Heroes Never Die

Free Flight Sport
lees 18 inch wingspan
Lee’s 18-inch wingspan Q.CAT18-2 Catapult Glider.


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"A HERO IS BORN among a hundred, a wise man is found among a thousand, but an accomplished one might not be found even among a hundred thousand men."


We lost a legendary Free Flight (FF) figure just as I was planning this column. Lee Robert Hines, of Costa Mesa, California, passed away peacefully on May 2, 2022. Arguably the greatest glider designer/flier in the 100-plusyear history of FF, Lee’s modeling résumé would take much more space than I have for this column, so I’ll just touch on the highlights.

Lee was a four-time US FAI F1A Towline Glider team member (1979, 1985, 2001, and 2009). An early adopter of European circle-tow techniques, he designed and built his own F1A models in what is now considered the golden era of F1A. His Ultimax, Mean Machine, HRH, Sweet Bird, and Mean Bird aircraft were five of the dominant designs worldwide between 1975 and 1985.

In 1979, at the FAI World Championships for FF Model Aircraft in Taft, California, Lee achieved an individual bronze-medal finish and led the US team to gold—the only first-place finish for a US team in the 70-year history of F1A.

Lee entered the Towline game a full decade after he had become world famous in what was arguably his best event: Indoor Hand-Launched Glider (IHLG). This fame was well-earned. He set a string of four world records between 1957 and 1967, including three Nats wins.

Lee’s World Record Progression in IHLG

  • 1957 Nats: Hangar No. 1, Lakehurst, New Jersey; 154 feet, 1:17.2
  • 1963 Nats: Santa Ana Blimp Hangar, Tustin, California; 167 feet, 1:17.6
  • 4/19/64: Edwards Air Force Base, California; 98 feet (used 14.6-gram Sweepette 18 Mk. 9), 1:22.5
  • 1/10/65: Santa Ana Blimp Hangar; Tustin, California; 167 feet (used Sweepette 18 Mk. 13), 1:25.4

In his AMA History Project autobiography in 2005, Lee wrote:

"My first 15 minutes of fame came a short time later at the 1957 Nats [in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania].

"The indoor events were held at famous/infamous Lakehurst in New Jersey. A magic day for me, and Larry Conover wrote that ‘this skinny 19-yearold from California proceeded to set the all-time IHLG World Record with a flight of 77.2 seconds. It was an unreal event for me, for I was in the zone that day, performing well, with many greats of our sport looking on.

"Shortly thereafter, the Sweepette glider design began to emerge, which I suppose is my crowning achievement in aeromodeling. From its beginnings as a 6-inch indoor glider, it saw many versions and sizes, and was used both indoors and outdoors. I still build them today, with plans virtually unchanged since the 1970s. I was happily surprised when the Sweepette received the first Model of the Year Award in 1970. Of course, the fact that the design has been so successful in the hands of so many glider fliers is the primary source of that happiness."

The Sweepette HLG has been kitted continually now for more than five decades. Surely, it’s a record span. No fewer than three Sweepette kits are still in production, and virtually every HLG design since the 1950s is strongly influenced by the Sweepette’s carefully tuned features. It is undoubtedly the most famous HLG of all time.

Before his IHLG fame, Lee had competition success in other areas of FF. As a teenager, he was the prototype builder and flier of Ron St. Jean’s famous Ramrod design, circa 1954. The Ramrod went on to sell thousands of kits in various sizes.

In the late 1990s, Lee took up Outdoor Catapult Glider with downsized Sweepette derivatives and promptly became the best Catapult flier in the US. In a six-year span, from 1999 to 2005, he won five AMA Nats—a feat unlikely ever to be repeated. He also won countless regional contests during this time, often flying F1A in rounds in between quick trips to the Catapult pen.

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pages from lees personal
Pages from Lee’s personal FF logbook list every meet he entered from 1951 through 2021.

He capped decades of Nats attempts in Outdoor HLG with a hard-earned win in 2001 at the age of 63.

Lee’s Free Flight Nats Wins

  • Indoor HLG: 1957, 1963, 1967
  • Catapult Glider: 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005
  • HLG: 2001
  • F1A: 2001
  • F1S Electric: 2017
  • Catapult Team: 2004, 2005
  • HLG Team: 2012

No one in the recent past can claim to be as prolific of a Free Flighter as Lee. He attended most of the AMA Nats between 1955 and 2019. In 2009, he was inducted into the National Free Flight Society (NFFS) Hall of Fame. In the 2010s, he found joy and competition success in the E-36/F1S Electric event, including besting me in the 2017 Nats F1S flyoff, where I never really stood a chance against his uncanny, air-picking skills. That was his final Nats win.

Lee was much more than a FF competitor—he was a great and true friend, eager to share secrets, encourage a newcomer, or time flights. He loved to visit, tell old flying stories, listen to jazz, and eat good food. He was a great supporter of local model clubs, regularly driving his trusty Honda to contests from Texas to Oregon to Colorado, with many stops in between. And if you asked to see it, he’d happily show you his iconic looseleaf contest logbook—a priceless, handwritten diary of every FF meet he had ever attended since 1952!

(Columnist’s note: A few months before his death, Lee entrusted me with the notebook, which is destined for the AMA National Model Aviation Museum in Muncie, Indiana.)

Lee’s warmth and impish exuberance will be sorely missed on FF fields the world over. His legacy will forever be preserved by every Sweepette that flies freely. In reminiscing about Lee shortly after his death, our mutual friend, Clint Brooks, summed it up perfectly in a text: "He will always be around as long as we are alive to recognize what he brought to each of us."

Lee’s Plans and Kits

  • Sweepette 19: Classic javelin-style HLG. $3 plans (available through the NFFS Store, SKU: P-24-Sweepette19); $26 kit (available from Retro RC).
  • Sweepette 28/30: Tip-Launched HLG, circa 2011. $65 kit (available from J&H Aerospace).
  • Sweepette 36D: Tip-Launched HLG, circa 2011. $4 plans are (available through the NFFS Store, SKU: P-830-Sweepette36D).
  • Q-Cat 18-2: 18-inch wingspan Catapult Glider. $55 kit (available from DiscU.S.Kid).
lee hines
Lee Hines, (L, front), at a contest in Denver in 2010.


AMA History Project Presents: Autobiography of Lee R. Hines


J&H Aerospace


Retro RC

(248) 212-9666


DiscU.S.Kid (Stan Buddenbohm)

[email protected]


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