Friday, February 5, 2010

Yes, but will it fly?

In the summer of 1991 Disney released the film The Rocketeer, based on Dave Stevens' short lived comic book series. My mom took me to see the film on opening weekend and I was immediately blown away by it. It had everything I loved: planes, plenty of action, and a superhero that reminded me of Commando Cody. I was in nirvana for those 2 hours. Soon I wanted to get my hands on every single piece of Rocketeer toys or collectibles out there. Unfortunately due to the film's poor reception at the box office a lot of the merchandise based on the film was released in small quantities or cleared out of store shelves soon after the film's release. Imagine how surprised I was when on a Saturday afternoon visit to my local comic shop I looked up to the top shelves where they usually stacked up the action figures and model kits to find a flying replica of the amazing Gee Bee plane piloted by Cliff Secord in the film. I immediately grabbed it and was able to convince my parents to buy it for me. I couldn't wait to get home and put this thing together so I could fly it just like the awesome image depicted on the back of the box.

First release of the Gee Bee featuring painted on detail.

Second release of the Gee Bee with only a decal sheet and no paint work.

The plane toy was made by Spectra Star, a company known for a wide range of outdoor play toys including yo-yos and kites, many featuring characters from popular movies and shows. The plane was made out of vacuum formed plastic, with injection molded landing gear, wheel pants, wheels, engine cowling and a rubber band powered propeller; it had a wingspan of around 16 inches. As soon as I got home I put all the pieces together and installed the rubber band powered motor. Afterwards all you had to do was turn the propeller so the rubber band would coil up inside the plane. After the band wouldn't turn any more you would let go of the propeller and it would start spinning. Then all you had to do was lightly throw the plane in the air and see it fly. Unfortunately once I let go of the plane it would just drop like a shoe. If you'd throw it with a lot of force it wouldn't even glide it would just flip around tumbling through the air as if you'd just thrown your cat across the room. I was deeply disappointed.

I thought my plane was defective, but since I was such a fan of the movie and the Gee Bee I wanted to keep it as a display piece even if it didn't fly. Weeks later I thought maybe the rubber band wasn't powerful enough to drive the propeller so I decided to rig the thing with one of the mini motors from my Hasbro Record Breakers toy cars. That didn't work either and I ended up causing a lot of damage to the plane's fuselage attempting to install the motor and the electronics to make it work.

Recently I discovered I wasn't the only child who went through this major disappointment. Apparently Spectra Star had a lot of problems in producing this item. The first batch of planes they made was fabricated in the U.S. and then hand painted in Mexico. The process proved too expensive for the company so the second batch of planes released didn't include any painted on detail. They were packaged unpainted with a cheap decal sheet. The flying problem was there from the start and it was something all of these planes had, but Spectra Star had to release the planes in time to coincide with the movie's theatrical run so they went ahead and released the planes anyways.

After getting multiple complains about the item Spectra Star released the second batch of planes with a label on the package warning kids that this was nothing more than a replica model which did not fly. Unfortunately the version I bought did not have this decal so I was under the impression from the beginning that this thing was meant to fly, forcing me to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what might have been wrong with mine and eventually trying to come up with a solution which did not work at all and made me ruin the plane.

Maybe in the future some toy company will get the rights to The Rocketeer and release a better version of this thing, because it is one cool looking plane, and the movie has a huge cult following. I just wish Spectra Star had been honest from the beginning and not fooled so many young kids like myself back in the day. They went out of their way to promote the plane's ability to fly, glide, loop and dive on the packaging, and the back of the box goes on to explain in detail how to make the damned thing fly, which is nothing more than a bunch of nonsense. Hopefully someday we'll get a working flying replica of the Gee Bee from The Rocketeer released and I won't have to bitch and moan about this matter anymore.

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