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Nov 14, 2012, 07:44 AM
So I'M meant to be in control?
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When one was but a mere cadet.....

The following was written circa 1990 when the Colonel built his original KK Gypsy, some of which has survived to be the basis of the current electric/RC attempt. For every one of those readers who has had a long and prolific modelling life filled with successes in design and competition, there will have been hundreds of schoolboys such as my younger self described below. Of those schoolboys who return to the hobby in later years, many (like me) will still struggle to get a tailplane almost square to the fuselage; so spare a thought for those of us for whom little has changed......

Tails of Woe

I have become a born again aeromodeller. Or to be slightly more accurate, a born again aeromodelling duffer. I used to be rubbish, and probably still am. Like many youngsters, I was a very enthusiastic local park model flyer in the seventies, though in retrospect the enthusiasm outweighed the skill by a considerable margin. Later, the hobby was resigned to the loft as age progressed and enthusiasm waned, to be replaced by the desire to risk life and limb riding motorcycles as far as possible around our and other people's countries. A brief flirtation ten years ago with a two channel glider was exactly that - brief. Ten seconds after launching, I realised that the book was right - you should not try and teach yourself to fly alone. <CRUMP!> Especially not with a glider with a warped fuselage and wings, as a result of an "almost" flat building board.

I still don't know what made me go into the local model shop the other week - perhaps the old subconscious was rumbling with the thought of flight (having been given a voucher for a flying lesson as a Christmas present from a very astute fiancée). But there, on a shelf at the back, I saw a number of boxes adorned with a name from my youth: "Keilkraft". This of course made everything around me move to soft focus, and immediately I donned the rose-tinted spectacles. I think that I knew even then what my plan of action was to be, but never one to act impulsively, I went home to persuade myself. Safely ensconced in the armchair, my mind ran through my earlier aeromodelling career - in the days when summer lasted at least eleven months of the year, and Olivia Newton-John was a "girl next door" type Country singer with an Australian accent. All the models that I built appeared to have had one thing in common: they were ultimately taken home from the park in my pockets, normally caused by a monumental mating with the earth. Looking back, it was a wonder that I persevered, making model after model in the secure knowledge that my hopes for a decent flyer would, just like the model on which those hopes were pinned, be dashed to the ground.

The first model I ever had was the Keilkraft "Ajax" which was a Christmas present received when I was of the age when father built it for me. Looking back, I can now see the first omen of the bad luck that was to plague all my attempts. Christmas afternoon, and the first joint was about to be made. Father (normally a very sensible and safety conscious man), decided to cut the moulded lead stopper from the tube of balsa cement with a Stanley knife. Blade on one side of the stopper, and thumb on the other. Construction was curtailed for a couple of weeks until the stitches came out. When finally it was completed, Father very quickly relinquished any claim on it, allowing me and my misfortune free rein upon its unsuspecting airframe. It flew tolerably well as I remember, though even the rudiments of trimming were completely ignored in the never ending rush of schoolboy enthusiasm. After numerous excursions into trees and bushes, it had a decidedly tired appearance and was covered in patches. Thus I had the fabulous idea of recovering it using coloured tissue - a garish combination of red, orange and blue. This completed, and with the wings having taken on an interesting collection of warps, I proudly flew it again. The wings induced a wicked left turn which brought the long suffering model into union with a goal post. Surprisingly, the only casualty was the propeller -one blade breaking off half way down its length. Blade and aircraft were relegated to the loft.

