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Here goes nothing

This is an attempt to catalog my activity in the hobby from a very young age.
So here goes nothing.

I fell in love when I was a toddler. Some guy my mom was dating was laid up in a hospital bed after getting in a wreck with a semi truck. He made a paper airplane and threw it out the door of some room. Don't know where it was. It was totally cool though. Later, I learned how to make a pretty shoddy version of it.

I became obsessed with perfecting each fold, lining up the corners and making the creases as sharp as I could. At my grandmother's house, paper planes began showing up in strange places. Behind the book case. In the piano. Wedged in between the curtain rods.. in between the washer and dryer, under the refrigerator, soggy in the sink, in the yard, on the roof, you name it.

As if that wasn't enough, around Christmas time and birthdays my family got the wild idea to purchase more airplane paraphanalia to support my awful habit. Books containing photos of every plane from the Wright brothers designs to the F-117. The 'world record paper airplane book' by Ken Blackburn who's time aloft record at that time was around 16-17 seconds...

My grandpa, who was a captain in the Navy and flew on his first and only solo flight in a T6 (I think, unfortunately he has altzeihmers and I can't verify) came home one day with a guillows cesna. We sat around the kitchen table until we were booted by grandma to the attic workshop he had set up. We finished the plane and attempted to fly it until it was a real wreck. I don't remember what happened to it.

My older brother Travis Gafford, who is now a legend in the E-Sports world, was really into computers, and as soon as Fryz electronics opened a store locally we would make frequent trips there to oggle video games and PC parts. I came across the toy isle one day and found a box that said "White Wings." Now if you've never bought a pack of whitewings I highly suggest doing so if you have the opportunity. They are some of the best rubber band launched paper and paper/balsa planes in the business.
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I went absolutely nuts with them. Grandpa and I took a road trip from California to see some relatives in the Midwest, making stops at scenic locations and tourist traps along the way. I believe my first experience with Slope Soaring occurred when I threw a WhiteWings Glider off of the Grand Canyon, and was astounded when it not only flew straight out over the canyon but also began to rise, and go up... And up... And up... And "hey can I borrow your binoculars" until it was out of sight. It looked unreal, it looked like magic.

I started making more free flight gliders, in the white wings style, using balsa grandma bought from Michael's and whatever poster board or construction paper I could find that was most similar to the Kent paper used on the WhiteWings planes. Then I started making the wings from really thin balsa wood, and then from thicker balsa I would sand bevels into to make an airfoil shape.

Grandma and Grandpa went to China for about 6 months, grandma taught English and Grandpa, being a dermatologist, taught that kind of stuff.

I believe I was about 8 or 9 when they came back, and they had brought souvenirs.

A magnetic floating, spinning top. I could never figure it out. Bootleg DVDs featuring videos of... uhh, movies... and a remote control plane I can only describe as a clone of a "firebird". It had a plastic fuselage, foam wings, and differential thrust - and wouldn't you know it, would absolutely not stay in the air. I think maybe today I could make it fly. Maybe not.

So, there was my first remote control plane.

It looked like the plane in this photo but it was red and called something else. It was the bootleg filmed-in-theatre version of the real thing.


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It's funny to me how, when we're young, or trying new things, we seem to be more tolerant of failure. It seems when we're young, that getting back on the horse is easier. Maybe it just hurts less when we fall off.

So with the bootleg firebird dusted I was on to the new thing. It showed up on a Christmas morning. It looked mean. It was all foam, it had a ducted fan, it was light weight, probably had a 4 foot wingspan (but it could have been much smaller, as I was much smaller) and it only had an on/off switch. Yeah, a free-flight ducted fan model.

Grandpa and I took it up to a field that was up the hill from my apartment complex. Bums used to hang out there and me and the other apartment juvenile delinquents would do really dumb stuff like light fires and build forts from trash people dumped. I would make bows and arrows out of tree branches and shoot them, seeing how far I could get one to fly.

