1935 Huff Sky-Test Flight Trainer

1935 Flying Aces Magazine Huff Sky-Test Flight Simulator / Trainer

Most of you know I’ve nearly abandoned all of my previous hobbies for rubber powered balsa wood and tissue paper free flight airplanes. On that front nothing has changed. I apologize for not posting more of my progress, but I don’t have much of value to share – there’s better sites for information and inspiration. Yup, my model planes sure look great – unfortunately they’re just not ready to break any duration records – yet.

As a member of the Flying Aces Club I’ve also become obsessed with 1930’s issues of the Flying Aces magazine. I’ve been collecting as many as possible and carefully scanning, restoring and saving the files as PDF documents. If you’re trying to unload your collection of FA magazines – I’d be happy to take them off your hands, no matter the condition.

While scanning the December 1935 issue of FA magazine I came across this ad for the Huff Sky-Test. I’ve never seen this ad in any other issue thus far. It caught my eye – looks like a neat project to build. Look how much fun that spiffy young fella is having!

I did a little searching around the web for more information and came up empty handed. I figured I’d post the ad on my blog to get the ball rolling. Maybe someone will find this post and be kind enough to share more information. (Hint. Hint). I need a reason to fire up the woodworking workshop again!

After all, “A few hours at the controls of the HUFF SKY-TEST qualifies you as a FUTURE FLIER OF AMERICA.” Somehow I don’t think free Certificates of Membership are currently available.

How To Be Your Nephew’s Cool And Awesome Uncle, Extreme Fun & Project Gutenberg

In just a few short months my cool nephew is allowing me to take his son, my great-nephew, away for our first weekend of bonding. The young man in question is twelve years old, he’ll turn thirteen the month following our trip. When I was that age everything – and everyone – was LAME.

This is our first trip (my fault for not arranging this earlier), and what guy doesn’t want to be the cool (great) uncle? My mind raced as I tried to recall the things I was interested in when I was his age:

  • * Looking like a mysterious dude alone in the shadows
  • * Experiments resulting with fire and explosions (I hope mom doesn’t see I have no hair on one arm and I’m missing part of an eyebrow)
  • * Groveling over my lack of girls and greenbacks
  • * Music and art
  • * Sharing my thoughts to the only thing I could trust, a journal


I suspect I just defined the interests of many young men in five bullet points.

I recall a handful of meaningful conversations shared with fringe relatives in my youthful days. It was a pleasure to speak to an adult that wasn’t part of my daily life. The separation made it easier to open up and share thoughts without risking being judged or teased endlessly. We communicated in an adult manner.

After a some thinking (can you smell the rubber burning?) the possible itineraries boil down to two themes:

  • 1. Camping, Fishing, Hiking: A quiet opportunity to relax and share what’s on our minds.
  • 2. Extreme Fun: A loud opportunity to forget about what’s on our minds.

My great-nephew is a quiet young man. He never sits still and prefers to be off alone occupied by the mischievous things young boys do: whacking tree stumps with an ax, poking at tree stumps with a crowbar, quietly groveling about life while sitting on tree stumps. This is the expected outcome of a camping trip.

I’m the cool uncle, so let’s be extreme! Amusement parks are great, but not with your uncle. What’s more extreme? I know!- go karts (not the dumb kiddie ones), ATVs, UTVs, motor boats, off-road Segway adventures – how about paintball, target practice with a compound bow or slingshot!

Many of these awesome activities do not allow “children” under the age of 13 to drive or be responsible for taking charge (and slingshots are mainly illegal). My nephew may be a goof, but he’s responsible and knows his capabilities. A front running idea is a camping trip including some extreme fun and experiments.

Nostalgic Camping Activities

The Boy Mechanic, Volume 1
Playing Baseball With A Pocket Knife

The other day I was having a conversation with my pops. He asked me if I ever played “the pocket knife baseball game”, something my father remembers fondly. I’ll admit I’ve never played this game (yet) but any dangerous activity that doesn’t require physical exertion has my attention. Perhaps this is something my great-nephew and I can play on our camping trip! I started researching the topic.

Project Gutenberg

My search concluded, as it usually does when researching old fashioned fun, at Project Gutenberg. For those of you that are unaware, Project Gutenberg “offers over 59,000 free eBooks… for which U.S. copyright has expired.” Many of the books are solid gold and chuck full of fun. Back in the “old days” kids were encouraged to experiment and play with all sorts of stuff – stuff that “nowadays” adults could get in trouble for!

The pocket knife baseball game was found in a Project Gutenberg eBook titled The Boy Mechanic, Volume 1: 700 Things for Boys to Do by H. H. Windsor. Alongside the rules to play knife baseball are other “things for boys to do” such as:

  • How To Make Boomerangs
  • Glass-Cleaning Solution: water & sulphuric acid
  • Polishing Cloths for Silver: 2lb. of whiting, 1/2 oz. of oleic acid & 1 gal of gasoline
  • How to Make a (real) Cannon: utilizing hydraulic pipe
  • How to Make a Small Electric Furnace: wrap asbestos, wire and plaster-of-paris around a block of wood
  • How To Explode Black Powder with Electricity
  • Small Electrical Hydrogen Generator: make hydrogen and enjoy the “report” after placing a match nearby
  • A Homemade Acetylene-Gas Generator
  • How to Make a Box Kite
  • How to Make a Small Medical Induction Coil
  • … and 690 other things to keep a young man busy.

