There he labors over a novel about flying, solves design problems in
pontoons he plans to market and, at his own pace, runs what has to be
one of the most unusual businesses for miles around the small Lexington
County town. If it seems an unlikely place to some, Mr. McCallum doesn't
``I've wanted all my life to live at an airport,'' he said. ``I'm
happy as can be.''
He designs large-scale aircraft big enough for a pilot and passenger,
writes manuals for their assembly and operation, and creates kits to
build flight-worthy planes from scratch. Light Miniature Aircraft is the
only company in the country producing kits for home-built classic
We do everything in our heads and then double back and do the
drawings,'' he said.
The kits themselves are made in Keystone Heights, Fla., but sales are
accomplished largely by phone and the Internet, at
Builders can call or e-mail the brains behind the kits at Pelion.
Mr. McCallum has done many things in his lifetime, from selling
insurance and Amway products to helping track Sputnik for the
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. He's lived all over the United
States and in Guam.
But at Pelion's airport, he says, he's finally home. The decision to
move to rural South Carolina was surprisingly easy for Mr. McCallum
after longtime friend, aviator Howard Allman of Lexington, suggested it
last summer during one of his periodic trips to Florida, where Mr.
McCallum was living. The men had known each other since 1984, when Mr.
Allman was negotiating with a company in England to build lightweight
aircraft engines and paid a call on Mr. McCallum to see if he wanted
some for planes he built.
Ultimately, Mr. McCallum would own the frame of the Super Cub, and
Mr. Allman would own the engine.
When they talked more than a decade later about Pelion, ``I jumped at
the chance,'' Mr. McCallum said.
``There's nothing but wide open space around here. It's so free. I do
what I want when I want. It's my last move. This is where I'm hanging my
He lives in a modular home with his son Cliff, also a model builder.
His wife, Louise, in declining health for a decade, is in Aiken in an
assisted living facility. His mother, 92, is in a similar facility in
West Columbia. Two daughters remain in Florida.
The hangar houses his computer; plans and manuals; a work bench where
the new ideas come to life; and two of the first miniature airplane
prototypes Mr. McCallum built -- a three-quarter-scale Piper Cub and a
full-size Super Cub. Those and four others are listed in a national
directory of home-built aircraft.
The hangar is also home to a work in progress, a reproduction of a
1941 Interstate Cadet that Lexington lawyer Lourie A. Salley III is
The ``unreconstructed Southerner'' and native New Englander are a
quarter-century apart in age but think alike about more than airplanes,
they discovered by talking while they work side by side.
``He's more of a Southerner than he thinks he is,'' Mr. Salley said
of the older man, who is beginning to think of himself as a Yankee only
by accident of birth.
``Ask me to do anything, and I'll do it,'' he said. ``Tell me to do
something, and I won't. I'm a rebel.''
He would like to have one or two more builders working on planes in
his domain. That kind of activity not only gives him someone to talk to
-- which he's good at when he gets wound up -- but also helps pay
overhead costs for a company based in Florida, which took awhile to
recuperate from Hurricane Andrew.
Another goal is to get children interested in building model
airplanes like they used to be -- the way Mr. McCallum and his son
For the older man, that interest began when he was a toddler in a
backyard in Gloucester, Mass., watching planes fly overhead. By the time
he was 5, he was flying balsa wood gliders. Living in Portland, Maine,
as a first-grader, he spent his nickels and dimes on penny gliders and
practiced putting them together in different configurations.
``There was a store I used to walk by that had a stick model, made of
tissue and balsa, in the window. I would stand there and stare at it. I
don't know why I never told my parents that I wanted it. It was 1936,
and my father was making $150 a week as a salesman -- good money for
those days. My folks could have afforded to buy that plane with no
problem. But I just looked at it through the window.''
He already had his secret dream of building big airplanes someday, he
said, and making model planes ``became an important thread in my life.''
At 14 or 15, he got his first gasoline engine and experimented with
launches, tow lines and catapults to get his handiwork airborne. He
learned to read blueprints and drew pictures of his own fantasy planes.
By the time radio-controlled planes were the rage, he was ready.
Marriage and family intervened. With a wife, three children and a
Dalmatian to support, Mr. McCallum tried his hand at several things.
``I did so well selling insurance I was afraid I'd make too much
money to ever quit and do what I'd rather do,'' he said.
But he never lost the childhood dream. At first, he said, he wanted
to be smaller so he could fly in the planes he made. Then he simply
decided to make big ones.
The first was a J-3 Ultralight, built with a friend, Fred Latulip.
The prototype is at Pelion now.
The initial material was aluminum. The kits he is making now are for
wood construction -- a process he moved to in 1990 at a customer's
What's made it possible to run the company out in the middle of
nowhere is computer technology, including e-mail and scanning.
``I'm glad it's worked out the way it has,'' Mr. McCallum said.
``There really is no place on Earth I'd rather be.''
Reach Margaret N.
O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.