Anyway, we set the thing loose and - man it was really going. And then, it was gone, sorta like that time at the Grand canyon only more distance and less height. We couldn't find it. Hopefully it didn't break anything. Maybe it landed in China.

As discouraging as this was it was also my first taste at real performance. The memory of that flight further induced my obsession and I began looking at r/c stuff online, in magazines, etc. I found the free-flight forum on RCGroups and dove in, failed a lot trying to make rubber band powered models but kept trying, every day after school, I couldn't be torn away except for when I went to the skate park or the beach.

Grandma took me boogie boarding one very windy day and on the way back to her house (which was over the river and through the woods) I encountered a scene that I initially thought was a bunch of stunt kites. They looked like this:

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I jumped out of the car before it was even stopped. The old guys flying probably wondered why a little kid was sprinting at them shouting things. "WH-Hat is THAT?!"

Gary McCan, did what he does to this day, over 17 years later. "Want to try?"

So he handed me the controller and threw his two-hundred dollar plane off the cliff. Three seconds later, WHAM!

Then, in an unbelievable show of kindness, and confidence in EPP, let me try again. Two seconds later, WHAM! Dust went flying.

I had to have one. I probably waited and dreamed for 6 months. I got online and I read and I watched and obsessed, until I found what I thought I wanted. It was a Zagi THL. It came in the form of another large wrapped package under the tree, this time at my brother's dad's house in big bear.


I was eager to put it together, so eager in fact that I totally failed to read the instructions. When all was said and done I had a totally covered Zagi THL with the bottom wing beds still attached. The linkages were connected with kite string. There were 4 foot kite streamers taped to the winglets.

It did not look as nice as it did on the box.

When I took it to the slope, it sort of flew, with Gary's help. He instructed me to remove the bottom wing beds. Things were looking much better. Unfortunately I lived 40 miles away, so after replacing the strings with control rods and covering the bottom of the wing instead of the wing bed, adding a couple more layers of tape (why I don't know) I had a very heavy, but somewhat flight-worthy Zagi THL. I took it to a tiny hill at the Temecula duck pond and threw it over and over again until I was at least gliding straight for a short while. I did that until it was utterly demolished. The radio I was using was a Hitec Neon.
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ob Stembridge used to do these amazing custom builds for Wing Warrior. They had me drooling.
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Lo and behold, Santa came around again at my grandparents one Christmas. I had a Stembridge Raider, and it was a weapon. It was also the first plane I had that I learned how to really fly r/c, how to slope soar. Gary McCan, Dave Kellogg, Oran Bloodsworth, Derek Choice, Harris Nelson, and 'Target' on RCGroups all gave me various tips starting out. That guy in the YouTube video in the previous post, Jeff Fogel, taught me how to fly inverted with it. Here's a photo:

Over the years I mastered flying wing aerobatics on the slope.. and using building techniques and flying tips from a hundred different people I came up with a little something...

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As BB King would say, "I doubt if you can feel it like I do.."

In my case, like his guitar Lucille, Slope Soaring and the surrounding community is the only activity on the planet I can turn to.. when I'm "paying my dues"

My grandpa, as I mentioned, developed altzeihmers not long after I started flying r/c.

I grew up with a single mother with Systemic Lupus, who took care of my brother and I during the week, and on the weekends she would drive us up to Big Bear and drop us off at my brother's dad's place where I struggled to get along with my siblings and was emotionally abused by my step mother who frequently referred to my siblings as "her kids."

I spent a lot of time at Little Beach in Carlsbad, avoiding the turbulent situation at my various homes. There was this guy who was always there, parked in his van, a little old vanagon type thing.

His name was Dave Kellogg. Anybody who ever met him would tell you today that he was the most friendly and kind individual you could find. Like Gary, people would show up with questions about the planes, and he would respond by allowing them to throw one off the cliff a few times. He would give tips to newbie pilots, and always have an exacto, a screw driver, a glue bottle, some kicker, some tape, some lead weight, it didn't matter what you needed he would hook you up. He was one of North County Flying Machines test pilots, and he was one hell of a pilot.

