The Other Side of the Treeline: Mark Freeland

Written by Rachelle Haughn
The Other Side of the Treeline
Extended interview from the Summer 2017 issue of
Park Pilot.

Growing up in Ireland, Mark Freeland read magazine articles about the latest model aircraft and aeromodeling competitions in the US. He likely never envisioned that one day he would move to the US and redesign some of the aircraft that he read about in Aeromodeller magazine. But today, he is spending his “retirement” doing exactly that—with the hopes of spreading the joy that the hobby brought to him to younger generations. AMA took notice of his work with youth, and in 2013 he was selected to receive the Carl and Beth Goldberg Vital People Award.

Rachelle Haughn: How did early model airplane kits in the US differ from those you grew up with?
Mark Freeland: The contents of the kits were pretty much the same, but the design was different because they came from different companies. There was a lot of cross-pollination. The quality seems to be quite similar.

RH: What inspired your first design, the e’Moth?
MF: I had retired from the Ford Motor Company because I needed a hip replacement at age 50. I was talking with my attorney and he said, “You have all this time on your hands. Why don’t you design an airplane?”
He wanted something similar to a Clancy Lazy Bee that was electric powered. I said, “You mean like a suitcase model?” He said he wanted something, “I can hide from my wife and take on vacation with me.” [Mark laughed.]

[I designed one with] a 30-inch wingspan and a straight leading edge for the vertical fin and a horizontal stabilizer. He liked it. [It lasted] 45 seconds in the air and crashed. I learned a lot from [those] 45 seconds. I needed to bump up the vertical fin and vertical stabilizer.

I thought it looked like a Tiger Moth and I’d call it Electric Moth. I made the wings to plug into each side and I figured I could get two in a suitcase. I contacted Sig Manufacturing and had them cut 35 for me. I decided to advertise it as a Park Pilot-type airplane during the FF [Free Flight] Nationals.

I asked to meet with [then-Model Aviation Editor] Michael Ramsey. I arrived and Michael had me come to a conference room. So, I set my suitcase on the table and assembled them in three to four minutes.

That day, the wind was 10 mph with gusts of up to 20 mph. I gave Michael the transmitter and I began shooting a video ( and taking pictures.

I put the e’Moth into production in September ’08 and sold the first one. I registered my company (Retro RC; in October that year.

Watch the first flight of the e'Moth!

RH: How many kit designs have you produced?
MF: [He laughed.] There are 42 airplane kits—some simple and some of them are less simple. [There are] scale models, foam-plate gliders, RC, FF kits, and one CL [Control Line] kit. I purchased Campbell’s Custom Kits three years ago. I have some 50 of [Lee Campbell’s] designs in production. I have a total of 92 airplane kits, not including 16 short kits, and I manufacture 112 accessories (toolboxes, glue caddies, etc.) and 60 building jig designs.

RH: Do you mainly fly FF models?
MF: I started with FF when I was 11 years old. It was the only thing that I could afford. Then as a teenager, I flew CL. That was when I started my first business manufacturing fuel cutoff valves to earn money for my hobby.

Radio [Control] was out of the question until I was 15, when I bought my first single-channel radio. At age 18, I got my first multichannel [radio].

I guess it’s like many things in life—you come full circle and go back to where you started [FF].

The Slingby T7 Kirby Cadet is Mark’s latest kit. It’s a scale model of a 1930s British RAF trainer glider.

E’SinBad the Sailor 36, Mark’s best-selling kit, can be built for RC or FF.

RH: What do you enjoy about reinventing retro designs?
MF: I guess being an engineer at heart. I always like to improve things. I love the visual appearance of a lot of the older designs, but they were difficult to build. My best-seller is the 1942 e’SinBad the Sailor 36. A lot of modelers love it because they built it when they were teenagers. It’s been a terrific success.

I appreciate the support that the FF community has given to me by purchasing my kits and Campbell’s Custom Products.

Mark enjoys taking older aircraft and updating them to improve their performance. The 24-inch babe’Moth is one such design.

The 15.5-inch Camp e’Racer was one of Mark’s original “retro” designs.

RH: What do you find fulfilling about building and designing aircraft?
MF: I’m my own boss. Nobody tells me what I have to do. I find it rewarding that I can choose to do things that are applicable for kids and teenagers. I like to pass on what I’ve learned. This past winter I put out a kit for the Wright Stuff to get kids enthused.

