In previous years the Christchurch Festival of Sport has been subtitled 'Fun on the Water', the objective being to encourage youngsters to try their hand at various water sports. This year though things were different. After holding a successful Round the Pole session at last year's Indoor Festival of Sport, we decided to have a go at the outdoor event, offering hands on tuition in R/C flying.
A quick check with our insurance company confirmed that we would be fully covered providing we used a proper dual control (buddy box) set up and so the next step was to advise the Council how many places we could offer on the day.
The event was to take place at the local recreation ground, which would remain open to the public throughout. In the light of this we concluded that it would not be practicable to operate more than four models at a time. To avoid the complication of bungee or hand towing gliders we concluded that it would be best to base our plans on electric models. Allowing 15mins per pupil led us to the conclusion that, over a 3hr period, we could offer 48 places.
Publicity material was duly prepared by the Council and the brochure proclaimed the prospect of 'Fun on (and off) the Water'. We sat back and awaited developments.
Then came the meeting where we were to learn whether anyone was interested. I was both delighted and stunned to hear that our session was fully booked, with a waiting list! Furthermore, there were only two adults, the bulk of the applicants being in the 7-11 age range.
I drove home trying to work out how we were going to rustle up enough flight packs, cursing the fact that my lead acid battery had given up the ghost, wondering whether a transmitter battery could last for 12 flights when operating over a trainer lead, and generally concluding that this suddenly wasn't looking at all like the relaxing Sunday afternoon that I had previously assumed it to be.
After buying a new lead acid battery, I spent a few evenings making up leads to cope with every charging eventuality I could think of. We then set about finding four suitable models, eight compatible transmitters, four trainer leads and four suitable instructors! It's at times like this that a committee shows what its made of!
I am always amazed by the trust and generosity of fellow modellers in these situations. Not only did people who couldn't attend readily lend us their transmitters, but relative beginners trusted us with their precious trainers (have you noticed how those willing to instruct usually have no suitable model?). Ron and Derek were recruited to cope with the administration of the masses and 50 certificates were prepared for handing out on the day (plus a few club membership application forms!).
Come the glorious day, the conditions were ideal - at least they were for the windsurfers and sailors! Whilst the warm sunshine suited us too, the wind was a little on the strong side for rudder/elevator electric gliders and trainers. Things started badly when, caught out by a bit of low level turbulence, one of the models sustained damage to its nose after only its second flight.
However, a revised routine was quickly established and over the next three hours 42 eager novices (6 didn't turn up) went away clutching their certificates having thoroughly enjoyed their first taste of model flying. We returned home somewhat tired, but with the remaining models undamaged and with a lot of flat batteries.
Oh yes, the Mayor and the Sports Council President enjoyed themselves too!
Although the day was a resounding success, there were several lessons learned for the future.
1) Dedicated 'ground crew' greeting the public, organising them into slots and allocating them to instructors is essential.
2) Use of electric models, in spite of the need to attend to battery charging, was a good choice - we used mainly motor glider types plus my Lazy Bee. This led to a relaxed atmosphere without any towmen or bungees cluttering up the flying and landing zones.
3) Three models airborne at once is plenty. If the sky becomes crowded, this leads to more frequent intervention by the instructor and can also inhibit the nervous beginner.
4) Young children should be instructed in pairs. It can easily come as a bit of a disappointment to find that they can't actually control the model very well. To have a short go and then have a laugh at their mate's equally inept efforts prevents any sense of failure, and they are soon keen to have another turn. An 8 or 10 minute flight duration is long enough to give a worthwhile lesson to one such pair. A good electric glider can therefore cope with four or even six pupils on a single charge.
5) In assessing a youngster's likely competence, there are only two questions worth asking:
i) Do you race R/C cars?
ii) Do you play a lot of computer games?!
Councils have a responsibility to promote sport for all. By participating in such events we are both supporting our local Council and reinforcing our status as a bona fide sport.
Councils also have a responsibility to provide facilities for sport and recreation and by reminding them of our existence we remind them that this responsibility includes model flying.
Many Councils provide grants to support local sports clubs. We have a grant application under consideration at present for help in providing a club trainer aircraft. After staging this effort entirely with private models, I am very hopeful that we will have at least one 'Council sponsored' model next year.
But the best reason? Well, just look at the expressions on the young faces in the photograph!
My thanks to all who contributed their time, models and radio equipment for making this an enjoyable day and one of which we as a club can be justly proud.
If the style of this article seems a little more formal than usual it is because it is an edited version of one that I sent to the BMFA news. There has been much written of late about the difficulty of getting youngsters interested in the sport that I felt that our experience may encourage other clubs to get involved in similar activities.
Lazy Bee links: