CEDAR RAPIDS — The story of Major Robert M. Horsky can be told through his planes.
The United States Air Force veteran and Cedar Rapids native, who died in the skies over Vietnam in 1965, built model airplanes starting in high school and throughout his 20-year military career. The models capture the history of flight with a definite military focus, particularly the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam eras.
“It’s a wide range of flight from the Wright Brothers to the modern day of his era aircraft,” said Jim Douglas, a member of the Alexander Lippish Modeling Club and a volunteer at the Veterans Memorial Building where a new Horsky exhibit is on display.
Douglas inventoried the collection and performed repairs before In Flight: The Horsky Collection of Model Airplanes went live in July at the Veterans Memorial Building, 50 Second Avenue Bridge. The collection has 185 models, including about a dozen flown by Horsky, on display on the fourth floor outside the old city council chambers.
The free exhibit is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Many may remember the same models being on display at The Eastern Iowa Airport for nearly 50 years until a remodel in 2012. The aviation collection had a short stint at The History Center before the latest move.
The exhibit is about more than just the models, though. It chronicles Horsky’s life with additional effects including a service uniform, a timeline, old articles and letters, pictures, plane blueprints, dog tags and his flight log book, which helps tie his life to the models.
“It was very emotional the first time I saw it because it was like sitting in a room of his stuff,” said his daughter Jan Wieneke, 51, of Phoenix, who was 11 months old when he died. “It’s an interesting display the way they put everything together with the timeline, and his log. It gives a much better picture then just the planes on display.”
Horsky’s modeling hobby started as a student at the old Wilson High School and member of the Civil Air Patrol program, a citizen volunteer initiative to support the military.
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“Soldiers would study the models the high schoolers were making so they could identify aircrafts,” said Teri Van Dorston, Veterans Memorial assistant director who helped curate the exhibit.
The first plane in the collection is a wooden model of a Nakajima E8NI Dave, built likely in the early 1940s, she said.
Horsky continued modeling as he moved from base to base around the globe over his 20 years of service, beginning in 1945 until his death.
Douglas said he found the models of planes Horsky flew most interesting and some had extra details, such as weather streaks and aluminum panels. A Rockwell International Aero Commander U-4 model included the tailnumber from Horsky’s craft. A Navy version of the Douglas AD6 Sky Raider, which specialized in close ground support missions in Vietnam, a B-29, in which Horsky was lead pilot with a crew of 11, a B-47 Boeing Stratojet with a crew of three and a B-52 are other models in the collection flown by Horsky, Douglas said.
The collection features crafts from Japan, Great Britain, Germany and Canada, as well as different styles such as triplanes and biplanes.
“These are the planes that made aviation into what it is today,” Douglas said of the collection.