As you can imagine books such as this, and many others, are no longer being printed. Many books from the old days are flat out banned because of the potential dangers lurking on the pages. These books were wildly popular during their heyday and with good reason. They encouraged kids of all ages to responsibly experiment, engage their minds and hands, and have fun doing so.

I’m BORED!

It’s no wonder many kids today aren’t interested in math and sciences, they aren’t allowed to actually practice any of this stuff. Compare chemistry kits (or toys) from the old days to the ridiculous boring “safe” stuff that’s on the market today. The thrill of mixing vinegar and baking soda doesn’t last long. I studied chemistry in high school and was dumbfounded by how little “chemistry” I practiced. It’s like giving a kid a piano but not allowing them to touch it until they understand everything about how music is composed.

Stop asking why kids only want to sit on a computer – it’s the only limitless thing they have to experiment with. It’s impossible to limit what kids do online. The computer provides a dangerous and thrilling frontier for kids to tinker with unobserved.

I’m not suggesting handing kids hazardous things (the internet for instance) to let them play willy-nilly. These old books don’t condone reckless behavior either, they encourage responsible experimentation. Know it or not, kids are going to get into stuff – shouldn’t we provide information and supplies to explore responsibly?

Great-Uncle And Great-Nephew Fun

With a few months before our weekend together I still have time to decide what we’re going to do. Last night I came up with the idea of including a stop at an old fashioned county fair complete with tractor pulls, live music and livestock contests. There’ll be plenty to keep busy and my gold chain decked-out great-nephew will have droves of gams to ogle.

Camping may be involved as well. I can demonstrate how to make charcoal with wood chips in an old paint can. The charcoal, when mixed with a few (formerly readily available) ingredients, is transformed into an explosive powder. Using a simple to build apparatus we could distill wood chips into a liquid alcohol creating a spectacular burst of flames when sprayed into the campfire. Maybe we’ll start a fire with a drop of water or enjoy the challenge of using a magnesium fire starter. We’ll filter our water using the charcoal we made together.

I can teach him how to sharpen a knife using an oil stone, ruin the blade playing baseball and do it all over again. Perhaps demonstrate how to carve wood using the knife. We can stroll through the woods and I could teach my great-nephew how to identify trees by examining the leaves. We could carve our names into the bark of a beech tree with our freshly sharpened pocket knives.

In my mind the weekend plays out like a soft focus montage in a nostalgic movie. A very real possibility is that I’ll be called a “jerk” (if he respects me enough to use such a gentle word), ride silently in the car, stare blankly at a campfire, I’ll pet goats and be audience to a patriotic folk band while my great-nephew explores the fair on his own with a fistful of my moola.

No matter how the weekend plays out we’ll have fun, great-nephew’s disapproving scowl and all. The fun may not be evident during the trip but the memories – they’ll only improve with age.

Lt. Studster’s Unofficial Flying Aces Club (FAC) 101 Newsletter.

Okay. Okay. The title says it all. I’ve decided to write my own monthly FAC newsletter for newcomers to the Flying Aces Club and rubber powered stick and tissue freeflight airplane models. “Why?” – Great question! There’s already a slew of useful information to be found online and beyond.

As a newcomer to the hobby, I’ve found all the information somewhat overwhelming – and unorganized. Even though I’ve yet to take first place at a FAC contest – I’ve learned a lot. By “learned a lot” I mean I’ve spent unnecessary cash on stuff I didn’t need – and gained modeling experience beyond my abilities because I didn’t know what I was getting into.

Now, a few years into the hobby, experience and research has provided a wealth of knowledge that I’d like to share. The intent of FAC101 is to organize and share what I’ve learned. I’m not the highest or longest flying pilot in the fleet – and I may never be. The hobby is supposed to be fun – not frustrating. I personally enjoy building more than flying, the camaraderie of meeting with other FAC pilots at contests is priceless.

As for “Lt. Studster”? I was christened the title when I registered for my first contest, the 2018 FAC NATS. The gent that registered me asked what I wanted to be called. I replied, “John” and I was told that wasn’t a fun name. He caught a glance at my email address on the entry form and said, “Studster” will do. That’s the story.

The FAC101 newsletters could be accessed from the menu on the top of the screen, “Studster’s Flying Aces Newsletter”. This monthly newsletter is just getting started. I have a lot of information mapped out for future issues. They’ll all be short and informative – and feel free to chime in if you have something to add or you disagree.

Planes and Polkas

Okay. Okay. It seems like I’ve abandoned this blog. Perhaps it’s safe to say I have, but give me a chance to explain. The blame lies squarely on two things: the Flying Aces Club and Instagram. Instagram makes it so easy to “insta”ntly update friends, family and followers on what’s happening. So call me lazy, that’s usually my “go to” place for posting what I’m up to.

Two years ago I was up to a whole lot of different things: woodworking, woodcarving, automata, musical machines and such. Ever since I started building rubber powered balsa wood and tissue paper airplanes – I’ve been obsessed. Building planes has been my focus. I suppose I should be posting photos and videos of my planes on this blog, but again Instagram makes it so darn easy.

Alongside the planes I’ve been immersing myself in a nostalgic cocoon cranking my earbuds full of accordion shredders Frankie Yankovic and Jimmy Sturr, sometimes taking it down a notch with aviation enthusiast John Denver. Never of fan of kicking back with a book – I’ve been devouring Jean Shepherd books like candy. His short stories are easy to read, fun and a delightful time machine to a different time in history.

