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Flight of fancy is now a float


For the past month or so, people driving by Jim Long's yellow bungalow on Old Washington Road have stopped to inquire about the airplane parked in his carport.

"Does it fly?" they ask about the model of the Spirit of St. Louis, the silvery Ryan monoplane Charles Lindbergh flew nonstop from New York to Paris for 33 1/2 hours in May 1927. "Did you make it? What kind of engine is that anyway?"

Long, who can usually be found tinkering under the plane's 25-foot wingspan, has his answers ready.

No, the plane doesn't fly. Yes, Long made it. As for the engine, it is a series of nine black cylinders spiked with spark plugs that fan out in a circle behind the propeller, Long explains.

He avoids technical terms. After all, each of the cylinders is an item familiar to most everyone.

"It's a Coke bottle," Long says, laughing. The nine bottles, the 68-year-old Long says, came from the dump. He just painted them black.

The plane - a two-thirds scale model of Lindbergh's original and part of a float Maryland State Police Explorer Post 56 is entering in Westminster's Fall Fest parade tonight - doesn't have to fly. It just has to win.

The Fall Fest parade, which starts at 7 p.m. at Dutterers Family Park, is the opening event of the city's four-day autumn festival, which was started in 1978 as a way to celebrate the revitalization of downtown Westminster. It has grown into an event drawing 60,000 people.

Designated charities benefit from the event. Last year, five charities shared $20,000 in festival earnings, said Ron Schroers, Westminster's head of parks and recreation.

The Explorers have won first place every year they've entered the parade, said Long's son, Sgt. J.W. Long of the state police. Past winning floats depicted scale models of the 50-foot long Apollo 13 and the Titanic, complete with Barbies and G.I. Joes in evening wear peering from the portholes.

And J.W. Long's slogans. For the Titanic, the message was "Don't make a Titanic Mistake. Buckle your seatbelt." For the Apollo 13 float, it was "Don't be a UFO, Buckle Your Seatbelt." And for the Spirit of St. Louis, the slogan is "Lucky Lindy buckled his belt. Buckle yours."

The Explorers might not have the only plane in the parade. J.W. Long said he has caught wind of another, but he said he's not all that worried about it. "I don't think it's going to be anywhere near the scale of this," he said, "not unless they're crazier than we are."

For the parade, J.W. Long and his father will tow the plane on a state police trailer.

After the parade is over, J.W. Long plans to hang the plane from the rafters of the Quonset hut he uses as a shop behind his home in Millers. Just like the real Spirit of St. Louis hangs from the ceiling at the Smithsonian Institution.

The Longs' Spirit of St. Louis, which weighs 500 pounds and is about the length of a dump truck, is made of wood and scraps of roof flashing, plumbing pipe and wooden dowels. The plane contains all sorts of details: the quarter-sized swirl imprints on the nose of the plane, the paper table taped to the instrument panel, the curly black block letters stating the name of the plane on its side. Some of the details are so small, the majority of the 10,000 people expected along the parade route probably won't even notice them.

J.W. Long doesn't care. "Everything you see on it looks like the original," he said.

Together, the Longs have spent hundreds of hours building the plane, a project dreamed up by J.W. Long and executed primarily by his father, a retired recreational therapist who always liked building models. "I always wanted to put a big model together," said Jim Long. "Not this big, though."

The parade, which goes through downtown Westminster and lasts about 90 minutes, includes 65 entries, ranging from the Westminster Municipal Marching Band to the Maryland Goldwings Motorcycle Club. The Spirit of St. Louis is one of about a dozen floats competing for the $150 first-place prize.

J.W. Long said he's not in it for the money. But if they win, they'll put the money in the Explorers' general fund.

For J.W. Long, a 42-year-old with a penchant for dressing up his dog in a miniature police uniform, spending hundreds of hours building historically accurate floats is a challenge. He likes working with the Explorers, a group parented by Boy Scouts of America and sponsored by the state police, which is designed for young adults between the ages of 15 and 21 who are interested in law enforcement. "It's a lot of fun," he said.

Joshua Kibler, 21, of Westminster, an Explorer Post 56 adviser who will dress as Lindbergh for the parade, agrees - sort of.

"I don't think anyone is as crazy as Sergeant Long when it comes to these things," he said.

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