Wilton’s Faye Stilley piloted a fantastic airplane fleet

Before there were drones, there were remote-controlled aircraft.

Long the domain of hobbyists, a fleet of exquisite remote-controlled airplanes resides in Wilton, earthbound since the death of their creator and “pilot,” Faye Stilley, on June 2.

His wife Barbara now oversees the half-dozen or so planes that are parked in the basement of their home, with a work in progress just as he left it in his workshop, the plans pinned to the wall.

Showing the collection to a visitor last week, Barbara explained with a laugh, “I got him started. I bought the first one — a kit — in 1979. Who knew it would become one of his biggest desires?”

The planes — and one helicopter — are fantastic, in the fantasy sense of the word. Brilliantly colored and uniquely styled, these are not the kinds of planes to be found at any airport.

But each has an engine and they all fly.

“He dreamed up everything,” Barbara said. “They are all his own design, his own artistic interpretation ... the artistry is all his.”

Stilley flew some of his smaller remote-controlled planes at Allen’s Meadow, but the big ones took off at Sherwood Island State Park. There, he and fellow members of the Country Squires Modelers Club of Norwalk would fly their planes from a private airstrip.

Among the planes at home are a circus plane, complete with clown co-pilot; a plane with a flame design, one decked out in red, white and blue; and another with a pilot sculpted to look like the artist himself. Made of balsa wood with a high-gloss finish, they weigh about 25 pounds with wingspans of six to seven feet.

Displayed on the dining room table — “a great excuse not to subject friends to my not-so-good cooking,” Barbara joked— is a magnificent shiny, brown plane with a pilot and instrument panel in the cockpit.

Stilley was not an engineer or architect. He spent his career with IBM as a leader of training and marketing. But, according to his obituary, he had a lifelong passion for speed and precision, winning the Pacific Grand Prix at Laguna Beach, Calif., in 1961.

Transferring his love of precision to his airplanes, Stilley dreamed up the designs, worked out the mechanics, and made them into reality. Each one took six to 12 months to complete, Barbara said.

“He wanted to outbuild himself all the time,” she said.

He also wanted to share his passion, bringing his planes to competitions, including the National Toledo Remote Controlled Show, where he regularly won awards, and authoring three books on how to build planes. He also wrote numerous articles for the hobbyist publication R/C Report.

In his later years, Stilley was persistent in his craft, as the unfinished fuselage on his work table proves. His legacy will be his generosity of spirit through his writings and his artistry through his remaining fleet.