You Can Wing It with Aviation-Themed Ornaments

Making your tree look like a busy airport this holiday season isn’t as daunting as it might seem.

These days, there are plenty of options for ornaments geared toward pilots. [Shutterstock]

Christmas ornaments are physical manifestations of memories. With one look you can be transported back to yuletides past, especially if you are in the habit of adding to your ornament collection every year.

My family did this when I was growing up with the ornaments reflecting our hobbies and pursuits at the time. Today, if you look at my tree, you will see a collection of ornaments reflecting athletics, music, and, of course, aviation. The latter was often the most difficult to come by, because when I began my aviation career there weren't many ornaments geared toward pilots beyond Santa's sleigh and round globes with an image of an airplane. Oh, how that has changed! If you want to add some aviation flair to your tree, here are a few from my collection.

Hallmark Keepsake: Sky's the Limit Collection

Hallmark launched the Keepsake line of ornaments in 1973. The designs are based on familiar characters from the entertainment industry, popular hobbies, and cultural icons. If a designer can dream it up, it can likely be created in resin and displayed on a tree. Disney characters and golf were big at first.

In the late 1990s, the Sky's the Limit collection appeared. Vintage aircraft came first, including a Curtiss Jenny, the Spirit of St. Louis, GeeBee R-1 and Super Sportster Model Z, Stinson Reliant, Spartan Model 7-W Executive, Ercoupe, Howard Hughes’ H-1 Racer, Travelair Model R Mystery ship, etc. They look more like miniature models with detail so exquisite your tree will resemble the vintage parking area of EAA AirVenture.

It is not just nostalgic designs that get the nod. In 2012, the venerable Cessna Skyhawk appeared in ornament form.

This year's Sky's the Limit offering is the red-and-black Little Bulldog Racer available for $19.99 from Hallmark stores. The ornaments are limited edition, and if you have missed a few over the years, check out eBay—you may be able to find them there. Another place to check is the Ornament Mall.

Hallmark’s Keepsake line includes a fair smattering of space and science fiction. Popular franchises, such as Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Trek are represented. Just think, this could be the year you add USS Enterprise 1701 with the big green hand holding it per episode 31 from Star Trek the original series (Who Mourns for Adonais?) to your seasonal conifer.

Sporty's Pilot Shop

Sporty's Wright Bros. Collection offers a selection of ornaments leaning more toward die-cast models, including a Piper Aztec, Cessna 172, Cirrus, Piper Cherokee, and  TWA Super Connie, along with vintage military designs of a B-17, SR-71, and P-51 Mustang. There is even an ornament of an FBO.

Annual Sporty's Ornament

Since 1985, Sporty's Pilot Shop has released a limited edition crystal ornament. According to Doug Ranly, director of aviation products and marketing, the design is chosen annually by customers who send in suggestions on what they would like to see. Eventually Sporty's makes the call, and the design goes into production months ahead of the holidays. It can be a challenge to choose the one to make as there are so many suggestions, according to Ranly.

"Sometimes they ask for classics, other times homebuilt. We've even had one that was a helicopter, an R-44," Ranly said. "This year the Aeronca Champ was selected. The Aeronca Champ has local history in Cincinnati, so there is a bit of an emotional attachment to it for us."

The ornaments are made from custom-cut crystal and vary in shape, from a circle or oval to a bell or snowflake, and they often feature beveled edges. There is a hole drilled for the ribbon, and the aircraft design and year are etched into the surface. Ranly said the exception was 2013 when Sporty's was giving away a RV-12 as a sweepstakes airplane.

"As we were giving away the RV-12, we decided to make it the sweepstakes airplane,” he said. “During the course of making the ornament and putting the RV-12 on it, nowhere on the ornament was the word ‘Christmas’ or the year. Some people complained. Other people recognized it as the ultimate collectible."

Collectible is the key word here, as a finite number of ornaments are made for a limited time. "Once we run out, we run out as they are limited edition,” Ranly said. “We have some people who go to eBay looking for the ones they miss. Every year there is a new one in a special box."

Make Your Own

Hot Wings, die-cast toy aircraft that come with a piece of foam rubber that resembles a piece of runway, are easily converted to ornaments. Simply add a little bit of strategically attached fishing line and an ornament hook and you are good to go. Hot Wings are used by CFIs and pilots as demo tools, so they tend to be rather detailed. For example, on the model of the Lockheed Martin X-33 suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicle (Lockheed canceled the project in 2001), the famous Lockheed skunk appears on the tail fins.

For the full effect, make sure to paint the year on the homemade ornament because a few years from now it may have fond memories of that Christmas.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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