Next came a Veron rubber powered Spitfire, a pig of a subject to get to fly properly at the best of times. When built by an eleven year old who just wanted to defend the skies with it as soon as possible, there was no hope. It flew as far as I could throw it - but then so would my satchel. Undeterred, l followed up with the Veron rubber powered Tiger Moth, built in my own inimitable style. Baggy tissue, wobbly top wing, square leading and trailing edges (never had the patience to use sandpaper), and a prop hook bent so inaccurately that the propeller hung off the nose like it was about to fall off. Notwithstanding this, it had the most pleasing glide performance, giving the smooth, flat and straight glide indicated by the large arrows in books. Powered flight was not quite so successful, however. The loose tissue did not impart much in the way of structural strength, and the resulting creaking and cracking noises emanating from the longerons whenever more than ten secondsworth of turns were wound by grubby finger onto the unpretensioned motor, warned of impending doom. It spent a couple of weeks being used as a hand launch glider, and was probably this that spawned an interest in devoting my time to gliders.

First off was a KK Minimoa - a glider that I still feel is one of the most attractive aircraft ever made, This performed quite well from a hand launch; the term balancing (if not trimming) having made it into my vocabulary. The next step was to tow it up. Being of a sedentary and overweight nature, an athletic friend took the running end of the towline, and with head down, dashed off into the wind. The model climbed to about thirty feet, and started to veer off to the right still attached to the line. Visions of it carrying on over and down to the ground flashed before my eyes. Frantically yelling and jumping up and down brought Paul to a halt, enabling the model to shed the towline and stall into a tight right hand circuit. This then became the norm for launch: Paul running flat out, waiting for my yell when I judged the optimum moment for release, ie before the veer became a dive. More than once it was misjudged, and the Minimoa was towed flat out into the ground. The nose got shorter and shorter, until after the final excursion it was somewhere under the trailing edge of the wing.

Flying at the local park on summer evenings in the company of like-minded school friends, we became an informal club. The nearest genuine club was several bus rides away (which cost money), would want subscriptions (which would cost even more money), and would be full of adults who could afford radio control and would look down upon our feeble efforts with haughty disdain. That was the impression we gave each other anyway. None of us had parents who were particularly into the hobby either, and my elder brother was worse than me. Thus with only each other to compare ourselves, our general standard of workmanship was fairly low, However, I well remember Malcolm's KK Caprice, a red and yellow beauty. Unfortunately, the colour scheme was provided by coloured dope, applied unthinned. It did still fly (quickly) and it seemed that its rate of sink was as close to 9.81 m/s2 as makes no difference, but boy was that tissue strong!

About this time, we actually became interested in the "endurance" of the flights. This happily coincided with one of us being given a digital watch with a stopwatch function for a birthday present (remember the red LED watches where that face was blank until you pressed the button to illuminate the read out?). A slight element of competition crept into the group, with each trying for the longest flight of the day/evening. Any flight of over one minute was considered a major achievement, greeted with whoops of joy from all and congratulations to the builder. It was chasing the status that would be imparted by being the first to break the ninety second barrier that led me to buy the biggest model that I had ever built. This was the KK Chief - 64" of A2 competition glider, sporting the hitherto unknown (and for us, definitely unneeded) sophistication of dethermaliser and autorudder. The cost in 1974 was £2.73, quite a few weeks pocket money. The building of this behemoth of the air took two months, under as strict secrecy as my bubbling excitement allowed. Mother drew the line at having that vast area of tissue doped in the kitchen, and so I was chased down to the shed to complete the operation. It was a cold day, and I had what felt like four square miles to dope in a four by six shed with the doors tightly shut. I emerged two hours later high as a kite, wobbled half way up the garden before toppling over and being violently sick, much to the hilarity of my older brother.

The time neared when it would have to take to the air. Stood on one wingtip, it was a good six inches taller than I was and was an impressive beast all round (especially if you ignored the gaps between the leading edges and the wing sheeting, and the very poorly applied planking under the nose...Oh, and the badly carved nose block). Balanced as per the plan by means of copious amounts of lead pellet riddled Plasticene in the nose, the test glides augured well with an even better glide than the Tiger Moth - my yardstick for glide performance at the time. The auto rudder actually made a difference, making the model start into a large right hand circuit when hand launched.