Early in my company’s existence, I was talking with the design technology teacher at my daughter’s school. They had rockets for the kids to fly but were afraid they would not go straight and someone would get hurt, so I designed fins for the rockets. He suggested that I come up with something for the kids to fly and run an after-school program.

I did that for three years with 20 kids. I designed the Kat’Ana, the Trioxide Darling, and the News Flash-Mels, named after my eldest daughter, Melissa. I gave it to her for her 18th birthday. (Okay, I am a bit of a joker.) I gave her the proceeds from the sales of the News Flash-Mels for college.

RH: Please share what other work you have done with youth.
MF: I recently changed my focus to supporting Science Olympiad. I have gone to building workshops, helped the students get started on their projects, and supported a couple of team leaders. I have given talks and volunteered at two regional events. Next year I will probably do something for middle school and high school students.

This 12:1 scale 1913 Eastbourne Monoplane, designed by Mark, is a serious scale model with lots of detail work. The engine has 200 parts in it.

RH: Why do you feel that building from kits and from scratch are important to aeromodeling?
MF: The things I learned from modeling were how to work with my hands, confidence that my creations would work, how to solve problems, and skills that are useful in my working and private life. There are very few hands-on activities for kids these days. It’s an important thing to put tools (such as kits) out there to give them the opportunity to work with their hands. They’re just not learning the things they need to have for a productive life.

I see what’s missing in the educational system and I want to make those things available to children. It’s very rewarding when you see the smile on a kid’s face when they put things together and see them work. Seeing the joy on kids’ faces is very rewarding.

Extended interview

RH: What do you enjoy about selling your products at the Nats?
MF: The reason why I come to the Nats is not to sell, but to fly. I’m not a competitive person, but I did my first Nats in 2012. I started coming to the Nats after Jay Smith, (today’s) Park Pilot editor-in-chief, interviewed me at my booth at Toledo about the wee Devil. Jay said, “Why don’t you fly it in the E36 event at the Nats?” Quick like a bunny, I redesigned the wing, thinned the wing profile, test flew it, and decided to take it to Muncie and see what happens.

Mark enjoys taking older aircraft and updating them to improve their performance. The 24-inch babe’Moth is one such design.

I learned a lot. [Nats contestants] are very friendly. They’re keen to help others. I had fun and did well. The NFFS (National Free Flight Society) had an impromptu [duration] contest with a five-second motor run. I took first place! I won a JR kit as a prize and decided to fly electric and F1Q the next year.

RH: What’s currently on your building table?
MF: Too many things. [He laughs.] Probably about seven things. One is a kit that’s available. It’s a Campbell kit (Campbell’s Custom Kits) called a Zeek 33-inch. It’s electric powered. Another airplane is called the Half Wild Goose. There’s a 33-inch NFFS model of the year for 2022. I have all of the laser files and the fuselage is built. I have two more prototypes for kits just for hi-start. There’s a 1/2 de Havilland Swallow—also a catapult-launch glider. I started the design yesterday and built it last night.

My building season starts on Memorial Day. My busy [work] season is when everybody else is building. It starts two months before Christmas and by January everybody wants to get supplies. January through March is as busy as December.

Mark Freeland (R) discusses the P-12 that he is helping recreate for the National Model Aviation Museum with Phil Calvert (L), a museum volunteer. Mark is laser cutting the parts for the project. This photo was taken during the 2016 Nats. Michael Smith photo.

RH: What haven’t you designed but would like to?
MF: Yeah, there’s about 500 of them. [He laughs.] I like creating my own new designs. I find it hard to focus on one thing.

The Saucerus RC, an adaptation for RC from a 1950s CL Stunt wing, was featured in the October 2016 issue of Model Aviation. Read the review at

RH: How did you react when you learned that you were selected for the Carl and Beth Goldberg Vital People Award?
MF: With shock and holler. I wondered why on earth I’d been selected for that. I thought it was for famous people like Keith Shaw. I’m kind of a new player on the scene.

I’m very proud of it. I guess it’s kind of inspiring that I’m doing the right thing. My kits are inexpensive. I want to keep the cost low so it won’t put kids and their parents off. I’m not trying to make a fortune out of this [business]. I’m just trying to keep kids interested in the hobby.

RH: Tell us about the project you are working on for the National Model Aviation Museum.
MF: A couple of airplanes are being recreated that were on loan to the museum. Michael [Smith, museum director] asked me to help with the laser design and the making and cutting of the parts.


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