Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Glider Power Firm Making 6 Million DC-10s out of Balsa

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Glider Power Firm Making 6 Million DC-10s out of Balsa

Article excerpt

Al Smith grew up flying the balsa wood gliders made by the company he now heads, but what he really wants to build is a flying hamburger.

Or a winged bagel, hockey puck, spark plug, wrench or even a fire extinguisher. All it takes is the right graphic and a glider made of foam.

Promotional gliders, jets and saucers are the latest edition to the lineup at Paul K. Guillow Inc., a Wakefield company that started building toy and model airplanes in 1926.

While about 80 percent of the privately held company's $4 million in annual sales are from balsa wood toy gliders and models, the foam jets with multicolored graphics stenciled on are taking off, Smith said.

The company just completed the first year of a five-year deal to turn out 6 million DC-10 gliders for Federal Express - the largest order ever for the tiny company of just 65 workers.

"It is a staggering amount of gliders," Smith said. "And an order this size creates problems, but it's problems we like, problems of growth, not shrinking."

For example, Guillow's crew had been stamping out 4 million to 5 million gliders a year using just one shift much of the year, and two shifts during the three months leading up to the Easter crunch. Thanks to the Federal Express job, Smith has added the first permanent night shift.

Guillow only got into the foam glider business last year, buying the specialized equipment from a California-based competitor that went under but dealt only in foam.

Now, the company is turning out about 100,000 foam gliders a month just to fill the Federal Express order. Since January, about 25 other companies have placed orders.

"The possibilities are endless," Smith said.

The best known Guillow's product is still the wooden glider. Most cost about $1 and are just a few pieces of balsa wood and a metal clip to weight the nose. Some models add a rubber band to turn a propeller, or wire and wheels for landing gear. Others use slingshots and have folding wings.

Then there are the scale models of historic planes, like Charles Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis." Others range from World War I biplanes to modern fighter jets. The kits are complicated, taking up to 80 hours to build. …

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