Arriving at the park with it for the first time caused quite a stir amongst our group, all of whom had turned out to see how a real glider should perform. There was a fairly stiff breeze blowing this particular Saturday, and with towline unwound and Paul yet again coerced into being the towman we lined up into the wind ready for the off. Already the air across the wings was creating so much lift that I had to hang onto the model to stop it kiting up on the line. Looking back, I really wish I'd read the section on "How to tow a model up in a stiff breeze". Either that or I wish Paul had been blessed with a little less performance. Sprinting off in his usual head down manner, the "Chief" rocketed vertically up into the grey sky. Halfway up, the opposing forces of Paul's running and the model's lift found a weakness. With a terrible crunch, the wingspan reduced itself to 32" as one wing folded, taking a large section of the fuselage with it. The resultant flapping mass spun itself spectacularly into the ground, All stood around the wreckage, friends quietly gladdened to have witnessed such a cataclysmic mishap. The silence was broken by the sole comment "Him Big Chief Broken Wing".

This led me to explore the corridors of power; using elder brother’s neglected DC Merlin. First off was a control line trainer - the Mercury Mamba, inherited partially complete from a relative, but sans flying instructions. The maiden flight was attempted on impossibly long lines. The drag from these lines caused the model to turn in immediately after launch, and two seconds later it was heading straight for me. Realising that control was a thing of the past, I dropped the handle and ran for it. Obviously choosing the same trajectory as the wayward model, every glance over the shoulder merely proved that the furiously buzzing contraption had me in its sights and was gaining ground. I was saved by the intervention of Father, who very sensibly grabbed hold of the slack lines and reeled it in. My idea was to beat it to death with a large stick.

Later, I tried again with a KK Phantom Mite, this time powered by the ubiquitous McCoy 049 (big brother’s Merlin having last been seen burbling merrily off into the sunset over the Kentish hop fields on the front of a KK Snipe). The gremlins had a field day with this one. For some reason the engine would start at first flick when tested at home, but when up the park would totally refuse to even emit a burble. Once back home, first flick starts were the norm again. Three times I tried to fly it, and each time it wouldn't start. Perhaps it was just scared of flying.

I tried Jetex power. A KK Grumman Panther was constructed, and the requisite asbestos paper fitted behind the motor. First flight consisted of a dozen 5 second hops, with us chasing after it to relaunch it before the propellant pellets expired. Primed for the second flight, Paul lit the fuse, Next thing I knew was that the tissue covering began to disappear before my eyes – and then I saw the flames! Dropping it fairly rapidly, I bent down to try and blow the flames out before they took a hold on the airframe. Paul had a quicker, but slightly more panic-induced method of extinguishing them. He stamped on it.

The "Ajax" came back out the loft, and the worst of the warps were eased from the wings. However, even Araldite and copious layers of Sellotape failed to hold the broken propeller blade on, and flights consisted of five seconds of power, followed by ten seconds of spar-shattering vibration as the blade flew off, slicing through the air like some martial arts weapon. The poor old Ajax suffered this for a couple of sessions, before the badly maintained rubber motor finally gave out, taking half the weakened fuselage with it. A sad end for a model that had suffered more than its fair share of abuse.

In desperation, I returned to gliders as being the field in which I had had the most "success". I bought a KK Caprice, and made it as carefully as I knew how (which didn't count for much). I had by now realised that the park was actually far too small for free flight, so we began tramping off to a local hill (also too small with hindsight), to hand launch it. She was a graceful performer, turning in ninety second flights regularly - followed by twenty minute recovery expeditions. The Caprice met her end after a memorable flight which saw her float off across the field at the foot of the hill at about head height, over a lane, and lodge herself in the adjacent hedgerow. As we wandered down the hill to retrieve it, the gremlins were already chuckling to themselves. They had seen the car coming up the lane, and at the last second they shook the bush with all their might. The model was dislodged and dropped into the path of the oncoming vehicle. The resulting SCRUNCH! could be heard from our position four hundred yards away. The car carried on unconcerned, but the gremlins were rolling around holding their sides with mirth.

