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.
Memorial service: Please join us in celebrating the life of Norman Miller McFadden Jr. (Aug. 23, 1943-Feb. 17, 2023), Saturday, May 6, 2023, at 1 p.m. at Gold Creek Community Church, 4326 148th St. S.E., Mill Creek, WA 98012. In sadness of his death and with appreciation of his life, we remember Norm and acknowledge the significance and value he has brought to our lives.
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:
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.
From Buzz Wilson:
Mike Combat Willcox:
This page was upated April 12, 2023