By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Model citizen

Marcus Larson / News-Register##Dave Bibbee checks on the model planes in the workshop at the Evergreen Space Museum. He spends Fridays there and Tuesdays at the air museum, where he gives tours of the B-17 bomber.
Marcus Larson / News-Register##Dave Bibbee checks on the model planes in the workshop at the Evergreen Space Museum. He spends Fridays there and Tuesdays at the air museum, where he gives tours of the B-17 bomber.

Small planes came first.

Young Dave Bibbee’s dad, who had worked for airplane manufacturers during World War II, encouraged his son to build models. They worked together making more and more complex models.

As he grew up, Dave moved on to first control-line planes, then radio-controlled ones. Eventually, he turned to fighter jets.

Bibbee served a four-year stint in the Navy during the Vietnam era. Trained in aviation ordinance, he spent 17 months loading bombs, missiles and ammo onto F-8E Crusader fighter jets on aircraft carriers in the Vietnam war zone.  

Bombers, the world’s largest wooden flying boat and NASA spacecraft came next.

Bibbee brought his RC planes to the then-new Evergreen Air Museum, creating a flying field for the small aircraft and helping to start a club for like-minded modelers. He went on to serve two terms on the museum board of trustees.

Today he spends a couple days a week volunteering at the aviation and space museums. A docent, he shows off the real B-17 as well as RC models.

Most important, he said, he helps interest people on the wonders of flight.

“That’s the reason I’m here, why we’re all here,” he said. “To inspire and to educate.”

He added, with a smile, “It satisfies me, too.”

It was the small planes, not the vintage ones, that brought him to the museum in the first place.

In 2001, Bibbee was driving on Highway 18 when he noticed Evergreen was putting the finishing touches on its new aviation museum. The Newberg resident, who already belonged to a modeling club in Butteville, envisioned a new RC flying field on the grounds.

He approached Bill Schwab, the museum’s first director, about the idea. Next he made a presentation to Evergreen founder Del Smith.

He was ready with neatly drawn diagrams and maps, which Smith quickly swept off the table.

“He said ‘Just tell me,’ and I started talking,” Bibbee recalled. “He was really excited about the project, especially when I said I’d pay for it.”

Bibbee built the RC airfield and two control-line flying circles in the area where the Evergreen Chapel now stands. And he and other RC enthusiasts started the Evergreen Aeromodelers with the aim of flying their planes and teaching and inspiring young people.

“I feel, and the museum feels, very strongly about education,” he said.

He and other Aeromodelers members worked with many youngsters, some now in college or the military. Some fly real planes, he said proudly.

Bibbee once dreamed of becoming a pilot himself.

He grew up in the hills above Dundee and graduated from Newberg High School. Then he spent two years at Oregon State University.

He planned to become a sixth-grade teacher — following in the footsteps of the teacher he found most inspiring. 

In what would have been the fall of his junior year, he took a break to earn tuition money.

That December, he received a notice ordering him for an Army physical. Passing, he was directed to report in 21 days.

Instead, he marched into a Navy recruiting office and enlisted for a four-year stint. The Navy promised to give him the chance he wanted to learn to fly.

He met all the qualifications except one — 20-20 sight. “It wasn’t correctable to 20-20, so I was assigned to a ground crew,” he said.

He went on to aviation ordnance school in Florida, then took his nuclear training and other schooling in California. 

The Vietnam war was getting under way, so he felt lucky when he was assigned to a squadron headed for the Mediterranean Sea. They sailed from Southern California, planned to go south around Cape Horn to the Atlantic, thence to the Mediterranean.

“We headed out and a few hours later noticed the sun setting on the bow. We were headed west!” he said.

The captain announced their orders had changed. They were off to Dixie Station, off the Mekong Delta instead.

Over the next three years, Bibbee  served on two carriers.

In 1965-66, he was stationed aboard the Bonhomme Richard, an attack carrier built during WWII, then modernized. In 1966-67, he was aboard the Ticonderoga. 

Working on the flight deck of a carrier is dangerous, whether you’re around jets like the F-8 or prop craft like the A-5. “You have to be able to rotate your head 360 degrees,” he joked.

Almost five decades later, Bibbee pays tribute to his fellow servicemen by visiting the Vietnam memorial in Portland’s Washington Park a couple times a year.

“If I had to go, I’m glad it was with the Navy,” he said. “I have good feelings about my service.”

He noted, though, “I don’t know that I’d do it again.”

Between cruises to Vietnam, Bibbee met his future wife, Nancy.

They married on Aug. 27, 1966. A few days later, he shipped out on the Ticonderoga for a seven-month tour.

She saved her Navy wife pay and he saved his active duty pay. When they reunited, they had enough to buy a car and drive to Oregon for a delayed honeymoon.

They eventually settled in Newberg.

Fresh out of the Navy, Bibbee started his civilian career at Tektronix. He made prototypes from engineering drawings so the engineers could test and improve their designs.

After the company reduced its workforce in 1971, he found a job with a fairly new company in Newberg, A-dec. The dental equipment manufacturing company was still located in an old quonset hut downtown at the time.

“I grew with them,” he said, recalling how he moved up to the position of manufacturing supervisor as A-dec moved to its current location and expanded its campus.

He left A-dec after 16 years to pursue other projects. He and his wife even considered moving to Hawaii.

Instead, he took a new job with a firm that made specialty woodworking tools. After that, he opened his own hobby shop in King City.

The store was a labor of love, since it catered to hobbyists like him. But a rent hike forced him to look elsewhere, and the rise of Internet commerce was a deterrent.

Instead of reopening the store, he accepted a job at Portland Community College, where he’d earlier taken management and small business classes. He spent the last 17 years of his career working as a buyer in PCC’s bookstore.

“I’d expected to be at PCC for a few months,” he said. But he enjoyed the job too much to leave earlier. He liked working with the students, in particular, he said.

Bibbee and his wife raised two daughters. Now they are enjoying time with grandsons Jordan, 13, and Benjamin, 3 1/2.

The boys live in Newberg as well, so the Bibbees see them almost daily.

“I’m so happy we have that connection with our grandkids,” he said. “Family is what it’s all about.”

Bibbee started bringing Jordan to the Evergreen museum when he was about Benjamin’s age. The child loved model aircraft and soon earned a junior docent badge for taking care of the planes in the kids’ area.

Soon, Grandpa will start taking Benjamin to the museum, as well.

Bibbee, who retired three years ago, spends two days a week there. 

He gives tours at the Aviation Museum, with a special focus on the B-17. The WWII bomber is one of his favorite planes, one with real character, he said.

“I also love the ‘future’ stuff, the SR-71, the Titan II missile....” he said. “I like everything.

“Just being here is exciting. Every day you learn something new.”

On Fridays, he works in the model aircraft shop at the Space Museum, answering questions and teaching visitors about the history and principles of flight. Of course, it’s the youngest visitors — about 20,000 come to the museum complex annually, and another 20,000 to 30,000 are touched by museum outreach — that he likes the most.

He also enjoys working with fellow volunteers. There are more than 260 from all walks of life, and he said they are some of the greatest people he’s met.

Bibbee said he may spend more time at the museum in the future. But for now, he wants to keep his schedule flexible so he and his wife, also retired, can do things together.

“I’ve had a good life,” he said. “I’m still enjoying myself.” 

Starla Pointer has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or