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!

Sterling Models Peanut Scale Monocoupe – Vintage Rubber Powered Free Flight Model Plane

jchismar Sterling Models Kit P-2

Canarsie Courier and Canarsie Canary
The Canarsie Courier (top) and Canary (bottom) From the Don Ross book.

I’ve been busy making good old fashioned balsa stick and tissue rubber powered free flight planes. As I likely mentioned in an earlier post I’ve decided to take some time from woodworking and carving to relax and explore the hobby of flying model planes. My focus is primarily on Peanut Scale fliers, but instead of jumping right in I wanted to do it right and take some time to learn the nuts and bolts of making planes that fly. I’ve worked my way (mostly) through Don Ross’s book on rubber powered planes, with some success with building and flying these airborne works of art.

stick and tissue model airplane
The complete SIG AMA Racer

I assembled and flew a few of the SIG Models beginner planes: AMA Cub, AMA Racer, etc and had fun flying these sticks with wings. These projects helped me gain an understanding of how to trim (adjust) model planes for flight. Because these planes are so light their flight times are long and magical! I moved onto building and flying my own (no longer produced) SIG Uncle Sam plane which flew well until I accidentally locked it in the hot car too long and warped the stabilizer and rudder.

After completing the prior projects I decided I was ready to assemble my first Peanut Scale plane, which is the whole reason why I started on this journey. I was a busy boy online snatching up vintage Peanut Scale kits. For whatever reason Sterling kits (manufactured in Philadelphia, PA) captured my interest. My plan is to complete all six kits, twelve planes in all. I started the process with Kit #2: Monocoupe – Citabria. I laid out the plans for both on my building board and got to work.

stick and tissue rubber powered
Sterling Models Monocoupe in progress

I completed the Monocoupe first. At first I wasn’t interested in decorating the planes, I was simply going to apply white tissue and call it done. As the Monocoupe was taking shape, something clicked in my psyche and suddenly I was interested in applying all the details.  Because of this they project took about twice as long as expected (a few weekends).

I’ve had an opportunity to take the complete Monocoupe out for a few test flights. To my surprise, it flew straight as an arrow. There are a few adjustments I’d like to make to balance the model better and improve the performance of the propeller. However, I think I’m going to hold off on any ambitious changes until I get more experience building and flying these wonderful Peanut Scale marvels.

Canarsie Canary Rubber Powered Free Flight Airplane Part 2

The Canarsie Canary In Flight

The video above is of the Canarsie Canary I built using the plans from the Don Ross book Rubber Powered Model Airplanes. My previous post shared some of the construction of this model. I mentioned the first few flights were encouraging, but subsequent flights continued to get worse. This was because the propeller bracket was slowly tipping downward with each winding of the rubber band. I shimmed the bracket and the plane flies great!

Moving on to the next plane in the book. The Canarsie Courier. My model of this plane still isn’t flying as it should. I’m pretty sure I need to add weight to the nose, even though the weight of the plane is balanced as it should be. In the meantime I will share a little of my experience working through the book Rubber Powered Model Airplanes.

My Introduction to Building Balsa Airplanes

When I recently made the decision to start the hobby of building model airplanes I started with research. Despite how long this pastime has been around I quickly learned there isn’t a thorough Beginner’s Guide available for the novice. There is a wealth of information online but it assumes the reader has building experience and an understanding of the terminology. Because I am most interested in free flight rubber powered airplanes I’ve started with the aptly titled book Rubber Powered Model Airplanes by the late Don Ross.

The book is a fantastic introduction to the hobby and shares a wealth of tips and information for every newcomer. It isn’t, however, without shortcomings. The book instructs the reader to read the text multiple times and to have a complete understand of the plans before building the projects. There are many disparities throughout the text and illustrations which directly contradict each other. According to the author the plans are drawn in various scales to improve the reader’s competency with model plans. However, the plans don’t match.

Canarsie Courier Pylon Don Ross
Canarsie Courier pylon from plans

The plans for this pylon are taken directly from the Canarsie Courier plans. Here the pylon illustration on the right is reduced to match the illustration on the left. It’s not hard to notice the illustrated height is different between the two, also no height measurement is provided in the plans or the text. Another inconsistent example is the length of the  motor stick. The plan stipulates a length of eighteen inches; if the plans are properly enlarged they motor stick is actually drawn to a length of seventeen inches.

