The Design-A-Plane Model Kit from the 1960s

I was very excited and happy today. I tracked down information about a toy kit I had from the early 1960s – the Design-A-Plane by the Pyro Plastics Corporation. I’d been searching for any kind of information about the kit for many years.

The Design-A-Plane kit was a set of parts for early jet aircraft. There were different fuselages, wings, noses, tails, and canopies. You snapped pieces together to build planes such as the Soviet MiG-15 or the USAF F-86. Then you could disassemble the plane and rebuild a new one.


I had only the vaguest recollection of the toy kit. I couldn’t remember the name or the company or much of anything except it was plastic and you could build different jet planes. For many years I searched the Internet using ever query I could think of, all without success.

Then last night I mentioned the kit to a friend, Wade, who knows all kinds of trivia and obscure facts. Wade didn’t know the kit I was talking about but he gave me contact information to the Billy Galaxy vintage toy store in Portland, OR. I called the shop. The owner didn’t know the kit I was describing, but he gave me the phone number of Gasoline Alley Toys in Seattle.

I called Gasoline Alley Toys and spoke to Keith, the owner. I described the kit and he knew right away what I was talking about!

But he couldn’t remember the name. He thought it was something like “Build-A-Plane” but we couldn’t find it on the Internet. After some searching, I spotted a photo in Google Images. And there it was! Happiness!

I remember being fascinated by the combinatorics of Design-A-Plane and the little cardboard slide rule calculator. I’m sure playing with this toy, and similar activities (endless hours of poker during my high school days with Mike Ventriglia and Arnie Feldman and friends, and playing chess with Tom Law, Bob Smith, Dan Musser, and Tom Quackenbush) had a huge influence on my ultimate career path to mathematics and computer science.

Almost everyone I know has been able to use the Internet to track down information about some early memory – a toy, a game, a TV show, and so on. I doubt that the inventors of the Internet suspected their creation would be used for this, but it’s yet another way the Internet changed the world, for the better.

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