An Aeromodeller's Return
(Originally published as 'A Rookie's Diary' in 'Sloping Off' in 1987)


by Trevor Hewson


It is over 20 years since I last got involved with aeromodelling and I never really expected to return to the hobby. However, two years ago, the prospect of post-Boxing day boredom led to me ordering a static model kit to build over the holiday. This got me over the ‘Daddy's too big for toys’ hurdle and re-introduced me to the long-forgotten joy of making models.

Over the next 18 months I built two plastic kits, a wooden Viking Longship and a working(!) paper model of a Post Mill. Even then the thought of flying aeroplanes again never entered my head. The transition from building for building's sake to building models for radio control came when I received a visit from a colleague who was having difficulties in the final commissioning of a Tamiya racing buggy which he was building for his son's birthday. The great day was tomorrow and panic was setting in! The problems were easily remedied so I was able to extract payment for assistance rendered by participating in the necessary test drive. This introduction to the reliable simplicity of modern radio control gear set me thinking and the coincidence of a Hang Glider appearing shortly afterwards soaring from the cliff top on my doorstep meant that a relapse into flying model aeroplanes was now unavoidable.

A tour of the local model shops eventually resulted in my being given John Camkin's phone number (courtesy of Harry) and I duly appeared at my first club meeting in January. Advice proved easy to come by. Actually paying money to join required a little more determination - an early sign of the easy going, friendly and trusting atmosphere that is such a hallmark of the club. I duly bought the obligatory High Sierra on the Saturday and the following day John Roberts gave me a taste of what I was in for by passing me the transmitter - my first hands-on lesson! As an ex-control line flyer aware of the dangers of over control, I felt I ought at least to be able to keep the aeroplane steady. I soon realised that sensitivity with the sticks was the least of my problems. How on earth does one judge the attitude of this tiny silhouette? How can you assess its airspeed? How do you know whether it is climbing for a stall or riding up on lift? Control line flying has none of these problems - you were always well aware of the model's speed, had a constant profile view from a mere 50 feet to judge its attitude and a motor to ensure that the plane would go where you pointed it. Clearly this was a skill that was going to take a while to master. Equally clearly I would need help!

The following weekend was cold, wet and ideal for building. So came the fateful fifteenth of February when, with family in tow, I set out to find the ‘back slope’ at win Green. Eventually we spotted the motley collection of well wrapped individuals at the other end of a very muddy track. The car was parked and the welly-booted procession set off. Mum with transmitter and me with the newly built High Sierra packed rather neatly, I thought, in its box. The children's eager light heartedness made me even more nervous. Was my building up to an acceptable standard? - that Solarfilm really had a mind of its own! Who should I ask to fly it? Halfway there, and heads began to turn in our direction raising anxiety levels further. ‘Keep walking’ I thought. ‘Try to retain some outward appearance of calm and whatever you do don't fall flat in the mud!’. A bit nearer now and within earshot. I can't remember who bellowed the initial greeting but, knowing some of the members a little better now, I think I can guess! No ‘Hello, welcome to the slope’. Not even a solicitous ‘You managed to find us then’. But, eyeing the box, a raucous ‘Didn't we tell you you're supposed to build it at home!’. All dignity gone now, but the tension somewhat eased, we finally arrived at the gate and the club's substantial body of High Sierra experts went into action. ‘Never mind what it says on the plan, it's tail heavy’. ‘Well you just have to hack enough of the fuselage away so the battery will fit into the nose’. ‘Who's got the church roof?’ (took me a little while to work that one out), ‘More rudder movement I think’. Eventually the plane was pronounced flyable. The transmitter was found to be single stick (John Roberts has never forgiven me for that) and a cry of ‘Peter, this is one for you’ brought a cheery face peering out of multi-layered Winter headgear, magic fingers sticking out of Fagin-style gloves (I thought only milkmen and beggars wore those!) and the transmitter was thrust in his hands. ‘It'll need a bit of downtrim’ said the HS experts and with that my precious creation was thrown into the air. It dropped its nose for a moment before, with a cry of ‘Who said down trim!’, Peter made the necessary correction. ‘Must be all that church roof’ came the muted reply.

My first slope soarer was airborne. It flew to and fro gaining height as if by magic. ‘Flies like a High Sierra’ was the verdict. At last all the anxieties of the ‘Have I built it right?’ and ‘Will it fly?’ variety fell away - only to be replaced a few seconds later by a new, quite different, terror as Peter said ‘Here you are then’ and handed over the transmitter! I have no idea how long that first flight was. When you are that nervous and concentrating that hard, time doesn't seem to work properly. Closely watched by Peter, who took over from time to time to regain lost height, I was able to keep the plane under some sort of control, nudging it rather than smoothly steering it, and, with the help of the forward c.g., avoiding serious stalling. Eventually the tranny was passed back to Peter for an immaculate landing and I retreated with family to the car and a cup of coffee. We were all shivering but in my case it wasn't all down to the ravages of the February North Easterly!

Continued in Part 2 of A Rookie's Diary.