rightful place on the glider as the
result of a parts trade with another collector. (Thanks Scott!)
AJ/Pactra “74” (ca late 1960’s) – By the mid/late
1960’s, this once-revered glider went through a 3rd design
iteration. The company clearly made further compromises in construction
materials and production quality in order to maintain a 10 cent price
level during a time of increasing inflation. Perhaps as an homage to Jim
Walker, this 3rd generation design still retained the airfoil
wing shaping of its predecessors, although its flight performance was no
match for its earlier brethren.
Shown in the photo alongside the standard 3rd
generation 74, is a blue-wing variation that the company used for business
promotion purposes. Note the use of square-shaped horizontal and vertical
stabilizers in lieu of the standard rounded components. The blue leading
edge printing left plenty of blank space for a customer’s “message”.
Also shown here is reportedly the last original
“wooden” 74 glider to carry the Jim Walker name. The glider used the same
3rd generation design balsa fuselage, but was now was equipped
with foam wings and tail. No mention of Jim Walker was made on the
package. Sometime in the 1970’s, and with little notice by anyone, the
original AJ 74 disappeared entirely ... a victim of cost-cutting and
waning boyhood interest in flying balsa airplanes.
A-J “404 Interceptor” (1947-60) – Immediately after
WW2, the American Junior Company began a major redesign effort for many of
its gliders, to better represent the arrival of the “jet age”. The 1939
Army Interceptor folding wing glider (based on a WW2 propeller-driven
fighter) was replaced in 1947 by the 404 Interceptor. It appears that the
A-J staff took design “cues” for the 404 from the Lockheed P-80 fighter
and the Northrop F-89 interceptor, to reflect the rapid introduction of
sleek, jet-powered aircraft into service with the newly-established US Air
The 404 Interceptor was slightly shorter than the
Army Interceptor, and its 16.5 inch wingspan was 2.5 inches less than the
AI’s span. But the 404’s lighter weight and its new “sleek kurve”
fuselage design (rounded edges) enabled it to retain the excellent flying
qualities of its predecessor. Launched with a catapult stick, the 404
was legendary for catching thermals and just “flying away”.
Shown here is a red-wing version of the 404 with its
original box. Blue-wing examples were also available and were probably
the most commonly sold versions of the 404.
Also shown here is a rare, blue-wing “transition”
Interceptor. This glider is believed to have been among the first 404’s
off the American Junior production line in 1947. The company reportedly
had a small inventory of horizontal and vertical stabilizers left over
from the previous production of the now outdated Army Interceptor. Rather
than discarding these remaining AI stabilizers, the company repurposed
them for use in early batches of the 404, resulting in this glider’s
unusual “hybrid” appearance. (These AI stabilizer patterns would actually
be used again in late 1948 for a special batch of holiday 404’s that were
given as gifts by the company’s owner.)
By 1961, American Junior was in the process of being
absorbed by the Pactra Chemical Company. The 404 was now being
manufactured with a plastic one-piece fuselage and rudder. “Anemic” would
probably best describe the 404’s flight performance with the added weight
of this large, plastic component. The 20 year reign of the A-J
Interceptors as the premiere folding wing gliders of their day, had come
to an inglorious end.
“404 Interceptor” Holiday Special (1948) – AJ owner
Jim Walker directed that a very limited production run of “holiday”
Interceptors be made at the end of 1948. These special Interceptors were
reportedly made only to be given as gifts to AJ employees and to friends
of Walker himself. As far as is known, they were never sold to the
public. These rare gliders featured green and red printing (“holiday
colors”) in lieu of the standard blue and red. They also used the
horizontal and vertical stabilizers from the 404’s predecessor, the Army
Interceptor folding wing glider, instead of the “tailfins” normally used
on the 404’s.
“711 Jet” toss glider (ca mid-1950’s) – One of the
few green-colored gliders in AJ’s line-up … the 711 Jet was Jim Walker’s
answer to investor pressure to raise the retail price of his beloved 74.
The larger 711 was priced at around 17 cents, while the 74 remained at 10
“Ceiling Walker” helicopter (ca 1950’s) – The CW was
probably the most unusual aircraft ever to come out of the
AJ factory. It
was a rubber-powered helicopter and got its name from its ceiling hugging
flight characteristics indoors. Outdoors, it flew straight up and
auto-rotated back to earth once its rubber motor “petered out”. It was
marvel of design ingenuity.
“Space Kadet” ROG (ca 1960’s) – The Kadet was
reportedly the smallest of the
AJ ROG’s. But it still had a wing with
airfoil & dihedral and a highly efficient prop … features it shared with
the larger and more expensive ROG’s in the product line. (Obviously, it
was named prior the phrase becoming a good-natured insult in our