Polkas? Give me a break! Yeah, that was my sentiment as a child growing up in a very Polish influenced area of Northeastern Pennsylvania. I suppose I understand the genre as an adult – again, it’s fun, silly and cheerful. I say the same regarding the old fashioned nostalgic hobby of balsa and tissue airplanes.

For the better part of a century people have been enjoying the mystery of “Who Stole The Kishka?”. To summarize, the butcher turned his back and the fat, round and firmly packed kishka, hanging on the rack, disappeared. Someone called the cops to report this nefarious heist! After a moment of panic Yusef found the kishka, brought it back and returned it to the rack. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Both planes and polkas bring people together to celebrate, reminisce and have fun. What I didn’t understand as a “know-it-all” kid was the HARD WORK, passion and devotion behind the celebration. Planes, polkas, and pierogies don’t make themselves. Contests and concerts are the culmination of culture, tradition, and passion passed through generations of families and devoted enthusiasts.

So You Want To Attend A Flying Aces Club Contest

A little over a year ago I joined the Flying Aces Club for twenty-five bucks. What is the Flying Aces Club? The Flying Aces website sums it up best:

The FLYING ACES CLUB is a society of individuals with a common interest that at times borders on a passion. It is our intent to preserve and promote the traditional building and flying of free flight stick and tissue model aircraft. Although competitive at times, the sharing of innovations, assistance and camaraderie is second nature to all that believe in the unique spirit of the FLYING ACES CLUB.

As someone new to the hobby, joining the Flying Aces was exciting, and intimidating. Exciting because I was part of something I found interesting – intimidated because  I wasn’t very good at making my models take flight. The newsletters are well put together and include model plans. The lingo, on the other hand, confused me quite at bit – and sometimes still does. I didn’t know anything about airplanes let alone the terminology that specifically applies to rubber powered free flight model aircraft.

I am providing the following information to other folks interested in joining in on the fun. I’ll update the information requiring correction and I’ll add new information to the post as it comes to mind. This isn’t “official” information, so it may not be completely correct, but is true to the best of my knowledge. This is what I’ve learned through my personal experience and I’m providing the information as a basic introduction.

Before You Attend A FAC Contest

You’ve successfully built a few flying models, checked the FAC calendar and found a contest you are able to attend. Now what?

1. AMA Membership

If you’re considering competing in any contest event you must have a valid AMA membership. Membership is $75/year and includes a monthly magazine. It’s my opinion the magazine is worthless if your only interest is rubber powered models. However, your AMA membership provides insurance if your model damages a person or property. It’s a good idea to have an AMA membership whenever and wherever you’re flying because of the insurance.

2. Documentation

If you’re bringing a scale model with you, regardless if it’s from scratch or a kit, you’re going to need to bring a copy of the plan, a 3-view of the aircraft design and photographs of the actual aircraft your model represents. Models that aren’t scale representations of actual aircraft may require a compliance check to make sure it qualifies for the category it will be competing in. Bring the plan!

As a “new guy” in hobby I had trouble determining what categories my planes qualified for. My first contest was the 2018 NATS in Geneseo, NY. This is probably the biggest contest every year for the club. To say I was overwhelmed when I pulled up to the contest, alone, with no clue of what to expect is an understatement. I found there was nothing to fear. Everyone is friendly, helpful and excited to see someone new. If you need assistance, just ask and don’t be afraid to offer assistance to anyone if you’re inclined.

3. Models, Tools & Supplies

I wasn’t sure what to bring with me to my first contest. So I brought everything I had, and I mean everything. My models were stored in boxes to prevent damage. I brought all my tools, glues, various sizes of balsa, tissue, rubber, wire – you get the point. I was happy I did! Every pilot seems to do the same. It’s no fun when a model breaks and you’re unable to improvise a repair on the spot. The good news is vendors including Easy Built Models and Volare sell everything free flight related at the larger contests: NATS, NON-NATS, Outdoor Champs, etc.

A pen and paper is handy to have to jot down information and to log flight times. Speaking of flight times, you’re going to need a stopwatch. Generally speaking, wearing a stopwatch around your neck signals other pilots that you’re available to time another pilot’s flight. Also, the stopwatch tends to be the fashion accessory of choice among pilots. You don’t need anything fancy, I paid five bucks for mine. You may get away with using the stopwatch on your phone at smaller contests such as those at Pinkham field, but not so much at larger contests.

Don’t forget the camera!

Leave the radio at home. I realized on my second day at the NATS that nobody was listening to music, or anything else that made noise. For how many pilots that attend the contests the events are surprisingly quiet. The quiet is wonderful! During contests every pilot is in their own headspace evaluating everything from the wind, weather, trim of their model, choosing which rubber and propeller to use, considering which models they’ll fly and when, did they take their meds, and a myriad of other things.

It’s quite relaxing to take a moment to listen to nothing but the quiet whirring of propellers in the sky and the occasional CRACK of a rubber band breaking while being wound.

4. Shelter & Comforts

At every multi-day contest each pilot brings a tent canopy, chairs and a some sort of table to serve as a workbench. Bring food, drinks, clothes for changes in weather (sometimes it gets windy) and anything else you’ll need for a day outdoors. You don’t want to have to jump in the vehicle on a supply run and miss all the action!

At The FAC Contest

Contest day has arrived, you pack up your vehicle and hit the road (if your drive is less than two hours you’re one of the few lucky ones). Here’s a few things I’ve learned from my scant experience so far.

