SALINA — In 1946, Bill Wing took his first flight in an airplane.
Afterward, the 12-year-old's course was clear — he wanted nothing more than to learn how to fly.
"It was a Navion single-engine plane, and my dad took me for a ride in it," he said.
Wing said he wanted to learn to fly but didn't have the money to take flight lessons.
"I was told I could get a pilot's license for $300, but who had $300 then?" said Wing, now 76.
So Wing took his passion for flight and downsized it to model airplanes. For the past 50 years, the Salina resident has built and painted hundreds of plastic airplanes, many of them military planes of the World War II era.
In his basement sit several glass-front cases containing what Wing estimates to be about 320 planes, along with stacks and stacks of boxes containing models yet to be built.
"There's almost the same amount not built," he said.
For hours each day, Wing will sit at a work table in a corner room of the basement and work on several airplanes at once. While the parts of one plane are being secured with liquid cement, another is being hand-painted or airbrushed and a third is having its rough edges smoothed by a hobby knife.
Depending on the detail involved in each plane, it takes Wing anywhere from five to 25 hours to put together a model.
"It depends how much time and detail you want to put into it," he said. "I used to like the detail work a lot, but I can't do it much anymore because my hands aren't that steady anymore."
The models lined in formation in his glass cases represent World War II-era American, British, French, German, Italian, and Japanese airplanes. The collection includes a B-29 Superfortresses, a B-26 Marauder, a U.S. Navy floatplane, a German Messerschmitt and Japanese attack aircraft, along with multiple gunships, Liberators, Warhawks, Spitfires and a reproduction of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
"There's a lot of history in those planes," Wing said. "I still learn something about history with every plane I build."
Wing was born in Dodge City and raised in Hays, the son of an electrician father who helped build U.S. air bases throughout the country, including Schilling Air Force Base in Salina. As a result, Wing said he was exposed to all kinds of aircraft from an early age.
Once Wing discovered model airplanes, building them became a lifelong obsession. He collected models while serving in the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1958 and continued building his inventory during a career that included driving a feed truck for the former Gooch's Feed Mill in Salina and then hauling livestock for local business owner Mike Ross.
"If I had a layover somewhere and had some time left, I'd go to a hobby store in whatever town I was in, and anything I could find at a bargain, I'd buy it," he said.
Model building, Wing said, relaxed him after a hard day at work.
"When I had time, I'd come home and work on one," he said. "It was a good escape. It was either that or go hunting."
Since moving to Salina in 1962, Wing's basement has overflowed with plastic plane parts, something that his wife of 52 years, Alice, accepts with a shrug.
"He's got enough to build that he'll be building the rest of his life," she said.