Northwest speed flier Ron Salo dies

Articles by Mike Hazel and Dan Rutherford

Click here for memorial sevice information

Remembering Ron Salo

By Mike Hazel

It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Ron Salo on March 13th, per notification from Bruce Duncan of the Vancouver, B.C. area.

Further information from Paul Gibeault is as follows: "Ron passed away this afternoon at 1:30 from a heart attack. Ron was working (3 days a week) in the Maintenance Planning Department in the Air Canada Vancouver operations center at the time. The hangar first aid attendants were praised for doing an excellent job, however by the time the ambulance arrived it was unfortunately too late."

I don't know much about Ron's young years, but he had been flying and actively competing in the Northwest for about two decades. He did a bit of racing when I first met him, and then the speed bug bit him hard. Over the years he campaigned just about all the speed classes from small to large, including jets. He has held several Northwest speed records over the years, and also took a first place in "A" Speed at a U.S. Nats quite a while back. He was a very accomplished monoline pilot, who often flew for many other competitors. His moniker on the internet Speed Forum was "monoflyer."

A short few years ago Ron suffered from a medical situation which after some complications set in, left his legs paralyzed and put him into a wheelchair. Ron had always been a pleasant upbeat person, and with this new physical handicap he demonstrated that his positive attitude was true to the core. He had been making some forward advances with his physical therapy, and no doubt believed that he would be walking, and piloting again some day. While many people probably would have just given up the hobby, Ron kept at it enthusiastically. Working from a wheelchair, he continued building and servicing his speed ships. Last year we saw him at the Northwest Regionals working as an active member of a pit crew, both on his and other's speed planes.

Now for a piece of irony: Just when this news was received, I had been working on getting the Northwest Regionals entry packets ready for mailing, and in fact was about ready to head out the door to the post office. In the box the very top piece was addressed to one Mr. Ron Salo. So while his entry form will not be sent out and completed this year, I believe that he will still be very much with us.

Goodbye to Ron, a sportsman, competitor, gentleman, and friend.

The Sudden Death of Ron Salo

By Dan Rutherford

Oh, man...

This is a real tough one to accept.

Ron Salo was a great guy. Not an off-hand comment, said because nothing better comes to mind. Instead said as Ron was indeed a "great guy," a gentleman in the classic sense, to use the classic term.

Ron was the definition of these terms.

No exceptions, no qualifiers, no ambiguity.

Ron Salo was a great guy, a great friend, a great modeler.

It was due to Ron's outstanding qualities that he and I became friends. Ron was a CL Speed flier, and he was pretty serious about it. I have never flown a Speed model nor been inclined to try the event.

So we were always at separate circles, whether I was flying Combat or Stunt. Our paths only crossed inadvertently, although we always took time out to discuss the latest news in modeling, family news, and news of mutual friends.

One of the reasons this is such a shock is that Ron was one of those people who did not seem to age at all. I don't know how old he was when he died*. The last time we were together Ron was showing just a slight touch of gray at the temples, but it was almost a highlight, not a sign of aging.

(*Since writing this, I have spoken with Joan Cox. The CL group in the Vancouver, B.C. area just recently celebrated Ron's 55th birthday. He looked to be a good 10 years younger.)

One of the many jokes we shared was one of my years-ago comments that he must have looked like Howdy Doody well into his 20s and it surely caused him angst to get carded at bars when into his 30s.

But Ron came down with real poor blood circulation, especially in his legs. This caused some pain, leading Ron to see a doctor. I know very little about his disease. Ron was important to me as a friend, but it was the inner Ron I enjoyed and admired, no matter his physical condition. And it's not like I knew of a cure. For what it's worth, it is my understanding Ron had the same thing which killed John Ritter, U.S. star of TV sitcoms.

Next thing I knew Ron was in a hospital. I wrote him a long letter, taken to him by Chris and Joan Cox. While this seems to be self serving, Ron always enjoyed--or at least claimed to enjoy!--my columns in Model Builder magazine. And so the letter was an extension of the thinking that went into those columns. Literally, as one of many complimentary things Ron had to say about that series of columns was that reading them was always like hearing me talk in person.

I did not hear back from him. I say this to emphasize that we had a friendship which did not demand a lot of hand-holding by either party. I wrote in support of a friend because I was physically able to take the time and effort, knew he would appreciate it. He did not write back as he had other issues, some of which were far more pressing than trading letters back and forth.

Perfect. Just the way I wanted the emphasis to be placed.

And it's not as if Ron was not a loyal friend. I knew that, and he knew I knew that.

While I do not believe Ron and I ever talked about this for more than a few moments, years ago he lost his wife. The exact circumstances and illness will not be dealt with, but it is important to mention that Ron wore his wedding ring for a long time after becoming a quite young widower. This went on for so long that one could legitimately wonder if he was incapable of letting her go, and in fact I heard comments of this nature.

I always admired him for this. It didn't seem to me a sign of weakness, of holding too tightly to the past. It seemed to me a statement of loyalty.

Yes, eventually he took the ring off, but I'll bet the symbolism of that act was excruciating to a man like Ron.

I guess the first time I saw Ron back in action was at the Puyallup show in early 2005. He was wheeling around in a chair and was his usual smiling, enthusiastic self. Yes, he had picked up a few pounds from lack of activity, but it was only just noticeable.