It was my birthday some year, around the 5th or 6th grade, and Dave Kellogg and Harris Nelson, Derek Choice, Oran Bloodsworth, Bob'Noxious', Matin (the current good-guy owner of NCFM) and I'm sure others but memory fails me, all contributed to putting together a Moth and gifting it to me for my birthday. We had a slope race some time after that.

Mom got sicker and sicker until she couldn't get me up for school in the morning. In the sixth grade she sent me off to Michigan, where there were no slopes, and the gliders I had really needed slopes.

My friend 'Surfimp' Steve Lange recognized my dilemma and sent out a particular Glider that I'm sure many of you know - an Alula from Dream flight. Did you know that the first version of the Alula was hot-wire cut EPP? I don't have a photo of the one he sent me, but years later I made another.

Now you would think that kind of generosity is maybe a one time thing in this life. However in the Soaring community, it seems to be almost normal, and I for one have been spoiled by it.

I didn't last long in Michigan.. it wasn't really my style. My apartment skate-rat nature didn't mesh well in a helicopter parent environment with my aunt and uncle. I flew back to California.

When I got off the plane and back to my Mom's she gave me some sad news and told me that Dave Kellogg was dying. I went out to the slope and flew and chatted with the guys. Oran Bloodsworth was taking care of Dave, acting as a nurse, a cook, an entertainer. He threw what was, for lack of a better term, a "going away party," and all of Dave's friends were there and the food was classic ORANATOR style - greasy, cheesy, and sweet. I can still hear him say "cheeeeeeesecake" with the enthusiasm and devious tone I've yet to find from anyone else discussing food or gliders. An annual celebration still happens here at Dave's Beach around his birthday.
We came up with this idea to fly his ashes out to sea on a relatively biodegradable aircraft. Gary is pictured here, doing the deed.
...and that's Dave's old van in the middle, parked where it always was

You could say we had a good turnout.
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If you're looking for an ending to this story that is cliche or otherwise perfectly positive, I am too.

So I present to you a myth, a legend. The indomitable slope stud.


Oran Bloodsworth became a very strong figure in my life after Dave passed on. He had an idea of what was going on with me when I wasn't at the slope. He would show up with his van full of planes, sodas, snacks - let me fly something I thought was new but usually highly collectible and older than I was by 30 years.
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My Mom would begrudgingly allow me to go to his house for dinner. I say begrudgingly because Oran was a comedian and a flirt. Don't get me wrong, he was completely faithful to his family, however he would sometimes sing his own cover of 'Stacy's Mom,' replacing Stacy with Justin, in order to embarrass me and joke around with her.

It was the eighth grade, I was playing Halo PC, and I was very dumb. Kids are dumb. I thought it was a good idea to walk away from the chicken strips I was frying in a pot of vegetable oil and get a game in. The smoke alarms started going off and I ran in the kitchen to find it on fire. In hindsight, this problem could have been resolved with a wet towel, but, I was dumb. I am dumb. So yeah I burned down my kitchen a couple weeks before I graduated middle school. Mom wasn't financially stable enough to jump into another place, and my brother had just graduated highschool and was going to college.

Decisions had to be made. I needed a better environment. Mom was very sick and trying to work full time. Grandpa had relatives in Kansas, and... a skip and a hop later I found myself in Galesburg, aka, nothingness in the middle of nowhere. I didn't know my relatives but they took me in. I didn't know what hard work was. I didn't know there was a place even flatter than Michigan.

and so here comes another generous act from Oran, like 'Surfimp' Steve Lange, in the form of an electric Easy Glider.


