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Written by National Model Aviation Museum Staff
History Preserved
Column
As seen in the March 2018 issue of
Model Aviation.


If you’ve been in the aeromodeling hobby for any amount of time, chances are that you’ve heard of Sig Manufacturing Company. However, you might not be familiar with its fearless daredevil of a cofounder, Hazel Sig-Hester.

Born the third child on Third Street in the third town that her parents had lived in on the third day of the third month of 1922, Hazel considered herself to have been born lucky. With a racecar-driving father whose favorite story to tell was the time he flew with Charles Lindbergh, Hazel was born with a need for speed.

A self-professed tomboy, Hazel grew up climbing trees, shooting BB guns, and loving motorcycles and model airplanes. Lucky for her, this tall, “outlandish” young dental assistant would soon find her match in the young man who “roared into town on his Indian Motorcycle in 1942.”

Hazel’s new boyfriend, Glen “Poncho” Sigafoose, took a job as a Linotype operator at the Montezuma Republican newspaper and opened an Indian Motorcycle dealership on the side with her. They were married in 1943. Together, they ran the dealership until the Korean War began, cutting off their aluminum supply.





The couple never intended to get into the model aviation business. Aeromodeling had been a lifelong interest for both Hazel and Poncho, but they were rapidly growing frustrated by the lack of availability of cut balsa wood for scratch-built models. So, in approximately 1951, they took matters into their own hands. Poncho bought 120 feet of balsa, which he cut into thin sheets.

The Sigafooses then took out an advertisement in a hobby magazine, offering free information regarding the precut balsa. To their surprise, they received no response from the community. They made another, more successful attempt—this time offering information about the balsa at the low cost of 10¢! The couple was soon inundated with requests.

Five years after publishing its first advertisement, the Sig Manufacturing Company was able to purchase its first building. Sig quickly grew. The couple expanded their catalog to include not only balsa wood, but also engines, radios, and kits from other manufacturers. They began to manufacture their own kits under the Sig name, and even recruited well-known model designers and competitors to design an exclusive line of model airplanes.

But Hazel wasn’t content to stick exclusively to model aviation. Her eye was still on full-scale airplanes. At roughly the same time that Sig Manufacturing was beginning to take off, she and Poncho rode their Indian Motorcycles from Montezuma, Iowa, to Sigourney, Iowa, to take full-scale aircraft flying lessons.

Hazel initially learned how to fly an Aeronca Model 7 Champion—colloquially known simply as a “Champ”—but later transitioned to a Cessna 140 for teaching purposes. She also became an accomplished aerobatics pilot shortly thereafter.

According to Hazel, there were few aerobatics instructors in the mid-1950s, so she traveled to Nebraska to learn in a clipped-wing Cub. She furthered her studies through Duane Cole’s technical manual, Roll Around a Point, which she read both on the ground and in the air for pointers. She would continue to fly both her clipped-wing Cub and a home-built Spacewalker for more than 30 years.





The clipped-wing Cub remained a popular airplane with Hazel, and eventually a model version was made available for purchase through Sig Manufacturing. It remains one of the most popular Sig kits, along with the Kadet and a non-clipped-wing version of the Cub.

It should come as no surprise that Sig Manufacturing remains a strong competitor in the aeromodeling market. Nearly everything available from Sig is manufactured from scratch—paint, glue, and airplane fuel included. Raw balsa is imported from Ecuador and plywood from Finland.

Many aeromodelers are familiar with the Sig catalog, which was frequently referred to as the “model builder’s wish book.” So next time you’re flipping through the Sig website and considering a new Piper Cub kit, remember the airplane-loving, motorcycle-riding, spitfire of a cofounder who helped make it all possible: Hazel Sig-Hester.





—National Model Aviation Museum staff






3 comments

I remember drolling over their Cessna 172 Skyhawk & Citabria Kit boxes sitting on the shelf @the LHS near where I grew up at. Since I couldn’t afford these at the time (including now), I just got a copy of their (Sig) 1985 print catalog ($3-) instead. I remember keeping this in my tote bag, along with other hobby related literature. Sure BURNED THE CLOCK for me during recess.

Over 30 years ago I bought a 1/4 scale “Sig” Piper Cub from a dealer in Leavenworth Ks named Walter Defrees. Our club “Sometimers RC Club” named our field in his honor. After I retired from the Army in 1979, I taught at Piper Middle School for 18 years and hung the Sig Cub in my Math classroom We called the class “Design and Build” as we built model planes as part of Math application. My wife and I visited the Sig plant and during the tour we met Hazel! She asked if we would like to ride in the real Sig Spacewalker. We both went for a ride over the Plant with Sig himself flying the plane! (One at a time) I bought the model too. What a wonderful experience provided by 2 gracious people!! I remember the signs in the plane warning that this was an “experimental “ aircraft. Sig was 70 at the time to put a date on this.We shall never forget this as the Sig family was so great!

we love you Hazel Sig. thanks for all the years if fun fly rc.. God bless

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