Northwest Speed Scoop

By Mike Hazel

A visit to Mike Hoyt

At this time of year one would expect the usual stuff out of a column, such as admonitions to get into the workshop and get projects built, and to clean out your toolboxes, etc. etc . etc. We will dispense with all of that for now, because it's story-telling time.............

In 1978 I had the opportunity to make a personal visit with Mike Hoyt of "Sidewinder" jet fame. Here's the story of that visit, and some personal notes and history of that era.

First of all, I started my foray into jet speed in 1976. (Only thirty years ago, you would think I would know more by now, eh?) My Dad and I had purchased a Dynajet from Eugene Toy & Hobby a few years prior, and the engine had seen very little use, having only been mounted and flown a couple of times on a funky sport plane which I had designed. So, now wanting to jump into the event, where to go?

Jerry Thomas was the jet guru of the Northwest and I had seen him at the Spokane Internats and of course the early NW Regionals meets in Eugene. I obtained some written info from him regarding his "Ironsides Too" kit. However, at the time the all metal construction looked a bit intimidating for my building skills, and the price of 58 bucks for the kit (which was actually quite reasonble), was just a bit much for my very modest budget at the time. Plus the plane was designed for his custom intake head (more money!)

So, the other logical alternative for equipment would seem to be from one Mr. Mike Hoyt. His "Sidewinder" article had appeared in a 1971 issue of Model Airplane News, and seemed intriguing. I wrote for information and found that not only he sold engines, parts, and services, but there was a selection of all wood kits for jets. Besides a trainer called the "Tamigo", there was another upright job called the "Cat jet". But what caught my attention was the series of Sidewinders offered. There was the Mk IX version which was the magazine feature, and the Mk X was the same except it featured a machined aluminum cowl-mount and looked plenty slick. Both two-wire and single wire versions were available. But the one I went with was the Mk XII, which on his list noted that it was "smaller, lighter, faster!" It also featured the aluminum cowl mount and a monoline control system for grand total of 30 bucks. I ordered this and also sent back my engine to him for his twenty dollar custom rework job.

I don't really remember the exact timeline of ordering and building the plane, but I had flown it just a few times before the start of the 1976 season, as I did enter and successfully flew it in the 1976 NW Regionals. The plane flew reasonably well, started reliably and typically flights were in the 166 to 172 mph range. This was on suction feed, of course. Hoyt sent out information on pressure fed fuel system a year or two later, and I immediately converted my bird to this system with some minor surgery and it worked just fine.

This now brings us up to 1978, when I made plans to attend the AMA Nationals in Lake Charles, Louisiana. That contest was not the best experience I ever had. It seemed I was just not well prepared and did not do very well, plus of course there was the yucky weather. And then there was a mystery flight which still puzzles me to this day. On my first attempt I was flying the Sidewinder kind of sloppy, never got into the groove and didn't even properly engage in the pylon (wrist slipped thru) which disqualified the flight. Just a little way into that flight the engine tone radically lowered and got rumbling and really moving. Someone in the pits clocked me for 185+, despite the fact the plane was all over the sky! That incident and some other frustrations saw me quit for the day, and interestingly the plane never repeated that kind of performance.

After finishing up a week of lackluster performance in other events it was time to go home. My wife Laura was with me, and the trip plan was to drive up further North than we had on the way out, so we could visit with relatives in Illinois on the way back. At some point on the Westward return it occured to me that we would be passing very near Newton, Iowa which was where Mike Hoyt lived. So the plan then was to stop in Newton, and at least give him a phone call to say hi.

When we arrived in Newton I stopped and called as planned. Now for some history back-tracking, as many of you know Mike (or Merle as he was sometimes known by), had been involved in a hang-gliding accident sometime within a year prior to this period. The accident had unfortunately affected more than just his physical condition. As I recall his wife Hazel had answered the phone, and seemed slightly hesitant about putting Mike on the phone. It was either at that time or just a bit later in the conversation it was explained that he had a hard time remembering certain things. Anyway, Mike came on the phone, remembered me and after a bit of chatting he invited me out to his place.

The Hoyts lived a little ways out of town but it was easy to find. This section of country consists of long stretches of low rolling hills, and the Hoyt spread had that topography. As we drove up to the house I noticed he had a flying circle complete with center pylon adjacent to the driveway. (More on that later).

We went inside and met both Mike and Hazel. We had a good chuckle in the fact that I shared both of their names, but it actually gets weirder than that, as they had a son named Bill (who I did not meet) and my middle name is William! What a strange coincidence.

