News Article On Earnest Dotson

Wednesday August 10, 1994

On the Rise

Hobbyist Builds Flying Models of Vertical-Takeoff Fighter Jet



LOS ANGELES — Clad in soiled jeans, an old work shirt and a denim blue apron, Earnest Dotson looks more likely, to work in a garage with cars than in a garage with high-technology fighter jets.

But in fact he builds flying scale models of the British Harrier vertical-takeoff fighter jet. One of the three Harrier AV-AB models Dot-son has built in the past seven years in his South Los Angeles garage, a 12.5 pound version, will appear in the upcoming Hawthorne Air Faire set for Aug. 27 and 28 at Hawthorne Municipal Airport, 12101 S. Crenshaw Blvd. The fact that Dotson built his models without benefit of a kit and in­structions impressed people like Hawthorne Air Faire coordinator Leo Gray, a retired aeronautical engineer.


"You can build a model and fly them with no training," said Gray. "But there's no kit of the Harrier. That's quite an achievement."


Dotson knew of only one other man in the world, an Englishman, who built model Harrier vertical-takeoff jets from scratch using no kits. "I like a challenge," Dotson said. "I don't want to do anything that's going to be easy because I feel I haven't learned anything. But little did I know what a challenge this would be. I've been working on this since 1987."


The Harrier, an English-designed jet built about 25 years ago, has the capability of taking off both vertically and horizontally, unlike a conven­tional airplane. That gives the plane the same flexibility a helicopter has of flying in and out of landing pads without needing a runway.


Assembling his models in a garage cluttered with everything from fiberglass cloth and balsa wood to mattresses and a television, Dotson works odd jobs to support his habit and his family.
"This is my office," he said.


Friend Charles Ephriam said Dot­son would spend seven days a week for eight or more hours per day, working on the models.

"I thought he was crazy," Ephriam said. But after seeing the planes, Ephriam became a believer and now works as Dotson's public relations representative of sorts.

One of Dotson's creations, which took him 9,000 hours to create, was destroyed in the Northridge earth­quake. Another is too heavy to support a vertical liftoff.


But Dotson planned to test his third model with an engine develop­ing 14 pounds thrust, theoretically enough to lift the little plane's 12.5 pounds off the ground, and hoped to have it ready to perform at the fair.


All the planes are about 6 feet long with a 4-foot wingspan, about one-seventh the size of the real thing. Dotson said all his creations can fly horizontally at a speed of about 120 miles per hour.


Dotson is building a fourth with lighter weight material that he expected to result in a plane weighing less than 10 pounds. He said he hoped it would make him the only known Harrier-model en­thusiast in the world to create a piece with the full capabilities of the real Harrier.

Got specifications

He said he got specifications for the plane by calling McDonnell Douglas, which refined the English plane and now builds it, and he told officials there what he wanted to do.


With a promise he wouldn't take the plans out of the country, they gave him the specifications, he said. Dotson first fell in love with the Harrier during his stint with the Navy from 1972 to 1976 working as part of the runway ground crew in Pensacola, Fla. He vowed to rep­roduce a model at home.


But he said he began making paper model planes at about age 9 after his mother bought him a set of encyclopedias. He read the books, starting with the first volume, and saw a photo of an airplane.

"I wondered if I could build it," he said. "I got a cereal box, cut it up, put a paper clip on it. I threw it and it flew."


The rest, he said, is history.

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