The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Gerhard Spielmann

Added to museum: 5/22/03

How many people can say they made something that is now sitting on the moon?

About Gerhard Spielmann...

Gerhard Spielmann was first introduced to us by former Joe Martin Foundation Craftsman of the Year winner Wilhelm Huxhold. He suggested Mr. Spielmann enter his small Bridgeport mill model in Sherline’s miniature machining contest at the North American Model Engineering Society show in Michigan in April, 2003. Mr. Huxhold, a two-time former winner of the contest himself, was also entering a model in the competition. As it turns out, Mr. Spielmann’s model ended up winning first place in the contest to Mr. Huxhold’s second place, but Mr. Huxhold was pleased that his recommendation of the quality of Mr. Spielmann’s work had been vindicated by the contest results.


Gerhard Spielmann was born in Germany in 1927 and his family emigrated to the United States in 1928. While attending Brooklyn Tech, Gerhard Spielmann’s after school hours were spent working with his father who was a goldsmith. During this period, he was introduced to the art of fabricating jewelry and related items from precious metals.

After he graduated from school, he served in the military in the 82nd Airborne Division, 505th Parachute Regiment. Part of that assignment included the building of three dimensional terrain models, which furthered his skills in working with his hands.

Upon completion of his military service, Gerhard served a four-year apprenticeship as a tool and die maker in a watch case factory. It was here, under the tutelage of the “Meister,” he learned the basics of quality machining and work ethics, attributes which he still holds in high esteem. During the next fifteen years as a tool maker, he was engaged in making blanking, drawing and coining dies for watches and medical instruments. Toward the end of this time period, his employer and he formed a subsidiary partnership to set up and produce medical and optometrical test instruments.

While still employed as a toolmaker in 1960, Mr. Spielmann ran a small business on the side as a gunsmith, offering repair and custom gun work. In 1962, he started his own full-time business, Mid-Island Tool & Die Company. In 1964 he formed a partnership with his former employer and started Milard (Milton + Gerhard) Precision Corp. In 1965 he founded Phoenix Machine Products to do work for the aerospace field. This business primarily manufactured machined components for the Apollo program’s Lunar Excursion Module. Many of the parts he crafted now reside on the moon’s surface or are still in orbit.

The office display at the left shows  parts for F-14, EA6B, E2C and 747 aircraft made by Gerhard's shop over the years. The photo on the right shows machined parts from aluminum and titanium made for the Grumman lunar module and the EA6B intruder. Made between 1960 and 1970, these parts were all machined from bar stock. (Click on photo for larger image.)

When the moon program was completed he branched off into the military and commercial aircraft field. In 1982, he sold his business which became Phoenix Machine Products of Hauppauge, Inc. and stayed on as head of quality engineering. The following year the business became a part of The Charlco Group and he became Vice President of Operations and General Manager. He is still employed by this company as Vice President of Engineering on a part time basis. Although this position is one of advisory and technical assistance, he has been instrumental in securing and manufacturing wing components and assemblies for the Boeing series of commercial airliners. The component parts are manufactured on 3-, 4- and 5-axis CNC milling machines, one of which is a Cincinnati 30V 5-axis bridge mill. He chose to make a model of this machine in 1/18 scale, photos of which can be seen in the section below. (Every Boeing 777 and 767 wing has parts that were produced on this machine under his direction.)

(Left) EC2 aircraft escape hatches are being machined on a Rambaudi Ramcop hydraulic tracing mill. Prior to CNC machines, this is how precision production machining was done in 1975. (Right) Boeing 777 wing ribs and bulkhead parts machined on the modern Cincinnati 30V 5-axis mill are shown in their subassembly state. They are machined from 3-inch thick 7050 T7 aluminum plate. (Click on photos to see larger images.)

This part time employment arrangement has given him the opportunity to resume his passion for model building. He has been involved in static and radio controlled ship and airplane models. In recent years his interest has turned to miniature machine tool models. His first tool model was the 1/12 scale Bridgeport “M Head” mill with shaper attachment. This is the model that won the Sherline contest. The second was the 1/18 scale 5-axis milling machine. Both of these models are electric powered and are fully operational. Further development of these models will include the development of tooling and accessories for them.

In addition to building flying aircraft models, in 1970 Gerhard also earned a private pilot's license for single engine aircraft. In 1999 he was given a Certificate of Recognition from the Cradle of Aviation Museum for his dedicated service and contribution to the aerospace heritage of Long Island.

Mr. Spielmann's shop

Gerhard works in a 20' x 30' ground level basement adjacent to a 3-car garage. During the winter months it is heated by means of the home heating system. During the summer it remains cool due to the three remaining sides which are 8' below ground level.

His power tools consist of a 1/2 HP Bridgeport mill purchased new in 1962, a 9" Southbend lathe rebuilt in 1980, a Swiss Schaublin bench lathe with 5C collet capacity, a butterfly die filer, bandsaw and related machine tool accessories. Hand tools consist of the favorites he has accumulated since his early days as a tool and die maker. During the time he worked in that trade he did not have the luxury of EDM (Electrical Discharge Machining) equipment to make a blanking die or a 3D CNC mill to make a coining die. He was given a piece of tool steel and expected to produce a finished product using saws, files, engraving tools and basic measuring tools. (He learned a lot about "The Basics" during that period...see quotes below.) His collection of hand tools is both vast and varied and he is often asked, "What kind of tool is that and how is it used?"


