The Paul K Guillow Company
“They don’t make them like they used to” ... an often
heard lament about most everything produced today, including toys. But
there is a notable exception in the RTF glider world … the Paul K Guillow
Co. Many of the Guillow gliders and ROGs you can buy today look amazingly
similar to those made in the 1950’s. Not too surprising when you consider
that some of the company’s balsa cutting and slicing machines are half a
Paul Guillow, a WW1 naval aviator, founded the
original business in the city of Wakefield (MA) in 1926, with a line of
balsa shelf model kits of WW1 aircraft. He also wrote several books in
the 1930’s and 40’s about model-building techniques. During WW2, the
company was forced to substitute cardboard and pine wood for balsa (a
strategic material) … with somewhat unsatisfying results. Guillow also
produced a series of target drones for the War effort. With the end of
hostilities, balsa once again became Guillow’s material of choice for its
gliders and kits.
Paul Guillow passed away in 1951, and his wife
Gertrude took over the reins of the company. By 1953, Guillow introduced
its market-changing Jetfire glider … the first packaged with high speed
equipment. The Jetfire and other Guillow RTF airplanes were highly
successful in the fiercely competitive toy glider market because of their
combination of quality, low cost, good flight performance and ability to
be easily “trimmed” and modified. These factors have kept Guillow
continuously producing a wide range of wood RTF gliders, ROG’s and “stick
& tissue” aircraft to this day. (You can find a detailed history of the
company and see their entire product line at guillow.com.)
Boxed glider sets (ca 1938-41) – The sets shown here
are examples of the several different boxed sets Guillow produced in the
immediate pre-War period. The little gliders varied in size and
decoration, but the general design was relatively constant. They seem
most suitable for flights in light winds or for use indoors, but you got a
lot of fun for a nickel!
“Sky Streak” ROG (ca 1940’s) – Although the Sky
Streak has been in continuous production for many decades, it has
undergone some rather dramatic design changes during its long lifetime.
The example pictured here may be the first iteration of the Streak. Note
the metal prop hanger, tiny wooden wheels and top-of-fuselage location for
the rubber “motor”. One hopes it flew better than it looked.
“Sky Streak” ROG (ca 1950’s) – By the 1950’s, the
Streak had a more advanced (dare I say, “handsome”?) design. The
sculptural streamlined fuselage, plastic prop hanger and larger wheels
gave it a more balanced and purposeful appearance. With the aid of both
airfoil and significant dihedral on the wings, this “new” Streak was also
a good performer. Today’s Sky Streak no longer carries the “ROG” moniker
… it no longer has landing gear & wheels that would enable it to “rise off
“Jetfire” toss glider (ca 1953-55) – Credited with
being the first mass-produced RTF glider packaged with high-speed
machinery, the Jetfire changed the marketplace cost paradigm for toy
gliders almost overnight. This glider was the basis for most of my flying
experiments as a youth. Luckily, they were durable enough to survive most
of my “research”. (Only one of my hybrids out-flew the standard plane.
But that one “magical” long-winged, V-tailed hybrid out-flew everything I
EVER bought!) The Jetfire is still made much the same way as it was half
a century ago.
“P-51 Mustang” (ca 1940’s) – Somewhat of a cross
between a toss glider and a shelf model, the P-51 is an attractive balsa
rendition of the famous WW2 fighter. (Was the large “34” printed on the
wing an homage to the AJ 74 glider … or a subtle attempt to inject a
little marketplace confusion?)
“Flying Clown” toss glider (ca 1960-63) – I consider
this diminutive glider to be the chameleon of the Guillow product line.
In its 50+ years of production, it has only seen minor changes. But it’s
been sold under several names including Flying Clown, Super Ace and Eagle
… and under many guises in its role as a promotional item for countless
companies and government organizations. This little fellow offers a lot
of flying fun for very little money.