Free Flight Update – 2018 NATS Flying Aces Club

Okay, it’s been a while since I posted on my blog, Instagram has seems to be my go to forum these days. Rest assured, when I return to making some worthwhile woodworking or carving projects you’ll be sure to find them here (as well). As many of you know I’ve been spending my spare time submerging myself in the world of rubber motor, balsa and tissue free flight airplanes.

2018 NATS (Flying Aces Club)

For the past two years every second of my free time has been spent building balsa wood, tissue paper, and rubber band powered model airplanes. The Flying Aces Club is one of the few remaining clubs for this fascinating hobby. Each July the Flying Aces Club hosts a contest in Geneseo, NY. The contest is called the NATS on even numbered years, and NON-NATS on odd numbered years, don’t ask me why. If you’re new to the hobby, or to the Flying Aces you’ll find lots of language and terms sure to bewilder you. This year the NATS were Wednesday July 18 through Saturday July 21.

Since I’m relatively new to the hobby and the Flying Aces Club I thought I’d share my personal experience at the NATS. Heading into the contest my only goal was to register my planes, get one official time on the books and learn as much about the event as I possibly could to prepare for 2019 NON-NATS. I brought five models with me:

  1.  Flying Ace Moth (short nose from Bill Warner’s book)
  2. Peerless Junior Endurance
  3. Prairie Bird
  4. Peanut Scale Farman Mosquito
  5. Peanut Scale Lacey M-10

map of Geneseo NATS contest

NATS Day 1 – Wednesday July 18, 2018

I arrived at the Geneseo, NY Airport on Wednesday around 2 PM. Registration was in the hangar, marked with a red X on the map above. Clueless as to what to expect I left my models in the car and headed to registration. The hangar was bustling with excited modelers carrying their planes and chatting with one another. After walking around a bit I found the line for registration. I registered online prior to the event so it was easy to get my name tag and scoring sheet. I asked the nice gentleman who registered me what I was supposed to do next. He instructed me to speak to another nice guy who, unknown to me, was Dave Mitchell a big name in the hobby.

Let me digress a second. I’ve been a member of the Flying Aces Club for a year. I’ve perused the newsletter, but mostly looked at the plans and browsed some of the articles. There are several names that you quickly familiarize yourself with through reading the newsletter. But I’m not big on putting these names to faces – besides I’m in the club to learn about planes and tips on building and flying these works of art.

So Dave, as he was introduced, told me I needed to place my peanut scale models (and scale documentation) on the Peanuts table. I also needed to place a tag on the propeller with my contestant number on the propeller. I easily and dutifully completed the task. Dave also instructed me to take my remaining three non-scale planes to another table to be checked for compliance. One by one I took my Moth, Junior Endurance and Prairie Bird to the table to be examined.

I knew I needed documentation and 3-view drawings for my peanut scale models, and I brought that information. What I didn’t know was I needed to bring the plans I used for my non-scale endurance models. A judge asked me, “Are you Blue Max?” to which I replied, “I don’t know what that is, ” “Then you’re probably not.” was the reply. Because I was a new guy and my models were common the judges accommodated my lack of documents, most of which I provided as images on my phone. Next year I will most certainly bring all necessary documentation.

It’s important to remember the Flying Aces Club is not for vicious competitiveness, instead, it is to enjoy the hobby, have fun and to interact with other people excited about the hobby.  I found it quite encouraging that the club was understanding of my naiveté.

From the hangar I noticed a row of shade shelters along the edge of a field (tent icons on map). It wasn’t until day 2 that I learned this is where everyone sets up and practices flying on the first day. I didn’t want to go poking around somewhere I shouldn’t be so I didn’t explore that area until the second day. I was all registered, I asked a few people if I needed to do anything else to which the response was “no”.  So I headed off to the hotel.

NATS Day 2 – Thursday July 19, 2018

My sister texted me the morning of the second day and expressed interest in visiting me at the contest. I told her she was more than welcome to visit because it seemed pretty low-key and I didn’t have any planes that qualified for contest times on Thursday. Lucky for me I remembered to bring my EZ Up shelter, just in case I was allowed to put it up to escape the sun. By the time I arrived at the contest, at 8 AM, it was clear everyone had set up their spots the day prior. I drove to end of the line of tent canopies, backed my car into the end of the line and set up my shelter.

