Update: The unique 1/12 scale Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane fetched $11,070.
What you see: A 1/12 scale Republic 47D Thunderbolt U-control model airplane, built by Ernest Burke of Elmont, Long Island, between 1956 and 1965. It weighs seven and a half pounds, has a wingspan of 43 inches, and measures 36 inches from nose to tail. It features a single cylinder Hassad gasoline-powered engine. Skinner estimates the unique model plane at $6,000 to $8,000.
Who was Ernest Burke? Born in New York City in 1921, he’s best known as a Western artist, having made more than 2,500 paintings and 80 sculptures with frontier themes. His works are in the permanent collections of the Amon Carter Museum of the American Indian, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and the Crazy Horse Memorial, among others. Burke’s parents recognized his artistic talent early, and supported his pursuits. Model-making was a boyhood hobby. He would scavenge wood from fruit crates from markets around the city. Burke died in 2010.
Have you ever seen anything like this? “No, we haven’t!” says Jonathan Dowling, a specialist in the clocks, watches, and scientific instruments department at Skinner. “Nothing like this–the scale, the detail, nothing like this in other auctions. We haven’t.”
What challenges did Burke face when making this model P-47 plane? “He had to do some serious legwork on trying to find the scale, and drop the scale down,” says Dowling, explaining that Burke wrote to the Republic Aviation Company to obtain blueprints of the World War II-era fighter plane. “He was almost an engineer at heart. He took his time to do research before he even attempted to create this.”
Just how faithful is this 1/12 scale model to the original? “The accuracy is incomprehensible, down to the detail of the cockpit,” Dowling says, noting that Burke worked alone over the course of nine years to complete it. His efforts paid off with a first place prize at a model plane enthusiasts’ meeting in Chicago in 1964. He retired his masterpiece after that, and never flew it again.
Does it still fly? “We have not tested it, but I would not see why it wouldn’t,” says Dowling, while pointing out that the U-control, which is a forerunner to the remote control, is not included in the lot (Burke’s heirs couldn’t find it).
What else makes it special? “I have never seen anything this accurate, this well-preserved, and this off-the-wall odd,” says Dowling. “I saw the pictures, and it didn’t do it for me. When it came through the door, it sparked my interest. They [the heirs] brought it to the lobby and we were all amazed.”
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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Skinner.