On retirement: “Retirement, as per Webster’s dictionary is defined as follows: ‘To withdraw oneself from business, active service or public life, especially because of advanced age.’ Since my ‘semi-retirement’ stage in life I have been more active in the pursuit of my interests while still engaging in the world of manufacturing. To me, retirement is just a word in the dictionary. In my opinion, too many Americans are obsessed with the subject. We are becoming a society of sit-back-and-do-nothing retired people.”

On craftsmanship and productivity: “In today’s ‘world economy’ we rarely find a product which has the label ‘Made in the USA.’ Unfortunately we are losing the ability to craft or manufacture the products of which we were in the forefront. Are we placing more emphasis on liberal arts education rather than on subjects that relate to how to make something? I applaud the efforts of Sherline Products and the Joe Martin Foundation to foster our youth’s interest in the field of craftsmanship.”

Advice for budding craftsmen: "Learn the basics. It's not necessary to know that aluminum is derived from Bauxite; basics may start with the simple fact that a square corner is 90° and a circle has 360°. If the battery on your calculator dies, or your computer crashes, your recourse would be to go back to basic math and/or utilize your writing skills.

Basics and desire go hand in hand. You may desire to make your own ice cream, but if you don't know that milk is the prime ingredient, your desire will remain unsatisfied. A solid foundation or concept opens a world of possibilities, and we learn through our errors in any undertaking."

Magazine Articles...

Click on the image at the left to read a 1955 newspaper article about Mr. Spielmann and some of his early models.

Click on the images below to read an article by Tom Hunt from Model Airplane News about the Electric Nationals in which Mr. Spielmann competed. The article features photos of some of his planes.

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Here are some photos of Mr. Spielmann's projects:

(Click photo for larger image.)

This 1/12 scale Bridgeport "M Head" mill model has won several awards. Most recent was the first place finish in the 2003 Sherline Machinist's Challenge contest held at the North American Model Engineering Society show in Detroit. Here, spectators at the show vote for their favorite entries. The model also won first place in its division at a contest at the American Precision Museum in Vermont.
This is a photo of the actual Cincinnati V30 5-axis machine that Gerhard used as a prototype for his model. This giant machine makes parts at the plant where he still works as an engineering consultant, so he had access to it for photos and measurements.
Here is a detail of the 1/18 scale model from the same angle as the prototype photo above. Gerhard's model remains unpainted so you can see that no fillers or patches were used in its construction. This fully functional model moves in all the same axes as the full-size prototype and is controlled from a separate box using switches for each axis. See below for more photos of the model.
MLA-17 .19 cu. in. diesel engine machined from cast iron and aluminum bar stock. It was constructed from a design by Andy Lofquist of "Metal Lathe Accessories." Though Andy's plans were excellent, Gerhard modified the construction somewhat for reasons of assembly, service and aesthetics. It runs well at 5000 RPM, but since the diesel exhaust is "messy," he doesn't run it often.

This interesting 3-cylinder radial model aircraft engine is actually an electric powerplant designed to look like a traditional radial engine. Each cylinder has a 7.2 volt electric motor inside. These drive the central propeller shaft through bevel reduction gears with a 2:1 reduction. The 12" diameter propeller will fly a model aircraft with a wingspan of 6 feet.

The engine is made entirely from bar stock and is Gerhard Spielmann's own design.

This electric powered aircraft is also one of Gerhard's own designs. It is styled to resemble a typical flyer of the 1920's. He reports that it "flies great!"

A modified Clancy Lazy Bee is powered by two Speed 400 electric motors. It is powered by 14 cells. The paint job makes it look like a large, lazy bee too. At one contest where Gerhard flew it, he made a slow pass over the field of about 5-10 MPH while a friend came out and chased the plane with a can of bug spray.

This silk-covered vintage Viking model competed in both the 618 and 620 classes at the electric nationals. A magazine article on the contest (see above) noted the outstanding build quality of the model.
1/8 scale Fi-156 Fiesler Storch. This model won first place for "Best Technical Effort" at the 1998 KRC Electric Fly. It is powered by an Astro 25 geared on sixteen 1800 mAh cells and has 715 square inches of wing area. It was scratch built without formal plans based on a 1/32" plastic model,  photos and an original German service manual. It weighs just 112 ounces.
Gerhard has also tried his hand at R/C ship modeling. This excellent model of a working lobster boat, the Bluefin, is 30" long and powered by an electric motor with simulated diesel sound. It is modeled after boats that ply the waters near his home in New York. It place 3rd in a contest because the judges said it looked "too neat" and not beat up enough for a work boat. (More photos below.)
The Orca took 2nd place at the Nautical Festival, again not taking first place due to lack of "weathering". The boat is an original design of Gerhard's for a small patrol boat and features multiple functions including sound, simulated radar, lights and firing .22 cal. cannon and depth charges. The cannon fires flour filled blanks for smoke effect. The .22 cal. mine thrower fires explosive devices adapted from those used to scare geese from golf courses. The electric powered R/C boat also has a completely detailed pilothouse.
More photos of Orca.

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