MAUD — As a child in the 1940s in Oklahoma City, Ken McDaniel pinched paper airplanes between his right thumb and index finger and let them fly across the classroom.
By the time McDaniel was in his 30s, he was an F-100 fighter pilot flying out of Phu Cat in South Vietnam. That was amid more than 20 years in the U.S. Air Force.
Today, he's 78 years old and has cattle on a farm about halfway between Maud and Saint Louis. But his imagination continues to soar in metal models of airplanes that are replicas of some of those he, family, or friends have flown.
“It's a labor of love, because I love the airplanes,” he said. “I love every one I ever flew.
“Flying is my life.”
Then, one day years ago, he found himself staring at a plastic silhouette of an F-100.
Prepare for takeoff
“I got to looking at that one day and I said, ‘That would look nice on the top of a mailbox, just a plain view of the fuselage,'” McDaniel said, thinking back about two decades. “And so I made that.”
Then when he got ready to put up a 35-foot-tall flagpole, thoughts turned to another silhouetted version of a plane that he'd mount atop it, flying right there above the Stars and Stripes.
“When I look at that plane and the flag below it, I think, ‘I worked for my country, the people of the United States,'” he said as a strong summer wind rippled through the flag.
McDaniel, who joined the Air Force in the 1950s, was in his 30s by the time he went to Vietnam. In his first combat tour, he flew a Cessna L-19 “as the Army called it,” known in the Air Force as an 0-1.
He was a forward air controller. In this case, from the air he directed the actions of combat aircraft engaged in close air support of land forces.
“I would spot the targets and direct the fighters to them,” he said.
His second combat tour was as a fighter pilot in an F-100.
Did you get hit?
“Not a scratch,” he said. “That's not skill and cunning, that's strictly luck and being in the right place at the right time instead of the wrong place. The Army used to call me all the time and say, ‘They're shooting at you.' They could hear them. But I couldn't hear it up there.”
Sparked the imagination
One day, a few years after making the airplane for the flagpole, McDaniel got to thinking, “I'm going to try a 3-D model.”
“I just found some pipe that I thought was about right for doing the fuselage and started working with it and adding pieces of pipe to it to get the size right,” he said. “I found that wasn't working, so I started cutting it and bending it and heating it and welding it together.