Arrive Early

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the pros show up before sunrise. If the contest states its start time as 10 AM that means official timing starts at 10 AM. A smart pilot shows up early, sets up their home base and starts to test fly the models they intend to fly.

Vehicles will be lined up along the field, parked side by side. It’s not hard to find a spot, simply find a place to park. When you park it’s nice to greet your neighbors and introduce yourself. If you’re there super early and you see pilots setting up flags, tables, etc offer a helping hand.

Register

Once you’ve parked your car and made new friends you’ll need to seek out HQ (headquarters). HQ isn’t hard to miss, there’s usually flags (including one with a Flying Aces Club logo) and folding tables. Introduce yourself, explain that you’re new to the club and ask how to register.

Don’t be offended if you’re told to return later, the CD (Contest Director) has many responsibilities, especially on the morning of the first day. My experience has shown that the CD will introduce a new pilot to a helpful veteran. While you mingle it’s a good idea to ask about official contest protocol:

  1. Is self timing allowed? Generally speaking, you need to ask another pilot to time your flights. Smaller contests often permit pilots to time their own flights. This is a good time to remember the spirit of the FAC is camaraderie and socializing with other pilots that love the sport. Fun is the purpose of the contest, not setting the world on fire with record breaking times. There is no reason to embellish your times, doing so only hurts yourself.
  2. What is the schedule for the day? The flier for the contest will usually describe what events are on schedule for the day. Group events and mass launches are at specific times (which often change). Non-group event categories such as Embryo, FAC Peanut, etc can be timed anytime throughout the contest day. Remember to get your times turned into HQ before the deadline for the day.

At the big contests you’ll obtain a time sheet to log your flight times. I have a little plastic folder to hold the time sheet, my model documentation and a pen to log my flight times. I receive many envious glances and compliments on how organized I am with my nerdy plastic folder.

If you don’t understand something, it’s best to be honest and ask for clarification. My head was spinning at my first contest (still does). I was asked questions littered with foreign terminology. If I didn’t understand I’d say, “I don’t know what that is.” To my surprise I found many pilots with cloudy (no pun intended) understandings of some of the terminology. More often than not when I’ve expressed confusion the pilot was more than excited to take the time to share their knowledge.

Fly and Have Fun

Sounds easy. It is once you get the hang of it. You can fly whatever model you want, whenever you want (registration and AMA membership is still required). There are exceptions to this rule depending on the contest. Generally it’s not wise to fly unqualified models on the field during Group or Mass Launch events. This is because extraneous models complicate tracking and timing flights during group events.

Competing is NOT required

I’ll admit I’m still confused about what categories models qualify for. The large contests I’ve attended had no categories for motor stick models (models with a only a stick as a fuselage, such as the Peck ROG and Sky Bunny). Even though competing with motor stick models is not possible, you CAN still fly them.

Leave the drones, R/C models or anything with a motor at home. You may get away with flying these on the field, but the noise doesn’t garner much approval.

If you’re interested in the hobby, just go to a contest and mingle. Competing is not required. FAC pilots are a great group of dedicated people. Just about everyone is ready to share their tips and experience. My sister visited me at the NATS. She had an amazing time just sitting in a folding chair and taking in the sights and sounds (or lack thereof). There is so much to learn by simply watching pilots prep their planes for a flight that cannot be learned through watching videos or reading.

My personal goal for 2018 was to get an official time on the record books (flights need to be twenty seconds to qualify). Not only did I achieve this goal but I earned Third Place at the Outdoor Champs and Second Place at the Barron Field Races! I can honestly say that it’s not about winning or placing. The moment I attended my first contest I felt like home. Flying Aces Club contests are a retreat from the distractions life throws at me.

Hobbies like this are fading away, and this baffles me! There aren’t many places where people sharing a similar passion can meet in a friendly environment. Watching these models fly is a retreat that brings out everyone’s inner child. There are several multi-generation families that make an outing of the event. It’s a great time!

If you have any questions I haven’t covered here I’d be happy to answer them to the best of my ability. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Frank Ehling Dart-Too Rubber Powered Flying Model Plan and Article

Rubber Powered Model AircraftFrank Ehling Dart-Too

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on my site, apologies for that. As you probably know, I’ve been obsessing over rubber powered flying models. Also, I’m preparing to begin teaching young pilots on how to build their very own flying models as part of a Maker program in my town.

I’ve thought long and hard about the best projects to introduce young pilots to the hobby. I recently came across an article on Frank Ehling’s Dart-Too plane while browsing the AMA website. The Dart-Too is a follow up project to the popular Delta Dart / AMA Cub that Mr. Ehling designed. When I found this project I knew it would be a great starter project.

After downloading the plan, however, I found the plan was incomplete. What I mean by this is, when the two pages of the plan are joined together a large gap appeared in the middle of the plan.

Frank Ehling Free Flight
The original plan downloaded from the AMA site with missing design information in the center.

I took it upon myself to draw in the missing information and recompile the PDF, the downloadable plan and article are found here. The AMA logo and “Dart-Too” text were removed in order to provide space for the future pilots to add their names and custom designs.

I found this project easy to build and fun to fly. I used regular copy paper for my build, and yes, it adds quite a bit of extra weight. I will likely build it again using tissue paper to examine the potentially improved flight times. Feel free to download the plan and build a few for yourself!

