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According to my mother, the first word I said was “airplane” (“oh-pane”) at around 11 months of age when a P-38 flew over the park we were in. I’ve had a love affair with airplanes and the people who are involved with airplanes ever since, which has become my career as an aviation historian and author.
I built my first model, a Strombecker all-wood P-80 (that dates me!) at age 6, after watching my father build other wood models for me. I quickly graduated to plastic models when I found Mr. Twist’s Fix-It Shop on South Gaylord Street in Denver, with its corner shelves full of wondrous kit boxes. I built my first biplane (a Hawk Models Nieuport 17 – still available from Testors) before I was old enough to know that “biplanes are hard.” With time out in the 1960s after graduating from high school for the Navy and college and “The Sixties” I returned to the hobby in 1970 and haven’t left since.
I became a screenwriter in Hollywood in the 1980s, after first getting published as an aviation author in the 1970s in Air Enthusiast Quarterly. I love the fact that William Green, who wrote the first “serious aviation book” (All The World’s Aircraft 1954) that I got my father to buy for me was the first person to publish me. I’ve flown the back seat of an F-4E Phantom for an article on the Wild Weasels in Air Force Magazine, and had 20 minutes stick time in Jim Nissen’s 1918 Curtiss JN-4D Jenny back in 1979 for an article in Plane and Pilot, and been in everything in between over the past 47 years. When I worked in politics in Sacramento during the 1970s, I was a member of a club that flew Stearman N747JR (we called ourselves in as “Boeing 747 Junior”) and got around 100 hours in that fun machine.
I’m one of the original members here of iModeler, and consider it the best model club on the planet.
Author of “Fabled Fifteen: The Pacific War Odyssey of Carrier Air Group 15”, “Pacific Thunder: the Pacific War from Wake island to Leyte Gulf,” “Tidal Wave: From Leyte Gulf to Tokyo Bay,” “The Frozen Chosen: The First Marine Division and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir,” “Holding The Line: the Naval Air Campaign in Korea,” and “MiG Alley: The US Air Force in Korea – 1950-53” which will be released on November 26.
You can order all of them here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Thomas+McKelvey+Cleaver&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss_2