I spent Freshman year in Kansas. My cousin Rosie's mom got cancer, and it was back to California to stay with my brother's dad and (quite frankly) evil step mother. I finished high school, and every summer I went back to the beach where I built planes and flew with Oran and the rest of the guys. Oran's place was always open and I was always there.

So here's the thing about Oran's....
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Needless to say I was very fortunate to spend so much time in airplane heaven.


I've graduated highschool now. Just barely. I'm snowboarding and partying while working part time at the mountain and paying $300 to rent a room.

I think I have a 2.8 GPA, I don't know.

Matin, the owner of North County Flying Machines donated a Bluto kit for my Senior Project

and around the same time, there is something lurking in the RC world on the internet.. something we had never seen before. You have to keep in mind that this is a Glider, not an Edge 540, not an Extra, not a Pitts. It was INSANE.

As fate would have it, I would up working in Santa Barbara setting up the stage for a band at a wedding not long after that video came out. I went to Ellwood and asked about the guy who made the plane and was told to go to a slope in Carpinteria to find him, so I did, and there he was. "Swiss" (like cheese and Switzerland, where he's from)Peter in the flesh.

At the same time Surfimp Steve Lange was hosting a worldwide aerobatics video contest on RCGroups. Three categories, winner decided by votes, and the "Swiss Peter's Choice" award that offered the plane in the video.

I won the choice award with some wing aerobatics, and Peter offered to teach me his ways. For a week or so we had a blast. Peter loves to party and build planes. He showed me his technique building le fish with laminating film, Swiss cheese holes, and depron surfaces, and then I built my own:

This was also my first scratch build. I later used it to win 1st place in the VTPR category in the next video contest.

Time went by and I landed in Long Beach where I was going to go to community college. I had signed up for some gen ed stuff as well as general aviation and aviation maintenance. I got an email not too long after having moved into my apartment notifying me that the aviation courses were cancelled. I was pretty upset so, I started building.
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This is my first design called the Buzz.
...and this is a video of the first day flying, that was shared by FliteTest on their Facebook. After the share, it had 4,000 views overnight. That isn't much but it was a big deal to me.

It grabbed the attention of a lot of people. I found myself quitting my job and building many of them.
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When the lease was up I went back to Big Bear. There I made many more planes, partied too much, and eventually was evicted from the cabin I was renting. It was pretty unexpected. I would up homeless, living in my car. I drove it to Oregon and picked up a couple jobs doing cold calls. It wasn't working out and I went back. I lived up there for years, got into all sorts of trouble, couldn't hold a steady job, made bad business decisions on the airplane side of things, and stopped having fun. I learned that it isn't a party if it happens every night. I surfed more couches than I can count. Around July of last year I went back to the beach and tried to take life more seriously. I stopped drinking all the time, stopped hanging out with the wrong people. I picked up a job as a Lyft driver under the Express Drive program and slaved away for months. It paid about $4.50/hour after all the expenses for a 50 hour work week, but kept me alive.

I slept at Oran's place for a couple weeks, til his family got tired of it - I don't blame them, a 26 year old dude shouldn't be sleeping indefinitely at your house with no sign of progress.

I was sleeping in my car when I got a phone call from Oran, asking if I'd like a real job. I said yes absolutely and he set me up with a company I won't name, working on composite parts for various, incredibly cool aerospace projects.

I was still homeless when I started working there. Having bad credit, and a bad history with psychotic room mates, I found difficulty finding a place to live even with the steady income. I elected to move into a van after checking out "van-life" on the internet. The only problem was I didn't have a van.

Oran had just gotten a new vehicle and the gears started turning. I called him up and asked if he'd like to sell the old van. He very graciously named a bargain price and a payment plan and over the next few months I bought it from him.

The job was cool. It was also stressful, and too far from home. Too far from my mom and Grandpa who are both diagnosed with terminal illness. The area was sketchy and I was still living in the van. I would up quitting, but I learned quite a bit and that story isn't over.