My 2018 AMA Expo East Review

For a little more than a year I’ve been interested in making old fashioned stick and tissue free flight airplanes. I made a few as a youngster, but I can’t say they ever actually took flight. I’ve been building Peanut Scale and other smaller flying models focusing on making them fly. I joined the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) and the Flying Aces Club and devouring as much information about free flight models as possible. I was excited to learn the 2018 AMA Expo East was practically in my backyard. I purchased a two-day ticket and anxiously awaited the event.

Friday February 23 finally arrived. I filled out the Static Display Entry Form, packed up my recently completed Farman Mosquito peanut and I headed out to the Meadowlands Exposition Center. Light rain greeted my arrival and no close parking was to be found. I eventually parked the car, grabbed the shoe box with the Farman and started the walk to the Expo Center. Once inside I picked up my tickets at the Will Call window and headed off to enter my plane.

AMA Static Display Model Contest

I glanced at the other entries, beautiful and large RC planes, and chucked to myself when I thought about the peanut Farman I held in my hands. Aware I wasn’t going to set the world on fire with my model I was simply happy to support the event and participate. I was greeted by two nice gentlemen at the entry table. I removed my model from the box and placed it on the table. “Wow! You already filled out the entry form.” one of the men said,  “You checked Post World War I, that’s not the correct category – that one is for scale. Not quite sure what category yours should be.” One of the men stood up and walked to ask the man in charge.

AMA Power System
How many RC planes use Rubber motors?

When the man returned he said, ” You can’t enter your plane, it’s not RC.” The other gentleman said, “Well, can’t we just put it on the table to offer inspiration?” “No. It can’t be entered. Sorry.” I thought to myself, “But I could enter a BOAT or a CAR as long as they’re RC – at the Model Aeronautics Expo.”

Farman Moustique Micro-X Peanut Scale Plane
Back in the shoe box and into the car you go.

I know if my type of plane was permitted in the competition it would stand little chance of winning. There are much better modelers out there than me. My beef with the AMA is how little they care about the very types of model craft that started the whole hobby! Model shops are closing, clubs have all but disappeared and all the information the AMA provides is written for the handful of master modelers that are still around. Where does someone new to the hobby learn the basics? The AMA provides the simple die cut balsa and rubber band models to children, and the old timers that know what they’re doing can make these simple models fly. Most children (myself included) have a lot of trouble trimming the planes to fly well.

The AMA forgets all of the intermediate steps between the simple die cut planes and the beautifully crafted RC masterpieces. Look no further for reasons why membership is diminishing.

Speaker Series East 2018

The AMA Expo East included three different speaker presentations. The first, How To Make A Spaceship. Start By Building Model Planes, presented by Author Julian Guthrie and Space Ship One Structural Engineer Dan Kreigh was an inspiring for all ages look at the history of Spack Ship One. The second Designing And Building Scale Models From Scratch, presented by Mr. Top Gun Dave Wigley, would have been more aptly titled Here’s A Few Extremely Complicated Parts I’ve Built For My Beautiful Masterpieces. I was one of a handful of people to sit through the entire lecture. When Mr. Wigley concluded and asked for questions he addressed each person with a question by name. The third and final presentation, Building A Flying Football Field, An Insider’s Scoop on Stratolaunch, presented by Mason Hutchison from Scaled Composites, was an very interesting look at building the world’s largest plane and an inspiring company. It was refreshing to see innovative and open minded companies like Scaled Composites still existed.

Exhibitors

There was a wide variety of exhibitors / vendors at the 2018 AMA Expo East. Just about every aspect of scale models was represented. I spent the most money at the National Balsa booth. They were very helpful with finding everything I needed. I had a nice time speaking with the good people at Micro Fasteners and I picked up a few miscellaneous bits and bobs I needed around the workshop. In my opinion the best booth was Stevens Aeromodel, their kits were beautiful and well packaged all around. I’m not interested in RC planes (yet) so I didn’t make any purchases from Stevens Aeromodel, but I was very tempted.

My Take Away from 2018 AMA Expo East

I wasn’t allowed to enter my flying stick and tissue airplane model into the airplane model contest. I only attended the event on Friday, even though I purchased a two day ticket. Several times I overheard vendors speaking about how turnout is low, membership is down and the only people at the Expo were other vendors. The first and third speakers in the series were interesting and inspiring. The vendors were friendly and helpful, although there wasn’t much along the lines of my primary interest, old fashioned stick and tissue rubber powered planes. The Society of Antique Modelers had three or four stick and tissue planes on exhibit which were interesting to examine.

It’s a shame that the AMA has all but forgotten where the hobby started. There is a charm to the old fashioned rubber planes and they provide a platform to affordably explore and experiment with little risk of damaging the plane or something else. Rubber powered planes are quiet and can be flown just about anywhere without causing a disturbance. I suppose the AMA goes where the money goes, and it seems the new thing is drones. Drones are fun, but in my opinion they are the exact opposite of building something beautiful that flies on its own power. Perhaps when the old fellers running the AMA retire from the organization someone will come to their senses.

Unused AMA Expo East TIcketIf anyone is interested in my remaining one day pass, for collecting sake, I’ll be happy to mail it to you.

 

How to Replace The Gem Roller Organ Bellows Part Two

Installing The Feeder Bellows Hinge Cloth and Valves

Feeder Bellows Hinge Cloth

This is a continuation of my previous post about replacing the bellows of The Gem Roller Organ. At this point the all the bellows cloth has been removed and the wood surfaces have been sanded completely clean of previous debris.