For an hour or two I sat in the shade of my canopy and watched people flying their planes. Every once and a while I’d glance over to the hanger, which was wide open on Wednesday, to see when the doors would open so I could reclaim my peanut models. By 11 AM the hangar was still closed up. I walked over to the museum Welcome Center and asked if I could get into the hangar to retrieve my models. Confused, they explained how to get into the hangar and encouraged me to remove any personal belongings still inside.

When I entered the hangar it was void of any Flying Aces Club tables and bric-a-brac that adorned the hangar the day prior. Hmm. I returned to the field and found the Flying Aces Club HQ tent. I was welcomed to HQ by Sky, the President of the club, who has always been helpful to me when I’ve emailed him questions in the past. I inquired about my peanut models. As my question was leaving my lips I saw my Lacey and Farman on a table toward the back of HQ.

Sky then informed me that I was to stay at the hangar on the first day in order to retrieve my models after they were judged. Lesson learned.

I had spent most of the day trimming my planes with some test flights and socializing with the other pilots on the field. I must say, everyone is very helpful and friendly. Each and every person I met was happy, attentive and interested. Fun and love of freeflight is definitely at the forefront of each pilot’s attitude.

My sister arrived around 3 PM. She was fascinated about the wonderful hobby she didn’t know existed, reclined on a blanket watching the planes glide quietly through the air for what seemed forever. At the conclusion of the day’s event we attended the BBQ at the event and enjoyed the delicious pork sandwiches and beans.

NATS Day 3 – Friday July 20, 2018

The day started with brisk winds that continued throughout the day. The only plane I had which qualified for an official contest flight was my Farman. I unpacked it from my car and gave it a few anxious test flights. The wind did not cooperate with my Farman, and it’s one of my favorite models, so I was not interested in attempting an official flight.

During registration I asked someone how to perform an official flight. I was unsure if certain categories had different times schedules, etc. I was told find someone with a stop watch and ask them to time your flight. My over-analytic brain changed that statement into something much more involved that it actually is. I imagined referee dressed guys mandating specific launch times. Nope. All a pilot needs to do is find another pilot and politely ask if they would time your flight.

My sister enjoyed the morning and the early afternoon watching everyone fly their works of art. I enjoyed the sights as well. When my sister headed for home I unpacked a few planes for test flights. My greatest chance at a good time was my FA Moth. Well, I didn’t use a winding tube to protect my plane in case the rubber broke while winding. Guess what? The rubber broke during winding and gashed a whole in the right side of the fuselage, and the “Hungorilla” of tightly wound rubber dangerously taunted me like a bomb wrapped around the rear hook inside the rear of the fuselage. I managed to get the rubber removed without much further damage.

Luckily I was able to purchase more tissue from Easy Built. They had a very robust selection of plane making (and repairing) materials available. When I returned to the hotel I repaired the FA Moth good as new. Whew!

NATS Day 4 – Saturday July 21, 2018

The morning started calm. I should have arrived much earlier and trimmed my planes for contest flying. By the time I was ready to get some contest times the wind really picked up. Lucky for me, a longtime flyer took my under his wing, taught me the ropes and timed my flights officially. I accomplished my goal and clocked in a few official flights. The wind picked up early in the day which made it hard to fly – and the wind didn’t take it easy on my models either. I’m pretty sure each one of my planes was damaged one way or another. But that’s all par for the course.

All in all the NATS proved to be an enjoyable, fun and educational experience. I made a lot of new friends and learned so much. I’ll admit attending a contest such as this alone was a little intimidating. To my relief I found everyone at the event to be helpful, friendly and excited about the hobby. I’m not sure I’ll ever set the world on fire and take first place in any category, but for me that’s not what this hobby is all about. The challenge of building a plane that actually flies is all the reward I require. Watching a group of people so focused at a task and seeing these works of art quietly move through the sky is truly a marvel in itself.

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