I am sorry to let you all know that my dad, John O’Donnell, whom many of you, especially in the aeromodelling community, will know, passed away yesterday afternoon, 18th April 2017, age 84. He had spent the weekend at a sci-fi convention with my mum June, my sister Jenny and her son. He fell, carrying a folding bookcase they had been using back upstairs while on his own in the house; mum and Jenny found him on their return.   He was always independently minded and would not have considered he needed help for such a trivial task!

John was a force in aeromodelling for all his life. Although I never took it up beyond my childhood, I remember fondly going with him as a child to several airfields and sports halls.. I even won an indoor contest once; dad still has the plane I built, somewhere. Flying was his passion, and I know he commanded an awful lot of respect from you all.

Latterly his other main interest, Science Fiction, became a larger part of his life, and he was becoming recognised as very knowledgeable on the subject and with his dealings, especially given the size of his collection, which was rapidly taking over the house.

Thanks to those whom have already contacted us. For those whom wish to attend, the funeral arrangements are listed under the “Events” link.

We would all love to hear your memories of John.  Please feel free to leave a comment, however short.

– Robert O’Donnell. April 2017

20 Replies to “About”

  1. I remember at a competition in the 70s I needed a score to win a comp but I needed an A2 glider but only had an open class model available ,so Jody as he was known to me waded in and did some calculations he had me cut the tissue of the tips of my glider to reduce the wing aerea also add weight to the airframe and fit a smaller tailplane,the model was then technically. an A2 .all this was done within the last 10 mins of the competition before it ended.so un tried or trimmed I towed the hibread up in a gale and released it and got a 2 minute flight out of it .john was right as always . I got the trophy too .A great man with a great brain .

  2. A truly irreplaceable man-one who has left an indelible mark on British FF for nearly 7 decades. Though we only met in person on a couple of occasions, he has influenced most of my modelling career through his writings and regular columns in Aeromodeller band elsewhere-as well as leading the way in his approach to competitive flying. Even though retired from competitive modelling he was still full of useful advice and forthright commentary-and I will miss our occasional phone calls and more frequent emails. RIP John-you’ve been both an inspiration and an influence to many generations of aeromodellers.

    Chris Murphy, NZ

  3. As an aeromodeller, I only got to know John in a meaningful sense over the last ten years, although of course I had been aware of him long before that. His review of the Kauhava World Champs in 1965 (my first year of taking Aeromodeller) has always been a benchmark.for what a good report should be.
    My first real encounter was about ten years ago when I chanced upon John with June, having just launched his model at the Nationals. He seemed a little weary so I offered to retrieve for him and took the opportunity on the way back to study his model. This led to three enjoyable Nats spent helping John and fetching for him, including some long drives in his car, wielding his tracker aerial and picking up duration knowledge. I had to act as his human stooge, eyes tight shut as the turns went on. The best memory was his last Nats where he won the Model Aircraft trophy yet again, and promptly retired. The lengthy retrieval the next day culminated in me clumsily folding the damp wing in the wind, a mishap at which he manfully concealed any irritation!

    Following his retirement we had many long phone conversations. He never regretted retiring from model flying but I do think he missed being involved. Uncompromising and forthright always; I shall miss him. This is very sad news and my thoughts are with the family.

  4. John was probably the most consistently successful model flyer of all time where it really counts, – in competition. How he managed not only to do that but also frequently to write good factual reports on the contests he was flying in constantly amazed me. Single minded certainly, but always willing to share the technology and know-how that kept him right at the top of the sport for as long as most of us have been competing.

    We didn’t always agree, but always managed to have perfectly civilised conversations afterwards, whatever the topic. His how-to-do-it articles usually stuck to the subject without slipping into tirades. A one-off who I was happy to know as a good friend.

  5. John was known to me only through the modelling press yet his influence was immense, even at a distance of twelve thousand miles. His consistent excellence in competition became my holy grail of free flight – always sought but never achieved.

    Bernard Scott, New Zealand

  6. John O’Donnell – The consummate competitor

    I regarded John as a friend and one of the aero modelling greats.

    I was privileged. Not only was local model shop proprietor the legendary Ted Evans but as soon as I started my competition career I met John.

    Over the years, I learnt a lot from John whether it was about designing and building lightweight structures, covering flying surfaces or competition preparation. I relished our discussions about climb heights versus glide sinking speed. He reckoned that mine would glide better but he always beat me on the climb.

    The consummate aero modeller who always knew the contest rules better than the organisers.

    John leaves an enormous hole in our hobby and a significant body of work and knowledge I hope it can be maintained.

    I will miss our telephone conversations.


  7. Very sad to hear about John’s passing. I met him a few years back at his home in Wigan, and as a newcomer to free flight I spent an enjoyable afternoon listening to John divulge his modelling ‘secrets’ which he freely gave. Tea and biscuits were amply provided by June!
    I found John to be uncompromising and not one to suffer fools. He had his way of doing things, backed by extensive research and a very scientific and methodical approach. Even the directions he provided to his house were very precise! The Free Flight world and the world in general has lost one more of the ‘Old School’
    Truly a legend.

  8. I have known John for over 42 years having been introduced to him in 1975 the year I met and married Dave. I have on numerous occasions helped him both timing and holding his models. One of my many memories of him is when I was holding one of his large open rubber models on Salisbury Plain on a very hot sunny day and the motor broke it hit John is a rather unfortunate place to which he exclaimed ‘blinking heck I can’t rub there can I’ and then he giggled.