To begin installing the feeder bellows cloth, start with the hinge cloth. The hinge cloth is cut about 1 1/2″ longer than the length of the gap (the width was about 1 3/8″). The extra material must be cut to create two tabs at each end in order to fold over the feeder bellows cloth after it’s installed (see image above). I used a piece of bellow cloth from a previous project to create the hinge, not the material from the repair kit I purchased. The repair kit cloth will work just as effectively.

Using a double-boiler I combined about two tablespoons of dry hide glue and water in a small jelly jar. Once the glue reached 160°F (I monitored the temperature with a candy thermometer in the water of the double-boiler) I went to work. A disposable craft brush was used to apply the glue both to the centered hinge gap in the wood and the area of the cloth that’s inside the gap. The hinge cloth was installed with the help of a butter knife to push the cloth to the bottom of the gap.

New leather valves were cut from the leather from the kit and installed with hide glue. Remember, only the ends of the valve leather are glued! Be sure to keep the leather tight against the wood, for an air tight seal, before moving onto something else.

I added a little surprise for someone to find in a hundred years when they’re replacing my bellows cloth. It’s a photo of Lana Wood  (Natalie’s sister) from a 1961 Playboy magazine. I made sure it was fastened good with spray mount.

The image to the right (above) is me adding shellac to the hinge cloth. As I mentioned in the previous post, shellac helps to seal up little leaks that most certainly will occur.

Installing the Feeder Bellows Cloth

Feeder Bellows Cloth

Installing the feeder bellows cloth is fairly straightforward. Use the cloth you removed as a template for cutting the new material or download the pattern I created from mine. I recommend making a template out of paper to test the fit before cutting the replacement cloth.

Working one small area at a time, I applied hide glue to both the edges of the bellows wood and the cloth. I used some push pins to hold things in place while I worked, and while the glue set. In the end I used many more pins that are in the image above. The possible leaks the pin holes create are minuscule compared the leaks they’re preventing. I used a butter knife (image above) to press the cloth against the platform wood.

One word of caution. There is a finish applied to the wood in the push rod hole on the platform (red rectangle above) where the bellows attach. The original bellows were not stuck in this area, and it was very hard to make the new cloth stick as well. I permanently attached a few tiny tacks, applied with needle nose pliers, through the cloth and into the wood to keep the bellows sealed in this area.

When the cloth is completely attached remember to glue, fold over and tack the little tabs from the hinge cloth (red circles above). Leave the pins in overnight to allow the glue to cure. Resist the temptation to “test” the bellows until you’re sure the glue is set. I also sealed all the seams with a few coats of shellac.

Installing the Reservoir Bellows Cloth

Replace the reservoir bellows cloth following the same technique used to replace the feeder bellows cloth. Start by installing the hinge cloth. The hinge cloth for the reservoir bellows does not have tabs that wrap around the sides like the feeder bellows do. Instead, the main reservoir bellows cloth has tabs wrapping around the hinge cloth. Use plenty of pins to keep the cloth in place until the glue is cured. Use a razor blade to trim any access cloth protruding over the top edge of the lid.

Assembling the Gem Roller Organ Cabinet and Push Rod

Gem Roller Organ Push Rod

Now would be a good time to inspect the reeds. With the reed block detached from the front of the cabinet gently blow on the reeds. It’s not a trumpet, you’re lips shouldn’t need to touch the block to sound each reed. I forgot to make certain all the reeds were in working order before assembling my Gem, and a few don’t sound. Reviewing some photos of my reeds, it is clear some are bent out of position. One day I’ll go back and adjust them.

Use bellows cloth, or I used black craft foam, to create a gasket for the front of the cabinet (photo above). Install the front of the cabinet and attach the mechanism. Then guide the wooden push rod from under the platform and attach it to the crank. Tighten the screw, then attach the other end of the push rod to the feeder bellows. With the push rod installed, attach the platform to the four sided base.

A note about the push rod. The original push rod on my organ withstood several attachments and detachments. During one assembly it broke (#1 in photo above). I crafted a new one out of random black walnut and it broke while being attached (#2). Next I tried a piece of Douglas fir (#3). It broke as well.

It was then I looked closely the wood grain of the original. The grain was tight and quartersawn, meaning the grain was parallel to the block (green check mark above). The red X in the image above shows bad wood grain for the push rod. The gran is bad because cracks occur with the grain.

A scrounged around my stockpile of wood scraps and found a suitable piece of black walnut. The resulting push rod (#4) installed with easy success.

Replacing the Valve Pads

Replacing the valve pads was an easy task. I used a dental hook to remove the old pads, they basically fell off. I used Q-Tips soaked with denatured alcohol to clean the metal surface. My patience was wearing thin so I decided to use CA glue (super glue) to fasten the new pads. Nothing stressful or unpredictable to report about the process.

The Gem Roller Organ Performance

With The Gem Roller Organ fully assembled (and somewhat adjusted) it was time for its first performance! I put on one of the cobs that shipped with the organ and started cranking. Strong and clear music filled the room. As I mentioned earlier, some of the reeds aren’t adjusted, so they sound weak or not at all. Regardless, the melody was clear and very familiar.

After sharing this video with my parents they immediately knew the name of the song, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. My parents also knew this as the song the band played as the Titanic sunk.

Conclusion

I hope you’ve found my posts about The Gem Roller Organ helpful. I know it’s far from comprehensive, but it’s a lot more information than what’s on the internet. If you’d like me to post other specific information, or if you’ve found any errors in the text please let me know. I had a fun time restoring my Gem Roller Organ. If you decide to restore a Gem on your own, take your time, don’t rush or set any deadlines. It’s a slow process that’s best suited for deliberate and careful work.

