SALEM - This book is loaded.
Richard J. Theiss of Salem documents a what is called "a walk of faith, through a high tech industry" in his just-released book "Surprise, Surprise."
For 20 years Theiss Aviation, located in southern Mahoning County, has supplied unmanned aerial vehicles to the general public and supported U.S. military operations around the world.
Theiss, who was named vice president when his son, Shawn, formed the company in 1992, speaks from highly personal, hands-on perspective.
Try this, there are things that the 82-year-old Theiss cannot talk about, but he did allow that company remains under multiple U.S. satellite surveillance 24/7 that at least one neighbor may or may not know about.
That ATV rider ventured onto Theiss Aviation property one day when no one was around. Within minutes the official word came to stay off.
Theiss clearly loves to talk about Shawn.
The book cover shows him in his first homemade "plane" in Ft. Myers, Fla., when he was just five-years-old.
He placed a wood crate atop a little red wagon, fastened a Cadillac fan blade to the nose and ran a plastic chain to it, donned his older brother Marc's motorcycle helmet and there he went.
"This was his original aircraft attempt," Theiss said, "he never built airplanes from kits. He built his first flyable airplane at six-and-a-half."
The publisher's (Tate Publishing) promo calls it the true story of one Shawn M. Theiss, who may as well have been hatched from a big bird as well as that of a human mother, such was his prowess in aviation ... would go on to forge one of the leading, cutting-edge aviation technology firms in the country."
His father laughs, considers that Shawn, at the age of eight, built a flyable transport plane and loaded it with gerbils. Cutting edge.
In 1983, an 11-year-old Shawn Theiss, built what Model Airplane News labeled as the "first solar-powered model airplane in the world." It had an 18-inch wingspan and was named "The Solar Pup."
While still 11, Theiss built his first full-sized aircraft and at 12 became the Society of Antique Modelers national champion, taking first in the men's division with "Miss America" a gas-powered plane with a 36-inch wingspan.
Richard Theiss said the plane wasn't big "but the achievement was" since it was an ultra-light, but not your average ultra-light. Shawn put in a couple of years at the Beaver School of Aviation in Chippewa when the family moved to Salem.
He studied engineering, aviation and flying, but decided he didn't want to become a pilot. He formed Theiss Aviation on East State Street in 1992 and used a barn in the 1100 block of Franklin Avenue before moving to southern Mahoning County.
Shawn named his father vice president and his mother, Hope, became secretary and treasurer.
In Salem, Shawn manufactured ultra-light kits and became acquainted with Bob Hoover, a highly decorated WWII and Korean War pilot known as "the pilot's pilot" who in later years became an airshow personality.
Richard Theiss explained that Hoover was grounded for a minor medical problem about the time Theiss Aviation was formed.
Hoover had an extremely limited pilot license and Shawn, recognizing his father could be in the same position, deigned a plane "for dad and pilots like him."
It was an ultra-light, but with a fully-enclosed fuselage, a 40-horsepower engine and it just slipped in under the ultra-light weight limit of 254 lbs, weighing in at 252 lbs.
Thick wings held the speed down to ultra-light limits too.
The kits were sold and Richard said the most important tool in it was nine massive rolls of masking tape that held the composites together as the glue set.
In 1997, a trip to a Sun and Fun expo in Lakeland, Fla., led to an article in "Sport Pilot and Ultra-light Magazine" which in-turn prompted a call from the U.S. Naval Research Lab, unmanned air division, in Washington, D.C.
"He wanted Shawn down there in a week," Theiss said, explaining they "sometimes put some very expensive machinery in UAVs."
What caught the Navy's eye was the design and composite construction that dampened harmonic vibrations and eased rough landings so equipment inside might survive, Theiss said.
The Navy was interested but Shawn had one question: If it comes down, who's liable?
Theiss said the Navy's reply to that was, "You fly 'em. You wreck 'em. We'll pick up the bill."
From that point Theiss Aviation discontinued all general public sales.
"It was government contracts only," Theiss said.
Theiss Aviation has built UAVs with wingspans as small as three inches up to 18-feet and employed eight people.
Today there are four employees.
In 1996, Theiss aviation was selected over nine companies with 15 different aircraft for a UAV project.
It came down to Theiss Aviation and Lockheed Martin and Theiss won which led to it being honored by the Kent State University science department as an outstanding Ohio manufacturer.
The company moves forward and is involved with university research, science labs along with government contracts.
Theiss will be signing his book on Friday from 6-8 p.m.; Saturday from 10 am. to 3 p.m.; and Sunday from 1-3 p.m. One of Theiss Aviation's planes hangs from a ceiling display in the library.
"Surprise Surprise" by R.J. Theiss is 216 pages and costs $13.99 (paperback).
Larry Shields can be reached at email@example.com