    As we all knew John never swore but he had a particularly convincing way of saying either ‘blinking heck or bother’. We have lost a great friend and mentor who was generous in giving advice and instruction whenever possible. John made his mark on many peoples lives and he will never be forgotten.

    Lots of love John

    Sue H

    1. I remember as a child, the (very) occasional shout of frustration from the workshop. I’ve never known anybody else get as much venom into “Blow it!” as dad did, and yet how could we complain .. 🙂

  9. I have so many memories of John over the years I knew him starting around 1957.
    Always focussed on winning a competition I remember that in 1967 when John and his wife June travelled to the USA and drove with (mutual friends) the Monts family from their home in Wichita, Kansas to California for the US Nationals. When I asked John about what they saw on the long drive he described it as, “about 1400 miles of mostly flyable countryside”. No mention of anything else.
    RIP John, you will be missed as will your articles, photos and reports in Aeromodeller.

  10. John was an almost mythical character to me in my young teenage years. His long running FreeFlight Scene column painted a picture of British free flight (and his amazingly successful part in it) which inspired me and so many others. Who was it dubbed him “O’ Winall”?
    In later years, as I got to know John just a little bit, I found that this single minded, slightly gruff competitor would show and patiently explain anything I asked. He was a man most generous in passing on his knowledge and I will miss him.

  11. When I first met John over 55 years ago now, I was quite awe struck after years of reading of his exploits in Aeromodeller. Over the years I met him from time to time for different reasons although my modelling career took me away from the F/F contest scene which was his home and we had many an interesting discussion, often failing to agree but always enjoying the debate. He was truly a one off and I am very sad to hear of his passing. My deepest sympathies to June and the family.

  12. VALE the inimitable J O D.
    As a stripling balsa basher in the fifties I devoured the magazines each month and one name repeatedly appeared , that of J O D.
    I often day dreamed that I could one day become such a flyer, but who could ever manage his level of success?
    It later came as a complete surprise to get a call , in response to my wanted advert for a copy of a rare book, from the great man himself with a kind offer of his ‘spare’ copy. True gentleman that he was the book duly arrived with a note asking only for the cost of postage.
    Thus started my distant friendship and it became always a pleasure to meet up with him and put the world to rights whilst comparing our aches and pains.
    The world of Aeromodelling has been infinitely richer for his presence, but sadly his passing marks the end of an era.
    The Reaper is getting the greatest bunch of modelers, engineers and musicians together.
    Sincere condolences to June and his family.

  13. Walt Hodkinson.
    I have known John for 67 years. Might be 67.5yrs. Terry Dobson, Bernie Crowe, Hughie and Mike O’D. and Derek (dekka} Bennett- the designer of the Chevron Racing Sports Car and numerous others who used to fly on Littleton Road Playing fields in the middle of Salford city donkeys years ago. I used to love it when J O’D would invite me over to 2 Park Road. Salford and spend hours in the massive building room be-decked with models. I watched once while John and Mike Thomas (Montreal) spent hours cutting rubber to thous. for Indoor Models. I have been friends with John and June for most of those years and Jean and I send our deepest Sympathy to June and the Family. Walt.

  14. I only had the honour of meeting John very briefly a couple of times at Old Warden when he was selling off some of his collection of magazines, etc,. but from the early 50s I had seen him as an icon of F/F competition in the UK, and we exchanged correspondence on a website regarding the 1953 Wakefield fly-off .
    An inspiration to anybody who has ever released a F/F model to the vagaries of the elements, the world was richer for his presence and poorer for his passing.

  15. I saw John in passing many years ago at an event I now forget. He walked past with a small entourage, one of whom enquired “Grass John?” and ripped up some grass to drop in the air, a well tried and trusted method of determining wind direction. Henceforth he was known affectionately as Grass John.

  16. As a completely green and callow 13 year old control line ‘trier’ in 1953, I along with many of the other early members of WHITEFIELD M.A.C. was utterly overawed by the incredible design, building, trimming and flying talents of the acknowledged ‘Top Man’ in ‘our club’… “Very nice, but it’s not for me” was his dry retort whilst acting as a timekeeper for one of our very early c/l comp’s… To my remaining ‘old’ comrades who shared our Friday evenings at Rainsough Brow, or Sunday mornings at Littleton Road, let us all share a moments thought at the sad passing of our ‘once upon a time’ Hero !… Mike Allen.

  17. Many of my aeromodelling magazines were bought from John at various Vintage and Scale events at Old Warden and he was always ready to hunt down a plan for me. I am very sorry to hear of his death.

  18. Have been reading Aeromodeller since July 1971. Still reading John’s Free Flight Comment in back issues. Have been trying to get a copy of plan of Coupe d’Hiver flown by John Proxy for Frank Monts called the ‘Chicken Coupe’ he flew at the Maurice Bayet event in France many times.

    Best regards Timothy AXWORTHY Loire Valley France

    1. Hi Robert,
      Still reading aeromodeller back issues with John O’Donnell free flight comment. Still looking for trace of a plan or whereabouts of the chicken coupé flown by John between 1967 and 2000. Saw photo of John with in aeromodeller obituary in 2017. Free flight still alive and kicking in the centre of France. Tim Axworthy tel 00330781478915

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