How to Replace The Gem Roller Organ Bellows Part One

Repairing the bellows of the gem organ

The Gem Roller Organ

I’ve been enchanted by The Gem Roller Organ for many years. I’ve scoured the web for every nugget of information I could about this mechanical marvel and I’ve learned just about everything there is to know. The two things that fascinate me most about The Gem Roller Organ are:

1. The bellows create a vacuum to pull air through the reeds (as opposed to pushing pressurized air through reeds, whistles or pipes).

2. The drive mechanism not only rotates the cob, but slowly offsets to the left. This increases the duration of a tune to three rotations of the cob. When the tune is complete a spring loaded release mechanism pushes the cob to the right, which resets the cob to the start of the tune. It’s amazing how much is going on in such a small mechanism! (more on that at John Wolff’s Web Museum)

Loaded with everything I’ve learned about the Gem, it was time to get one of my own! I purchased mine on Ebay for a handsome fee, even though the listing clearly stated the unit didn’t “create much sound”.  Examining the images of the Ebay listing I knew the mechanism was complete and in undamaged condition.

It was clear, however, someone tried to repair the unit by gluing the sheepskin valves on the feeder bellows completely closed! Knowing full well that there was certainly an underlying problem that caused this repair, I suspected fixing the valves would not return the unit to its original glory. Long story short, the bellows cloth and valves needed to be replaced.

Things to Consider Before Starting a Restoration

Restoring my Gem Roller Organ required about twenty hours of effort using the CONCERT ROLLER ORGAN REPAIR KIT from Roller Organ Restorations for eighty dollars. This company will restore a Gem for as little as $255. The repair kit includes an instruction sheet that, personally, I found confusing and of little use. I say this because it is assumed the reader already understands the name and function of every part and there are no illustrations. If you aren’t comfortable with working with tiny parts, hot hide glue and tight spaces with awkward bits you may want to seek the help of a professional.

The cotton based bellows cloth included in the kit functions well, but looks like neoprene and nothing like the original cloth backed black rubber of the original. I prefer the aesthetics of the original cloth and there are other downsides to the kit’s cloth which I’ll explain later. However, it’s great that someone provides a quality kit to replace the bellows and pallet valve pads in one kit.

If you decide to replace the bellows I recommend carefully disassembling the unit, storing screws and small parts small labeled Ziploc bags and record the order in which the unit was dismantled. When all the parts are clean, the original bellows material is completely removed and the wood surfaces are sanded clean the unit should be assembled in reverse order.

Hide glue is the way to go when working with bellows cloth. If you’ve never worked with hide glue before, it can be intimidating at first. It’s not as complicated as it seems and I find hide glue much easier to use than any other suggested replacement adhesive. I purchased my hide glue from Tools For Working Wood. The site has a clear explanation of the various strengths, I use 315 gram strength. While your shopping for supplies I recommend picking up some shellac flakes as well. Dissolve the shellac flakes in denatured alcohol (not rubbing alcohol) and you’re good to go.

“Good to go where,” you ask? Shellac works well for sealing up any leaks that unavoidably occur between the bellows cloth and the wood it’s attached to. A few coats around the perimeter helps keep leaks to a minimum. Shellac is not mentioned in the Organ Repair Kit Instruction Sheet, and with good reason. Shellac discolors the cotton based material, so care must be used when applying shellac. The discoloration of the cloth on the feeder bellows (under the cabinet) doesn’t matter much because it’s hidden. The shellac needs to be applied to the reservoir bellows from inside the cabinet to prevent discoloring the outside of the fabric.

Opening the case of the Gem Roller Organ

Replacing the Bellows on The Gem Roller Organ

Opening the cabinet is fairly straightforward. The feeder bellows push rod is attached to the crankshaft by the springiness of the wood and locked into place with screw #1. Loosen screw #1 enough to gently release the push rod from the crankshaft. Well done! The hard part of opening the cabinet is complete.

Now remove screws #2 and #3 to detach the crankshaft bearing from the case.  The crankshaft assembly can be removed by gently guiding it out of the bearing in the rear of the mechanism. Remove screws #4-8 in no particular order. The front panel can now be removed by sliding it forward.

A Look Inside the Reservoir Bellows

Bellows Springs, Push Rod, Reed Block
We’re finally getting a view of things my internet searches failed to reveal! The top half of the image is the inside of the reservoir bellows. The springs hold the bellows open against the vacuum created by the feeder bellows below. When the vacuum compresses the reservoir too much the lid touches the relief valve push rod which opens a valve on the underside of the cabinet, temporarily allowing air into the reservoir to reduce the vacuum.

The lower half of the image shows the reed block attached to the front panel. The reed block can be detached and gently cleaned. To do so,  remove the two remaining screws on the front panel to the left and right of the palette valves. A word of caution: In my haste to attach the reed block after cleaning, I mistakenly attached it upside down.  The resulting music was not very good.

Remove The Gem Roller Organ Reservoir Bellows

Remove Reservoir Bellows Gem Roller Organ
Using a heat gun (top left) to remove the bellows cloth.

Notice the little tabs on the large, three-sided bellows cloth that wrap around to the front at the corners and cover the “hinge cloth” across the front of the unit. These tabs are important to include with the replacement cloth.