That signified the end as far as I was concerned, and the active participation stopped, even if the interest was still there. The thought of rejoining the hobby via R/C did occur once or twice over the years, and even led to the escapade mentioned earlier. But all the talk of expanded polystyrene wings and fibreglass fuselages simply did not appeal. I enjoyed the building of models as much, if not more than the actual flying of them. Mind you, with the performance of my creations, it was just as well.

So in my armchair, after an hour of musing I was convinced - the KK Gipsy would be my next model! It was duly purchased and built using infinitely more patience and attention to detail than ever I would have thought possible when I received the dear old Ajax. Whether it has been built with infinitely more skill remains to be seen, but copious advice from ex-SAM 35 member and Wakefield flying neighbour Bob Hodgkins, has made construction a most enjoyable affair. Flying is still to come, and hopefully Bob can be persuaded to dig out the "Flying Minutes" to show me how it should be done. I'm hooked, and already thinking about the next model. The local shop has a KK "Chief" in stock, It appeals - you never know, this time it might be "Big Chief Soaring Eagle". After all, you gremlins, don't you think I've suffered enough?

The KK Chief was indeed purchased, but events overtook matters and the whole aeromodelling thing was again shelved for further 22 years until RCG and a number of members encouraged resumption. The Chief is still unstarted......
Last edited by Colonel Blink; Nov 19, 2012 at 03:57 AM. Reason: ;punc,tu-a'tion
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Nov 15, 2012, 09:46 PM
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wizard of odd's Avatar
Dear Colonel

What a delightful story- thanks for sharing it.

It certainly took me down memory lane- where the oblong box was usually spotted beneath the Christmas tree and eagerly anticipated. I'm afraid my efforts were not dissimilar to yours though. Neither was my Mom's reaction to balsa glue and Dope fumes! I also vividly recall throwing self concocted chuck gliders off the roof of our home, and getting a bollocking from Dad for disrupting the lay of the roof tiles....

Fortunately (?) for Mom and Dad, my aviation dreams were replaced by the discovery of the "skirted evil" (or should that be the quest to discover what exactly it is about them, that so befuddles the mind of young lads?) somewhere during my teens. It took me almost 20 years to return to the hobby!

Warm regards

Jun 19, 2013, 03:29 AM
Registered User
Many, many thanks for the link to this, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and recalling some of my own, not totally dissimilar exploits. Your problems with the Cox engine reminding me of an AM10 I owned. It would start perfectly in the shed, but show it some grass and it simply refused to run.

Thanks again,
Jun 19, 2013, 03:55 AM
Registered User
Haha! Great Read!
Again, this sounds like a familiar story to me too. 90 second flights though,, I'd be happy with that now!
And I want notification of the gypsy and the cheif build/flights when/if they happen.

Jun 19, 2013, 06:31 AM
So I'M meant to be in control?
Colonel Blink's Avatar
Thread OP
Pete: If you had similar experiences when but a wee lad, perhaps there is hope for me yet!

Dean: The Chief is still boxed..... but the Gypsy has had some air experiences. See, which is actually kkphantom's Gypsy build log but (with his permission) I commandeered it to cover my Gypsy. I first appear @ post 20.

A couple of Gypsy vids; the first was filmed with an 808 keychain cam taped to my glasses:
(2 min 2 sec)

(2 min 54 sec)
Oct 26, 2016, 09:09 AM
meatbomber's Avatar
Thanks for the fun read ! While a bit younger the memories take
Me straight back to my grand fathers workshop and the models we built there together when I was a small boy. I hope by the time my kids produce their own grandkids I can be a skilled enough grandfather to give them their own nice memories of workshops and balsa dust
Nov 16, 2016, 12:49 PM
Registered User
Prowler901's Avatar
That was such fun to read, Colonel. Thanks for sharing your story. It brings back many good memories to me.

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