Paper Airplanes


March 09, 1991|By FRANKLIN MASON

When I saw him 50 years ago, I didn't know he was the man who knew everything about everything. Or so they say of him. He was tall, very tall, and stood out over engineers and draftsmen who were forever making paper airplanes.

It was war time, World War II time, and Glenn L. Martin in Middle River was turning out assembly-line planes almost like Ford cars. People came from everywhere to help, some with hay and cotton still in their hair. Many knew little but it was no great matter. There were those who knew much, the ones making paper airplanes.

The paper planes were broken down into parts, fuselage, hydraulics, wings, whatever. Over each paper-plane part was a group engineer and under him a slew of draftsmen who put details on paper. So it was the paper planes flew first and led to the rest.

Then in time came the day when hopefully all of it fitted together, the wing to the fuselage, and so forth. And then in more time came the day of the test, when all of it might fly. And so it would, and everyone marveled, thousands of workers saw the plane in the air and cheered. There were B-26s, PBMs, 167s, 187s and a behemoth called the Mars that I once flew in. Everybody, everybody, helped them up, helped them fly, it was a giant joint effort but the paper-plane boys, the ones who put it on paper first, got it all started.

So it was I saw him first. I was back of a drafting board and knew little about anything, but the group engineer knew much.

Such a group engineer was Howard Head. I never worked with him but I understood his power. Perhaps it was then, 50 years ago, that Howard Head began to know everything about everything.

So it was in time peace came and droves of Martin workers went, and so in time did Howard Head. But he kept something of Glenn Martin's with him, or the idea of something, something called aluminum. If that were so great for planes, what about something else? What about the poor skier Howard Head was?

So he tried and tried and in time there was the aluminum ski, the Head ski, and skiing was never the same again.

Nor was one idea enough, nor one fortune. After skiing came tennis, and his tennis as bad as his skiing. He tried and tried again and there was the funny oversized racket, the Prince, as big as a snowshoe, and everyone laughed when he got up to play but soon most everyone was playing the Prince. He revolutionized two sports, who else had done that?

But engineering and business and sports were not enough for him. He needed something more, something to feed his imagination. So it was he turned to the theater and backed and backed it, especially Center Stage.

So it was he pulled three worlds together, sports and culture and business and then topped it all with fine philanthropy. Perhaps Howard Head did know everything about everything but it never stopped him from knowing more and putting it to use.

Franklin Mason is a retired Evening Sun copyreader.

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