I started the process of removing the reservoir bellows cloth by gently poking, prodding and cutting at the tabs with and x-acto blade and small dental hook/pick. This process worked well where the glue was compromised. However, the bellows cloth was stuck extremely well on the corners and a few other areas. That’s when I got out the heat gun.

With the heat gun on a low setting the flow of hot air was swept side to side on the areas that were stuck solid. To my surprise just as the temperature of the wood got almost too hot to touch, the bellows cloth easily peeled away from the lid and cabinet.

Be careful with the heat gun. Too much heat will ruin the finish of the wood cabinet! A heat gun, after all, is a great tool for doing exactly that, removing paint and finish. Those uncomfortable using a heat gun should start with a hair dryer with low heat.

Remove the two valve leather strips as well.

Accessing the Feeder Bellows

Gem Organ Feeder Bellows

Accessing the feeder bellows of The Gem Roller Organ was something that had me stumped. After a brief study of the construction of the cabinet I believed the feeder bellows were simply glued to the underside of the platform. “Perhaps a sharp downward drop would knock the bellows loose?” was the general theme of my thinking.

This is NOT the reality, so please don’t try it! The bellows do not disconnect from the underside of the platform, the platform disconnects from the sides of the cabinet. The image above has four red circles highlighting the screws to be removed to accomplish this. I suppose these screws were invisible to me because the construction of the unit was not as I originally expected.

Removing the Feeder Bellows Cloth

Building on the experience you’ve gained by removing the reservoir bellows cloth, removing the feeder bellows cloth is mostly an easy task. Start by removing  the spring and the three tacks to remove the relief valve (already removed in image). Next remove the two screws on the wooden feeder bar and remove the bar (a little heat should loosen the glue.  Remove the eight feeder bellows tacks (four on each side), I used needle-nosed pliers for the task.

Removing the Feeder BellowsNotice the tacks are binding  down tabs connected to the hinge cloth. This tab configuration is opposite of the reservoir cloth. Remember, the tabs on the reservoir cloth cover the hinge cloth, the tabs on the feeder bellows stem from the hinge cloth and cover the side of each feeder bellows. This must be replicated with the replacement cloth.

I removed the bellows cloth using heat, x-acto blade and small dental hook/pick. The hinge cloth is the most problematic to remove. I ended up using a rotary tool with tiny diamond burrs like these. The hinge cloth and glue need to be completely removed down to the wood! It took me two hours to remove the hinge cloth down to the wood.

The two valve leather strips should be removed as well.

Make sure all of the old bellows cloth and glue is removed on all surfaces! I will admit I used this Sanding Disc Kit quite a bit to accomplish the task. Don’t be fooled, these little sanding discs are hungry little buggers! A careful and gentle touch is all that’s required, slow and steady wins the race. A little side note about the sanding discs, I use them all the time on countless things. I’ve owned the set for more than ten years and I still have most of the discs. They last forever before they need to be replaced.

My next post How to Replace The Gem Roller Organ Bellows Part Two coming soon. I will provide downloadable patterns for the replacement bellows cloth. And yes, I’ll share the experience of replacing the bellows cloth and reassembly. If I’m feeling ambitious a video performance will be included as well!

Embryo Endurance Prairie Bird : Designed by Rob Peck : Peck-Polymers

free flight rubber powered model airplane

Summer of Free-Flight

My “Summer of Free-Flight” has been a lot of fun! It’s been a learning experience, not always smooth going, but always fun! I’ve built and flown a few really fun balsa wood stick and tissue paper airplanes this summer.  The latest plane added to my fleet of planes is Rob Peck’s classic design, the Prairie Bird.

free flight rubber powered model airplane

Peck Polymers Prairie Bird Airplane

A friend recommended I build the Prairie Bird because of its reputation as a great flyer. He was correct; more on that later. I searched around on the internet and downloaded the plan. The plan was formatted to print nicely on 11″x17″ paper – so I uploaded the file to Staples and had them print me a few on some quite nice card stock. I believe five copies cost me under $3 total. I pinned the plan to my building board, covered it with Saran Wrap and got to work.

free flight rubber powered model airplane
Carved balsa wood exhaust pipes and a front shot of the assembled fuselage.

I really took my time on this project making certain everything was as perfect as could be. The straightforward design of the plane made it easy to construct a straight and square fuselage. I practically glued the cross-braces one at a time and waited for the glue to set before I adding the next one.

Adding tissue paper was a snap because there isn’t too many compound angles and curves to the parts. The tissue on everything except the rudder and stabilizer was shrunk with 50/50 water/alcohol mixture. Following the shrinking I added a three coats of 50/50 SIG Lite-Coat/Thinner. The windshield is made with clear plastic from a salad container. I used plastic Peck wheels, a Peck Nylon Bearing and Peck propeller. The propeller was balanced by gently sanding away material until an even balance was achieved (a lot more sanding than I expected).

free flight rubber powered model airplane
The Prairie Bird over Watsessing Park.

My test flights were a great success. At first I was flying with approximately 300 turns on the motor, eventually increasing to about 600. Many more turns are possible, but I didn’t have a helper or a stooge to help me stretch wind the motor. I didn’t want to press my luck.

free flight rubber powered model airplaneThe Prairie Bird performed wonderfully and was a champion at catching thermals. One of the flights concluded in a tree. Lucky for me it was low enough to the ground that I whacked it loose with a six foot long stick.

The thrill that is achieved from flying these little beauties is beyond words. The careful work and attention is forgotten – and happiness consumes me when they take to the air, and when they land where they can be easily retrieved.