John Coasby
Modelling Draughtsman Supreme

John Coasby

Click here for notes on some of John's designs.

In my early modelling years, just after World War 2, I was inspired in many ways by the plans and drawings that appeared in 'Aeromodeller' magazine. Not just because I was an avid aeromodeller who lapped up anything to do with the subject, but because of the quality of those drawings.

Even if the subject of the drawing had no appeal to me, they were an insight into the methods used by the modellers of the day to overcome various problems. Notable among those that I remember was an article on a rubber driven scale model of a Hawker 'Tempest' (designed by Rupert Moore) complete with a retracting and detracting undercarriage. No way would I have built one, but the drawings and description were facinating.

Magazine producers were much more reader orientated in those days and it was normal to reproduce plans in the magazines to a scale that could not only be easily read, but was also easily scaled up if you wished. I remember building a model of the Nieuport 27, by Laurie Bagley, by scaling up the plans from the magazine. This was quite a complex machine, but the quality of the drawing and it's reproduction made this no problem for one who was already heading down the road to eventual employment as a draughtsman.

I built many models from 'Aeromodeller' plans in those days and they were all scaled up in this manner. When I became an apprentice draughtsman, those drawings served as a constant inspiration to me.

At this time, my actual modelling became more and more focused on Control Line Stunt flying and I became aware of stunt model designs by a man called John Coasby. Most of these called for engine sizes and types that were way out of my reach, both financially and in terms of availability, but they still made an impression. I remember being particularly impressed by a design which appeared in the 1951 'Aeromodeller Annual', called 'Pagan' and resolved that I would build one sometime in the distant future.

Around this time there was published a free flight design of John's called the 'Eros'. This seemed to me to be enormous. A member of our club was building one and used to appear with the fuselage being towed behind his bicycle!

I am not at all sure just when I became aware of the fact that the model designer who impressed me was actually the same man that had drawn most of those wonderful plans. It may be that this was not until I went to work for the company that published 'Aeromodeller' in 1980. Certainly it would have had no real impact on my consciousness until around 1985/6 when my interest returned to what had now become 'Vintage' stunt.

In 1994 I learned from Ron Moulton that John was seriously ill in South Africa and Ron visited him shortly afterwards. After John's death, Ron wrote the following:

With the death of John Coasby on September 3rd (1994), another influential name from the immediate post war years passes, but will remain in memory through the many designs he created.

John was 74. He suffered a prolonged respiratory illness that cut short his return to aeromodelling after a long break, during which he ventured into hang gliding and golf as well as the sport in which he excelled, cricket.

Quiet spoken, considerate and meticulous in his standards of draughtsmanship, John was born into a period so familiar to many SAM (Society of Antique Modellers) members with experience of war service, it is fitting that this appreciation starts with his intro to the hobby via the Royal Air Force.

Trained as a Flight Mechanic (Airframes) at Locking, he passed out top of the entry and, by chance, was posted in 1940 to Biggin Hill and 32 ('GZ') Squadron with Hurricanes just before the Battle of Britain. The chance in this was that Biggin was only 10 miles from home at Catford, so he had local knowledge and a local girlfriend!

The younger brother of his girl was having difficulty assembling the kit for a rubber model. Enter the airman! John was hooked, the model went well and but for the B of B, more might have ensued. After hectic days at Biggin, a detachment to Manston to service the leaflet raiders, in particular the H.P. Hampdens was to take him far away from any thoughts of aeromodelling.

His talents had been recognised and another posting took him to Coastal Command at Oban with 210 Squadron on Sunderlands as an air gunner/rigger, with comfortable billets in contrast to the Kentish stations, although it was no rest cure. Then, as it has so often affected its recruits, the RAF chose to move John on to a maintenance unit in Egypt on the Bitter Lakes, as if to broaden experience, and not let the grass grow under the Coasby feet.

In Egypt, John's M.U. dealt with fighter repairs. His interest in structures led to contact with the Sergeant in charge of the drawing office who had suggested a possible move from the hangar into the D.O. as a draughtsman under training. Within months John qualified for a course in Cairo which he passed with flying colours. He well remembered the main test. From two views of a crankshaft he had to prepare the third view and a cross section.

