For a good percentage of you, the phrase “balsa wood planes” might mean nothing. For the rest of you, I suspect your eyes glazed over with the same nostalgia as mine did when I came across the Guillow booth at ToyFair2016. For the unfamiliar in the crowd, these are model planes, made with soft, light, and (most notably) fragile balsa wood. Some are powered by rubber band propellers, others just glide.
As you can see from the above video, putting these together is fun and fast–but not too fast or you’ll break it. When I would visit my grandfather, a WWII Army Air Force Pilot, I’d always stop at the corner store and grab a Guillow model to “bond” over flying. Actually, I’d grab two as I would invariably break the first one I tried.
When Guillow offered me a handful of “super hero” themed kits to try I jumped at the chance. Not just me either–both my 15-year-old daughter and my 5-year-old son were absolutely enamored. Personally, I was looking forward to flying the band-powered “Captain Storm,” which was the most like the old sets I flew.
Soon, our private air force was assembled (minus the examples my daughter took to show her friends). We began flying them about the apartment. Yes, you read that right. These are not indoor toys, but it was raining and we didn’t want to wait. I was instantly teleported back to fall days in the mountains, the sound of rubber-band powered props as the smell of my grandfather’s pipe lingered… it was perfect. Right down to the crashing. Thing is, balsa wood makes good planes because it is light, and it breaks really easily. So after about ten minutes, we went from multiple planes to a model boneyard.
One would think I’m complaining about the fragility. I’m not. I’m merely observing it. These are not meant to last. These are meant to be a start. They are a gateway to the worlds of aeronautics, model building, and aviation. They are a beep-free time spent with your loved ones. They are an affordable (two for less than $6!) source of semi-disposable entertainment. They’re a way to start someone on modding (check YouTube to see what I mean). If you want something more sturdy, Guillow offers more robust balsa models as well as foam/plastic. But as a starter? These are perfect.