Ron was out and about for the August VGMC Western Stunt Champs in Vancouver, B.C. His enthusiasm for getting on with life, no matter his physical condition, was unmistakable. He had, for example, lost some weight, gained upper-body strength.

He literally looked great, to the point where being in a wheel chair was almost anecdotal.

One of the most pleasant surprises I have experienced was to have Ron express serious interest in the models and engines Derek Moran and I were flying. Yep, Pukey Profiles powered by 21FPs with the Brett Buck Tune-Up.

Ron was thoroughly impressed. To the point that he was going to fly CL Stunt!

Well, that's not the whole story, as he had been considering Stunt, but anything with heavy line tension, models which are hard to transport and handle certainly presented some issues, especially when making a beginning. Ah, but an ARF Flite Streak powered by a small-bore engine...

After watching several flights, Ron wheeled over to the Dirt/Moran pit area. Derek and I drug out a bunch of PPs, answering Ron's every question. He was offered an after-hours flight or four on Dirtmobile II, although he felt less than comfortable in accepting and I did not press him. He knew that if he changed his mind, just a casual comment would see us out in the circle.

I sent him the voluminous "Universal Stunt Machine" package. He went on to buy a 21FP on eBay. Bought an ARF Flite Streak. Bought a used OTS model from Keith Varley.

Other than assembling some equipment, maybe doing some simple sport flying, was he serious about this effort? I believe so, and not just because Ron was not much for acts of imagination. Off to the side, we privately discussed the actual act of participating in competition, that as we no longer have starting points he could press into service two pit men.

They would string the lines, get the model prepped, start it and launch it; all he would be required to do would be to get to the center of the circle. Ron looked a little skeptical. When told that was exactly what Bruce Hunt and I had done for his fellow Speed flier Mike Hazel--who was merely limping that weekend--at the most recent Fall Follies Ron perked right up.

Only those who knew Ron well will appreciate this, but at one point during our conversations that weekend, Ron mentioned that he would be starting all over--at the bottom rung of the ladder--in an entirely new modeling discipline. With his many accomplishments in life and a life of modeling I kinda thought this might not be the best approach.

There was no mention of the challenges to come from flying out of a chair, the very limited amount of movement and strength in his legs. Just the daunting aspect of flying the pattern to a personally satisfying standard.

"Oh, yeah, Ron, we're gonna eat your lunch over a whole series of CL Stunt contests! Other than a few sympathy points here and there--I suggest falling out of your chair just prior to a crucial second-round flight as being worth an extra 10 to 15 points in your flight score--we will have no mercy, will give no quarter!

Besides, look at this in a different way. You have opportunity with the first contest you enter to instantly become our second-best physically disabled CL Stunt flier!"

Ron looked at me, cocked his head that way he had, and thought for a moment.

"Yeah, that's right, eh?"

I can hear Ron say that to this day, just as clearly as if he is sitting here with me. And maybe he is...

Possibly the strongest memory I will carry of Ron is from that weekend in Canada. He was fully and actively involved. Both days of the contest. The Saturday evening party at the Cox home. The casual wind-down Sunday evening.

The chair was treated only as a minor annoyance, an appliance used to get around. And when he couldn't get where he wanted to go, he didn't blow it off or change his mind, he simply asked for help. It was the equivalent to an "Excuse me," when the challenge of stairs presented itself, for example.

Ron drove down for the Bladder Grabber, stopped by our practice site in Arlington, Washington. We spent a fair bit of time together, this including getting lunch from The Family Strom operation in the parking area of the BG.

We spent some time talking on the phone last fall and it was then I knew he was seriously interested in CL Stunt. The details are not important, but of course Ron's interest in Speed was centered on the engines themselves, getting them set up and tuned just perfectly. It was almost with some joy in his voice that he had discovered we Stunt fliers face similar challenges in that engine tune-up can be really critical.

Yes, he had quickly realized that just bolting a that-looks-about-right 40 into the ex-Varley OTS model did not in any way yield the results he wanted to see. This was actually good news as he was once again fiddling with intake size, back pressure, head shims, head shapes, prop load and so on. I could hear the surprise and enthusiasm in his voice.

At some point in time, in fact just prior to above noted phone call, Ron ("Monoflyer") was on SSW with some questions. No offense to anyone, but it is my view that a fair share of the advice given by modelers is well-intended but is also highly suspect. There is no harm intended, usually no real harm results.

But Ron was confined to a wheel chair! Just one bad tip concerning an otherwise small thing might mean a trip to the field, a set-up time four or five times longer than you and I require, only seeing poor results. I could not suffer such a possibility.

I sent out an email to friends. Paul, Howard, Brett, Ted, David, Carl Shoup, Steve Helmick, Keith Varley, Mike Conner and others. I explained the circumstances and asked that they respond to Ron's request. All who had something to contribute did so. Again, thanks my friends.

I couldn't stand the subterfuge, called Ron to confess that I had orchestrated some of the input to his request for information, why I had done so, the quality of the responses, the support he enjoyed, even from those he had not yet met in person.

Ron was in attendance at the 2006 Puyallup show. For various reasons we had only a little time to talk.

He had plans. He had gone back to work, for example. These plans included CL Stunt. Where his involvement was going to go, we did not know. We only knew he was going to give it a good shot, that we were going to have a great time.

Now Ron Salo is gone.

The suddenness of it seems so very unfair.

For further info on Ron Salo, see the control-line web site he maintained.


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This page was upated April 13, 2006