Our visit lasted for about two hours, and one topic that they spent a bit of time on was Mike's experience in the hospital. Most of the details are long lost in the memory now, but it was clear that he had some problems and issues regarding his hospital stay and medical care, which included being mistaken for another patient at a critical time. I don't believe he was bitter about it all, but seemed to have a need to express some feelings over it.

But more so, he seemed to really enjoy sharing some stories about his experiences in the hobby and related business. At times some of the tales took a brief pause while he collected his memories, and sometimes they just came to an inconclusive end. Mike was very open about the fact that he had lost some memory, and a couple of times expressed that certain details and information about his jet flying were just gone forever.

In no particular order following are a few of his anecdotes as best as I can recall them. One of my favorites is regarding his wood of choice in the airframes, namely basswood. Now building jets or speed-type aircraft out of basswood is not at all unusual, but he had a special source of the material, namely basswood trees on his property! He explained that a good friend of his had a wood mill, and as needed a tree would be harvested and his friend would saw it up for him into basswood lumber.

I think that everyone who purchased kits from him would agree that it was a labor of love, as there was so much work put into them and the cost was very reasonable. And of course it didn't hurt that the wood was mostly free.

Mike said that he had talked to someone at the Midwest Company (model kits, etc.) about producing his jet kits. I don't know if he approached them or vice-versa, but evidently when the company did the numbers they couldn't see how they could price the kits and still make a profit. Evidently they didn't have a source of free wood.

Another good story involved one of his customers from Australia who wanted to order a shipment of basswood. Now cost of shipping anything with some weight and bulk overseas will involve a bit of cost, but it seems the government there also had a high duty price to charge on imported goods. What Mike did to help out his down-under customer was pure genius. He alerted him ahead of the package arrival and advised him to open it very carefully. His basswood was sent in the form of shipping crate which could not be perceived as the merchandise! Whatever was in the basswood box was minimal, thus greatly easing the duty burden.

Mike told a tale of how when one day he had put up a flight and his new neighbor came over shortly afterwards. Evidently the neighbor was unnerved as he had no idea what the noise was on the other side of the road and had to investigate. After he got clued-in on the activity, he acknowledged that the Hoyt's had been living in the area first, so didn't feel compelled to complain about the noise. Mike said that after that he always called his neighbor to let him know when he was going to light one off, and that seemed to keep the peace.

And now regarding his flying area it was previously mentioned that the Hoyt spread was located in an area of treed low rolling hills. The flying circle was roughly some fifty yards or so from their house. There was not a naturally occuring flat place large enough for flying a plane on seventy feet of wire. However, a small section of the flying circle, perhaps about one-eighth of the diameter had a relief cut into the berm on the edge. The "cliff" facing that edge of the circle was two or three feet in elevation.

Another interesting point regarding his circle is the "donut" configuration, specifically that it is very narrow. It appeared to be only thirty to thirty-six inches wide, which probably neccesitated the handle in or very near the pylon yoke for takeoffs and landings. If you look at the photo in his M.A.N. "Sidewinder" article of the plane being started, you can see the outside edge of the circle. The inside edge of the skinny concrete donut was just barely out of view in that photo.

Also in the immediate area was a small outbuilding, which was his workshop. It was mentioned to me that there really wasn't much to see there. Another modeler (name escapes me now) had assisted Mike after he was hurt in finishing up projects and filling orders and now there was little left.

Some questions that I still have to this day are regarding the very last upgrades in the Hoyt product line. Specifically, the historical background of the Raven engine and how many of these were produced. Also, there was a Sidewinder MK XV which was designed for the Raven engine, and how did these differ from earlier versions? Perhaps some other modelers can fill in these gaps for me.

Mike Hoyt had used in much of correspondence some letterhead which was titled "Hoyt's Hobby Park". Evidently they had some vision of an area set up for modeler's usage, and I seem to remember that some explanation of this was given to me, but now so many years later do not remember the details. The questions would include whether this was just a concept, or had it come to some fruitation? Also, was this park on, or to be, on their property or elsewhere? Again, maybe some other modelers can fill the gaps here.

At some point as our visit was coming to a close, I mentioned that I was short on Dynajet valves. Mike left the room and shortly returned with a pack of them for me, and said to just send him a check when we got back home. He also said that this was the very last pack of valves that he had.

The memory of that visit is very special to me. The Hoyt's were very gracious and of course Mike himself was a major figure in the promotion of the sport. He passed away during the next few months after the visit.

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This page was upated Dec. 6, 2006