Rich McConnell was noted for original and unusual airplanes and a unique approach to the hobby. This photo of Rich (left) is from 2008. Photo from Skywriter newsletter.
Rich McConnell of Seattle, Wash., died in his sleep on Sunday, June 20, 2010, according to fellow Northwest Skyraiders club member ron Canaan. He was 61. Rich had been at a nursing home in Mercer Island, Wash., undergoing therapy after two devastating strokes, according to Skyraider Dave Gardner.
Rich was a longtime sport and competition flier in the Pacific Northwest. He flew Racing, Combat and Stunt, and was noted as a very good pilot who always took a unique approach to equipment. He often did well in contests despite using unusual original or vintage designs, outdated engines and home-made components.
Most of all, however, Rich was noted for a quick, friendly greeting, a warm handshake and a positive, cheerful attitude toward the hobby.
We hope to publish more reminiscences about Rich in this space as they are received.
No services are planned.
By Mark Hansen
The first time I ever met Rich McConnell was at a Navy Carrier meet in Tri-Cities long about 1998. Rich had come to put up some flights on his fifteen Zero, and I had come with Jim Drury who had a profile Nakajima B5N2. When Rich noticed that Jim had a Japanese plane, he came over with a big smile and asks Jim if he needed any help with the anything, and wanted to know all the details about the origins of Jims plane. He made and me feel like we had made an instant friend. At this meet, Rich flew to my opinion quite well but came in second, which make him quite happy. Rich loved Japanese carrier planes. In about 2003 I was campaigning an Aichi D3A1 Val, and as soon as I put it in the pits, Rich made a bee line from the far side of the field (at the Boeing Space center at least 500 yards) to come and see what I had built and if I was a big fan of Japanese aircraft design. We talked for at least half an hour. Rich was like that, very easy to talk to and always forthcoming with information.
Next time I saw Rich I was at the bladder grabber and he spent at least an hour talking engine rework and combat plane design. He had tremendous knowledge, and was always willing to share this. At this contest, I did notice that Rich did not win a single match. A pattern that would be repeated at the Raider Round-Up in the fall. So went the pattern that developed with Rich, he would show up, not get his gear to work, loose every match, and then be super nice and friendly with everyone he met. Unlike myself loosing never seem to put his mood off.
In 2000, I had a chance to fly rich at the Bladder Grabber, and had some issues with my pit crew not understanding my fuel shut-off (remember that JT?); and I spent the entire time watching my pit crew flip the prop, only to have me launched just as the horn to end the match went off. It was Richs only combat win of the entire decade! I was pretty steamed about my pit crews performance, but in a very good natured way Rich thanked me for the match, that took a lot of the edge away (lucky for JT).
The next year at the Grabber I was circle marshal and poor Rich never got any of his engines to start, and at one point was pitting by himself when Tom Strom came out to help him. Poor Tom was beside himself, because he had sold (at very good deal prices) Rich first rate gear. When I asked rich, he said, oh, it doesnt pay to use good gear in combat. And then added that there was nothing wrong with the stuff he was using, it just got flooded. This was sort of the way Rich was. Super nice guy, full of knowledge, and always helpful to everyone, but he just never understood the need for first line gear. Dont get me wrong, he had lots of first line gear, he just chose not to use it. I sometimes wondered if he was trying to not offend anyone by winning. He was a pilot of the highest caliber and could win, if his gear were just better.
I never missed an opportunity to talk to Rich, just as he had come from the far side of the field to talk to me, I would do the same for him. He had such an interesting perspective on modeling, and such a widely varied background, he truly was an outside the box thinker. To put it into perspective, I think his technical knowledge was in the same league as Howard Rush, but without all the formal education, and income to act upon it.
Rich once told me he had been a Medic in Viet Nam, and had done two tours of duty, one compulsory, and one voluntarily. His stories about the war were very interesting to say the least. Some were of bargaining with jewelry store owners, and some were about his recreational activitieshow was it, he put it: Two sixteen year olds on his arms and a weekend where he never left the hotel room!
I could go on much longer, as I am sure we all can. I will truly miss Rich, he was one of kind, a good friend, and a complete original. I am sorry to see him go.
This page was updated June 24, 2010