Norm McFadden prepares an AMA Fast Combat plane for action.

Northwest Combat Legend Norm McFadden dies

Norm McFadden of Lynnwood, Wash., two-time winner of the U.S. National Model Airplane Championships in AMA Fast Combat and many other contests in the West, died Feb. 17, 2023, after a lengthy period of health challenges. Norm was a fierce competitor and mentor to many Northwest Combat fliers, and he also participated some control-line Racing and Speed. His ultra-light Creamsicle airplane is still considered to be one of the best Fast Combat designs ever.

In addition, Norm was a good friend of all who met him in the hobby. Norm's distinctive personna — dressed in full-length dark clothing on the warmest of days, topped off by a large hat — made him instantly recognizable on the field. And his soft voice, combined with the likelihood that whatever he might say would be of value of anyone who coild hear it, led to a frequently repeated scene on the model field: Modelers leaning in close to catch Norm's wisdom. He's a modeler, competitor and friend that noone who met him would ever forget.

The following obituary was prepared for Flying Lines by Norm's lifetime friend, Gene Pape:

First, the normal obituary stuff.  Norm was born Norman Miller McFadden Jr. to Norman (Mac) McFadden and Hazel McFadden in Menlo Park, Calif., on Aug. 23, 1943. He graduated from Oregon State University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering.  He married Karleen Barney on May 23, 1965.  They had two sons, Dave and Jim.  They also raised Karleen’s niece Debbie after her mother died tragically when she was an infant.  Norm was preceded in death by both of his parents and his brother Bob. He is survived by his wife Karleen, his two sons, his niece, five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

I first met Norm in late 1961 when I was in the eighth grade. My family had moved into Corvallis, Ore., near the Oregon State University campus from the small mill town of Kings Valley because my father was dying of heart failure. A few weeks after my father passed, I followed the sound of a running engine to the track next to the tennis courts near Weatherford Hall on the campus. Norm was a freshman at OSU and lived in that beautiful historic building. He was trying to get a Fox Bathtub .29R running in his Speed model.

Norm had been flying since his father bought him a model kit when he was in third grade and was by that time a very accomplished control-line Combat flyer. His experience came from flying in Western Associated Modelers Combat events in the San Francisco Bay area where there were large contests every other week. We immediately became fast friends.

During the next few years, Norm spent part of his time at school living with my family as my mother was willing to offer him cheaper room and board than was available on campus so there would be an adult there with me when she was away working as a nurse's aid. As I learned flying, building, and working with engines from him, it became apparent that his first love was motorcycles. He got me hooked on that, too, and we continued to fly and race motorcycles together until I was called by Uncle Sam and went off to spend four years in the Navy.

While I was off in the Navy, Norm completed his engineering degree and moved to Redwood City, Calif., to work developing medical equipment for Harworth Manufacturing, He also started a motorcycle business on the side, eventually seizing the opportunity to go to work at Menlo Honda as full time engine mechanic. He continued racing for a time, but the Combat bug bit him hard again.

With many friends from the Condor Legion club including Rich Brasher and Mike Petri, Norm worked to develop his famous pressure regulator and a bulletproof crankshaft for the Super Tigre G21-.35. This was never to become well known as it was just being proven when the Fox Schnurle-port engines came out and made the SuperTigres obsolete. What did become well known was what was to become mostly known as the Brasher crankshaft for the Fox Mk III and Mk IV Combat Specials. At the same time, he was heavily involved with the development of tapered-wing foam Combat models while nearly everybody else was still flying wooden models.  During this time Norm also came up with the multiple elimination contest format that is used almost exclusively in Combat contests now.

During the middle 1970s, I would regularly travel from my home in Eugene, Ore., to California to compete with Norm in contests in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles area.

In 1977 Norm came up to Eugene to participate in the Northwest Regionals, where he met Bob Carver.  This was to have a huge impact on his life as shortly after that Norm moved his family to the suburb of Mukilteo north of Seattle and became the head of engineering and production for various Bob Carver-owned high-end electronics manufacturing companies. As Bob was also an avid Combat flier, this worked quite well for Norm’s Combat addiction.

Two Northwest Combat legends seen at the 2022 Bladder Grabber: Bob Carver at left and Norm McFadden.

Shortly after moving north, Norm decided that the best way to build Combat models was not balsa construction and not foam construction but a combination of the two. The result was his famous Creamsicle. I believe it was the first such model ever created and with Norm at the handle it proved to be a very formidable weapon. Using this design he was able to win the Nationals twice along with many other contests.

Norm was a guiding force along with Bob Carver for the trendsetting Bladder Grabber contest.  When a new site was required, Norm negotiated for the Harvey Field site in Snohomish, Wash., where the contest continues to be held. This year’s version will be named in his honor.