Modelling had not been entirely forsaken; but cricket was more amenable and he played for each of his Station teams. However, on return to Britain for demob he saw the opportunity of working for 'Aeromodeller' advertised and made his application as a draughtsman. At first there was no sign of an acceptance after interview so he took a job with the Ministry of Transport, only to have a call from D.A. Russell to return to Wilmary House in Hampstead. The appeal of getting into modelling full time was too great to ignore, and so began an eighteen year stint during which the Coasby stamp of accuracy was to appear on hundreds of plans.

When the company moved to Leighton Buzzard, John was among the first to go, and also among the first to be persuaded by D.A. Russell to help build the new offices at Eaton Bray.

Based on 75 acres of flat grassland, already known as an emergency landing ground, Eaton Bray enabled John to combine his understanding of structures and draughting with the yearning to build a large free flight cabin model. So 'Eros' was created in 1948 for a Micron 5cc diesel. It was a bold venture at that time. Apart from increasing the tail incidence it flew as designed. Many hundreds of others have been built all over the world since and fly just as successfully. It was always to be John's most favourite creation.

From 'Eros' he had a conviction that , "Big was best". The control line craze was becoming established, and instead of a 'Phantom' he chose to start with a McCoy 60 powered full house stunter called 'Taurus'. On a 100 feet of line this was a giant leap in progress. Of course, the isolated space of the Eaton Bray 'Sportsdrome' was ideal for such large models, but taking them around strapped to the back of Chris his wife on the motorcycle was another matter.

The streamlined version, 'Icarus', was another of JWC's pride and joy. Planked nose to tail in 1/4" square balsa, the rounded fuselage and Spitfire planform was immediately in demand and, to satisfy the modellers who wanted a smaller variant, he produced a scaled down version. All those which followed were similarly smaller and compact. 'Yoicks' the short span bipe was for a long shaft Fox 59 (John recalled how Russell refused to pay the customs duty on it!) but the Fox 35 became his most used motor. Hence the 'Foxstunter' and 'Pagan', and the 'Flicka' which was really for the Amco 3.5.

These stunters may have given the impression that he had forsaken free flight. Far from it. The scale model of the H.K.1, a Finnish homebuilt, and the B.A. Swallow were just as successful, but best of all was his conversion of Rupert Moore's (who never forgave him) De Havilland 82 Tiger Moth from rubber to diesel power. This was to become an all time best selling plan in the APS range. It was one of several credied to 'A/M Staff' like the Westland Lysander, although NOT that dreadful wakefield.

More numerous were those under the pseudonym of John Playdell, which was Laidlaw-Dickson's invention as he was often posing JWC with near impossible material of unknown source from the East, whence John played hell.

The gift of converting the roughest, even crudest, of sketches into an understandable actual size building plan for a model that would fly is extremely rare. Then to apply the elements onto paper so that they can be made with least difficulty and minimum ambiguity is a skill that made John's recruitment to 'Aeromodeller' in those peak years of enthusiasm, a matter of destiny.

Cricket was his outlet for physical achievement and mental excercise in tactics. His prowess as a skipper, or opening bat, was adopted wherever he was stationed in the RAF and he lived at Leighton Buzzard or South Africa, where he emigrated in 1965.

The move took him into industry, designing rolling stock at Nigel, in the Transvaal, until retirement, when golf replaced cricket and he returned to modelling with his concept of an R/C trainer. If he had known there was a vintage movement, that might well have been a version of the 'Eros'.

Always the gentleman, precise in all ways, he leaves many memorials and a subtle influence on thousands who have, maybe unwittingly, benefitted from his work. Our sympathies are extended to Chris, and the family, Linda, Allen, Ian and Michael in their loss.


Ron has passed on stories of how John and his family arrived in South Africa to find that the promised house did not exist and that the family were not expected. His subsequent problems at work were only overcome by the fact that he was such an excellent cricketter!

John also became the Team Manager and chief fundraiser for the South African Hang Gliding Team. Clearly John was a remarkable individual.

Shortly after reading Ron's appreciation, I finally started construction of that long promised 'Pagan' as a tribute to John. It flies well and remains, in my view, the prettiest of all the stunt model designs that have appeared in the last 50 years or so.

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