I assume the plane will fly, to some degree, regardless of the length chosen by the modeler. However, this is a book for beginners. I’ve already learned enough to know these planes are tricky to build and fly with meticulous effort. It’s easy to become frustrated when inconsistencies such as these are discovered.

Therefore I’m taking a break from working through this book and exploring a few other options on building free flight planes.

Canarsie Canary Rubber Powered Free Flight Airplane Part 1

Don Ross Canarsie Canary Free Flight

The Canarsie Canary

I mentioned in an earlier post at the summer of 2017 is time for me to learn the ins and outs of rubber powered free flight model planes. To do so I’m starting from square one – the fabulous book by Don Ross titled Rubber Powered Model Airplanes. The first project in the book is the Canarsie Canary, a basic balsa wood design. All that is needed is some balsa wood, a propeller with mount and a loop of airplane rubber.

I purchased the balsa wood from my local hobby shop, the propeller and rubber was ordered from SIG, a popular model plane manufacturer. While I waited for the parts to arrive (and they came within a few days) I started building the balsa wood parts. As you can see it’s not a very complicated design, basically a stick with wings, rudder and stabilizer. The most complicated aspect of the build is setting the wing dihedral, bending the wing tips upward – this adds flight stability.

Rubber Powered Canarsie Canary
Setting the Wing Dihedral

I followed the instructions somewhat diligently. Scotch tape is applied on the top of the wing where the bend will occur. The wing is flipped over and lightly scored to allow the wood to bend, but not break. The wing tips must be folded upward 1 1/4″ and the gap is filled with glue. For precision sake the wings were supported on two stacks of plywood scraps (each stack is a piece of 1/2″ and 3/4″ plywood) 1 1/4″ tall. I used tape to hold everything in place while everything set.

When the remaining parts arrived I assembled the entire plane and gave it a test flight. To my surprise it flew straight and smooth. A few hours later I headed to the local park with plenty of room to give the plane a true test. Before the Canarie Canary can take flight two small rectangles of paper are taped on the wing and rudder. This forces the plane into a gentle left turn.

I’ll be honest, the plane had about ten flights, three of them were somewhat graceful and responded as it should. At times there was a breeze, and some of the adjustments of the plane were not ideal. Suddenly some of the advise that is shared in the book became quite clear. So I’ll be trying out a few modifications and returning to the park soon. I’ll report with more information when it comes to fruition.

2017 The Summer of Free Flight Rubber Powered Model Airplanes

Free Flight Rubber Powered Model Plane

Rubber Powered Free Flight Model Airplanes

It’s been a while since I’ve posted to the blog, not because I’ve been a slacker – but because I haven’t completed any noteworthy projects recently. Preparing for the Maker Faire required a lot energy and time. With the event behind me I’m ready to take on my summer. You may be thinking, “So you’re going to complete some of your carvings or other ambitious projects?” The answer is, “No.” I’ve decided it’s time to take a break and relax.

How do I relax? Well, by starting another project! Way back in the day I enjoyed assembling scale models and balsa wood planes. I’ll admit my planes looked nice, but never flew as they should. This summer is a chance to redeem myself and earn my wings. I picked up a few balsa and tissue kits at an estate sale on the cheap. These kits are currently being assembled as practice projects. Maybe they’ll fly – it won’t be the end of the world if they don’t.

Concurrently, I’m working through the great book by the late Don Ross titled Rubber Powered Model Airplanes. You can expect a few posts regarding the projects from the book in the near future. I’m waiting for a few necessary parts to be shipped and I can complete assembly and start to learn the ins and outs of trimming (tuning) model airplanes for free flight.

Free flight?

What’s that? I’ll let my friend Wiki answer that for you:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Free Flight is the segment of model aviation involving aircraft with no active external control after launch. Free Flight is the original form of hobby aeromodeling, with the competitive objective being to build and launch a self controlling aircraft that will achieve the longest flight duration, within various class parameters.

That’s right! Airplanes are built and flown with no control once it’s in the air. If built correctly, and the flight conditions cooperate, the plane doesn’t fly away to a distant back yard. It’s recommended to write your contact info on the plane, just in case.

I’ve rambled enough for this post (which is only the tip of the iceberg of ramblings my wife’s been kind enough to endure lately) so for now I’ll leave it at that. Stay tuned for what will surely be entertaining (and possibly educational) updates on my progress.