Norm's family requests that donations be made to:
2023 Norm McFadden Memorial Bladder Grabber Prize Fund
c/o Gene Pape
4528 Souza St.
Eugene, OR 97402

A photo of Norm and friends from Model Aviation magazine in 1981. Charlie Johnson photo.

Norm at right on the podium after a contest; that's Richard Stubblefield on the left. Contest details unknown.

Norm, in the black hat, stood out in a pilots' meeting.

Flier comments

From Buzz Wilson:
Gene so sorry to hear this. One of my favorite quotes from Norm was at the Nats in Richland, Wash. He said something to the effect that this will probably be my only opportunity to center punch a nuclear reactor.

Ken Burdick:
So sorry to hear this. I will miss his presence.

Bob Kerr:
My God! Another one of my friends from my WAM.Combat days in the 70’s. Norm was the first in WAM to use surgical tubing as a tank. We all thought at the time it was crazy to deal with that much pressure.
But his airfoils were clean and he won a lot of contests. Truly a original thinker. I still have a couple of his pressure regulators made for ST G21-.35’s for nostalgia I still use them. He was a amazing person! He will be missed.
Norm always wore this huge sombrero! It was like his signature. He’d run out to the center of the circle wearing it and at the last moment take it off and throw it aside.
The first time I fell for it thinking I have to fly against him
and his hat.

Don Repp:
Norm was indeed a fierce competitor and a gentleman. He will be missed by all of us who knew him. Here's a photo from the 91 Money Nats, given to me by Rich Lopez. It was taken by Rich's friend Ed Bridant. RIP Norm and thanks for the great matches and memories.

Pete Athans:
Lost another great Combat guy today. Norm was soft spoken but a ferocious flyer and hell of a motor guru. We will surely miss you.

Bob Mears:
So sorry to hear the news. Norm was a really great guy and a killer Combat guy. RIP Norm.

Mike Combat Willcox:
Wow. So sorry to hear this. Norm was one of my favorite pilots to see at the contests when I was small. A quiet guy that was one heck of a modeler. RIP Norm and prayers to his family.

Dave Smith:
I had the privilege to fly against Norm in WAM in the early 70’s. His equipment was always better than everyone else’s. He won a lot of contests. A Combat legend.

William Maywald:
My favorite memory of Norm was him presiding over a huge pile of broken Creamsicles at the LA Money Nats! RIP Norm.

Richard DeMartini:
RIP Norm, knew him in the Redwood City Days of the Condor Legion, always nice to me, always willing to share idea's and a great innovator, it was he who came up with those double-eliminator contests, and many other ideas, pressure regulators, crankshafts, etc.,that were so great for the Combat hobby.

Roy Glenn:
He had these piercing blue eyes. I flew one match against him at Top Gun. We both went over the top when the command to fly Combat was given. We cut each other loose as are lines crossed at the top of the circle. It was a very short match.

Dan Rutherford:
This is horrible news. Norm was just the best. RIP Norm and my very best to your family.

Mark Hansen:
I only interacted with Norm on a limited basis, but I have three good memories of him.
The first was at the Northwest Regionals in 1997 or 1998. Norm needed a pit man and he asked me with the modifier of:  You look like you can run...  When I agreed, he showed (not told) me his set up, a Fox Combat Special MkIII on a Creamsicle, with his proprietary shutoff.  Not really paying all that much attention to the shutoff, and how it worked, I held his plane while he started the engine, and needled it, then released the shutoff and I got a full ounce of fuel all over my shirt, face, and pants!  I was not prepared for this and it made me jump.  Norm didn't say a thing and just looked at me funny.  Some years later my "Heppenstall" type fuel dump was dubbed by a fellow NW modeler (Ken) as the super soaker.  I always wondered if he had ever pittend for Norm, and if so, had he made snide comments about Norm's shut-ff?  I don't think so...
My second memory was from the Regionals in 1999 (these dates are purely from memory) and I drew norm in my first match, in AMA Fast. We both got up at the same time, and after the two safety laps, norm killed me pretty quickly. What followed was me passing Norm about every second or third lap, while we flew level. When the match was over I hauled my gear back to the pits then went and sat under Gary Harris' canopy. Norm came over and said:  "What engine is on your plane?" I told him,"Fox Combat Special mark seven." His response, "They make a Seven?" Me,"Yes."  Up to that time, my longest conversation with Norm.
The same year at the Bladder Grabber, I talked a bit more with Norm. I had found an old 1960s
American Aircraft Modeler that showed the Nats results, and Norm was the winner in AMA Combat with 120 entries. Curious, I asked him how he had done it, and he responded that most of the people who entered had a Ringmaster with a Fox and could not do an inside loop.  He said that there were maybe five or six guys you had to look out for, like Riley Wooten, or Dick Stubblefield...
I really liked his style and his character. He would tell you anything, but you had to ask. I set up the exhaust timing on my Combat engines to a spec from Norm, via Gary Harris; and when Gary told me it was from Norm, I paid attention.
He will be missed.


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