A couple hours after I quit, and already having a bit of a bad day, I received the worst news I've ever received.

Oran was riding his new 2019 Indian Motorcycle up in Ojai, when he lost control of his bike for an unknown reason, and died at the scene.

I don't believe I've had a better friend or mentor, and this Christmas I miss him dearly. Thanks for everything man.

We will be having a Memorial Fly-In sometime in February.


I'm still living in his van. The same one he'd drive me around in when I was 13. I recently got a full time job at Walmart in the Produce department, and I've been building planes out of foam board in the van.


I don't have a house or a dog or a girlfriend. Everything is a mess, I'm depressed, lonely, grieving, and sad about the health of my Mom and my Grandpa.

I just keep building. I just keep flying. Whenever I can. However I can, and I try to be as good as the men who raised me.

I want to thank the community for keeping me going. Merry Christmas to all.

Justin Gafford

P.s. please consider this my resume. I would love to mow the lawn at Edgewater Airpark :)


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Active member
Sounds very similar to my experience, except mine started with Origami.

My grandmother went on a bus tour to new York and brought back an origami kit. It got soo bad that my grandfather charged me .05$ for every page I used.

(The orange one is the one that started it all)

Then I "borrowed" a book from my elementary school library about laminated gliders very similar to white wings models. I can remember spending hours cutting out the parts and gluing them together. This book also introduced me to camber. Once I read through the info columns enough times, I started making my own designs (no pics because I don't have any intact atm).

(At one point I had a veritable Airforce of these flying around)

But then I found Ojimak. This Website pretty much singlehandedly started my modelling hobby. It was only natural that I wanted to see my creations fly, and then I discovered flite test.

(The two in the center are ojimak models. I left the turbines off the 747 for better glides)

It's only been relatively recently that I've been flying RC (>2years), but my love of all things airborne has lasted much, much longer.

The rest is history.

Edit: I wrote this after post #1, hehe 😅.


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Active member
Same here, it's amazing how far a pipette full of CA glue can go. I get lost in detailed work like that, it's very relaxing cutting all the tabs.
I like your quote about kids taking failure easier. It's kinda true. The older we get, the more we can think ahead and plan things through, and the more "perfect" we think our creations are. Therefore the more it stings when we fail.
Kids are like "let's put some wings on this milk carton. It's an airplane!"


Active member
Robyle... That is an enormous cat. Does the ornithopter work well?
Haha, compared to my short mother, yeah she is XD.

That picture is close to four years old now (wow, I'm still under 30 but that makes me feel old), but I remember it working ok. With all the extra strips of balsa for needed reinforcement and the super heavy tissue paper, it rarely did anything other than level flight for a few seconds. If I built one now, though, I think I could pull off a short climb. When I built that one, I just so happened to have a supply of tiny aluminum tubing. I have no idea where I'd find any now.


Knower of useless information
Justin, it's all good, man. Glad to know you're at least enjoying the sloping life.

Hate to ask, but when did Oran pass? I think I might have met him recently, but didn't get his name.


Active member
I don't know if this will sound cold or pretentious, but I say this in all seriousness:
This is what freakin' NYT bestsellers are made from. A love, a passion, a disaster, a healing, and the thread that ties it all together.

Not to mention the freakin beautiful p.o.s that can be family and circumstance.

Here is to many more happy memories behind the transmitter, and to the grit and courage it takes to track straight and true.
I don't know if this will sound cold or pretentious, but I say this in all seriousness:
This is what freakin' NYT bestsellers are made from. A love, a passion, a disaster, a healing, and the thread that ties it all together.

Not to mention the freakin beautiful p.o.s that can be family and circumstance.

Here is to many more happy memories behind the transmitter, and to the grit and courage it takes to track straight and true.
Well I thought it was a good story too, that's why I posted it! It's so much bigger than me, you know. There are people out there that never had what I had, I'm hoping this can show the importance of mentors, and kindness in general.