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Jun 14, 2018, 09:40 AM
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La Coupe Des Barons.

Having washed but not rinsed the van (don't ask!) on Friday 1st June I headed off south just after lunch. The satnav told me to go one way a well-known British motoring website told me to go another way! I chose the website's option, got lost for half an hour but reached the site of La Coupe Des Barons just before dusk, 293 miles or 472 kilometres from my home. La Coupe Des Barons translates as "The Barons' Cup." The model involved is the "Baron 1914" as much of an iconic trainer in France as the Sig Kadet in the USA or the Keil Kraft Super 60 in Great Britain. The model has a wingspan of 1.55 metres or just over five feet and looks vaguely like a 1914 Morane monoplane. Originally the model was intended for a French Micron 19 or 21 engine. Entrants to La Coupe come from all over France, there's a team from Corsica and two entrants who live in Switzerland and Germany.

The rules of the competition are as follows. The event is for the original Baron three-channel trainer but you are allowed to increase or reduce any aspect of the wing and/or fuselage, by 10%. Whatever modifications are made to the wing, it must retain its Clark Y aerofoil. The tailplane does not have to conform to the original plan though most of the entrants use the stock tail surfaces. Some entrants finish their models in WW1 German markings and use triangular Fokker or spade-like Albatros tailplanes, others use all moving rudders like a Nieuport. Ailerons are not allowed and if fitted have to be disconnected and taped up during the course of the competition. All entrants are given a number which they keep for life. Mine is 247 which means that I was the 247th pilot to have his application for the event accepted. The pilot's number must be displayed on the fuselage side and fin or rudder. The maximum sized engine allowed is a 35 two-stroke or 40 four-stroke. Entrants using electric motors are restricted to 825 Watts which is apparently the same power as an OS 35 AX, the engine of choice for most competitors using a two-stroke. My electric motor produces 800 Watts so conforms to the rules. All models must feature: a cowled engine; a pilot, not necessarily a miniature human, some are flown by dogs, ducks, bears or figures from cartoon films; a machine gun or cannon and dummy wing warping wires on the upper wing... and that's it. Quite simple really. An hour before the flying starts all of the models are lined up on the runway and judged statically. Mine won't do too well in this "concours d'elegance," too many repairs.

The man who first thought of La Coupe is a character called Vincent Saffiotti, a retired jet fighter pilot. Appropriately enough he flies the No.1 model. It is finished in the Japanese colours and for the day he adopts the persona of Tomio Harachi, a fictitious Japanese fighter ace who featured in an American television series set in the 1940s. He even flies in a kamikazi headband!

There is a special prize for anyone brave or foolish enough to use a period engine. I was tempted to use my Merco 35 but it's not very reliable and I can't be bothered with working on it. Yours for the cost of the postage! Extra points are awarded for touch and goes in the first and fourth tests and if you manage to fly under the crossbar while performing a loop you get extra points for that. You have to bear in mind that the last two rounds, chasing the streamer and the limbo are flown after "apero" and lunch. Being France this will be a four-course affair with copious quantities of alcohol hence the much greater vocal support from spectators in these two rounds.

We were divided up into groups of up to ten pilots and each group has five minutes to complete each of the four "epreuves" or flying tests. There are judges standing behind the pilots.

I haven't had as many flights with this model as I wanted to have. Too many engine changes. I don't believe I've even got any expo dialled in but it's too late to change now and after all I'm an experienced pilot, a qualified instructor in two countries and the model is a three channel trainer with a big motor so what am I worried about?

I've set myself several targets:

Not to make a horlicks of the first take-off.
Not to crash the model on the first turn through quaking with excitement.
Not to finish dead last.
And finally if I manage to get through to the last minute of the last round I will have a go at an enormous loop especially when encouraged by cries of "Le Looping! Le Looping!" from the assembled half-drunk Gallic hoardes! I don't care if I wreck the model, I plan to have something lighter but stronger for next year.

On arrival I was immediately befriended by members of RMCC who were there in force with their wives and children. When the video comes out, they are the guys in the orange tee shirts. One of them, Philipe, voluntereed to work as my mechanic. He had entered the competition before. His number was 79, mine 247, which means that he's an old hand compared to me. They plied me with beer, wine, kebabs, barbequed pork and salad. I had only eighteen bottles of English real ale with which to return their hospitality. They loved it and we were later joined by a club which had come all the way from the island of Corsica who also enjoyed the English beer, made in a small brewery out of real hops, malt and barley as opposed to whatever chemicals go into modern mass-produced beers. I was introduced to the chief organiser and pilot of Baron No 1, Vincent Safiotti but I did not recognise him as he was wearing an "Italia" tee shirt not his white and red Japanese kit but I was warmly welcomed. Much though I love the fruit of the grape and the barley, I realised that I had a busy day on the Saturday, so retired before imbibing too much; others stayed up much later. I found out that I was too old and comfortable to enjoy the experience of sleeping in a sleeping bag in the back of an old van. I hardly got a wink of sleep but amazed the French by making bacon butties with tea with milk for breakfast and shaving "wet" in the rear-view mirror of the van! Not that I've much to shave these days since adopting a Victorian moustache with inter-connecting side-burns! I now look like an extra in a film about the American Civil War!

The first "test" was a static display of the models, a "concours d'elegance" in English or French parlance! My model was extensively repaired so I did not hope to do well in this "epreuve." However, in the static display, I finished in eighteenth position.

Then it was out onto the flying competition. Of the eighty original entrants, sixty-eight actually turned up. After the necessary safety announcements, the competition began. We were oragnised into seven groups of nine or ten: I was in the no. 4 pilot in the sixth group and Iris Fesquet, one of two twin fourteen year-old was the 5th pilot which meant that we stood next to each other. In assembling the model I noticed that I was shaking like a leaf! The drill was to allow the i/c pilots to take off first, then all of us with electric motors took off. Then we walked the fifty or so metres to our pre-arranged positions near a safety fence labelled 1-10. Each pilot had to walk to his or her position. However, one of the two-stroke pilots had an engine cut so we all bimbled about in mid air, until he got his engine going. I did not know this at the time but this was going to be a recurring problem. When all ten of us were in the air at the same time, our role in the competition could begin. We dived to try to take out the baguettes, ( balsa sticks.) Bear in mind that a Baron has a wingspan of 1.66 metres or just over five feet. However, the balsa sticks are arranged at intervals of two metres or 6' 6". My first attack was too high but I noticed that another competitor had already ploughed into the ground. So far, without even touching a baguette, I had achieved three of my four objectives. I had not crashed on take-off, I had not crashed on the first turn and I noticed that somebody else had crashed into the ground on the first "epreuve" or test! (he later repaired his model and cointinued in the competition!) On the next circuit I succeeded flying through all of the sticks without hitting one of them! On the third pass I made a slow speed approach which was too high, put in down elevator to try to hit the last row of the sticks and my wheels hit the ground and pitched the model onto its back. There was no damage but I was out for the rest of the round. I was awarded ten points for an "atterisage," or landing.

More to follow. Picture of Baron Boris Buggeroff in my Baron below.
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