A Rookie's Diary - Part 2
(Originally published ' in 'Sloping Off' in 1987)


by Trevor Hewson


The first instalment of this diary took us up to the maiden flight of my first model. We take up the story two weeks later, again at Win Green, the intervening Sunday being declared a 'kippers only’ day at St. Catherine's hill. This time the job of getting me airborne fell to our respected editor. Never one for half measures, having handed me the transmitter with a quick, if not entirely re-assuring, "you'll be alright for a minute won't you", he turned to perform the same service for another beginner — I don't know who, I had my attention firmly focussed elsewhere! It soon transpired that the collective demands of the two of us amounted to a little more than one instructor's worth and, when the one other flyer airborne at the time requested landing assistance, even our redoubtable Iain looked around for help! Now on this particular day the flight line was a little way away from the cars. It was also very cold. It was also lunchtime! Eventually the Chairman came strolling along the track to find our editor still performing a fair imitation of a plate spinning act and getting into something of a flat spin himself. Barry safely brought my High Sierra to earth and a one-to-one ratio of instructors to novices was restored.

March started with a miserable weekend so I was doubly keen to fly the following Sunday — even though the wind was Easterly which meant the dreaded St. Catherine's again. This time John Cheeseman drew the short straw. As soon as he handed me the transmitter it was obvious that there was much less room for error than in the spacious skies of Win Green. The model was already lower than the point at which I was accustomed to calling on the instructor and the lift band seemed barely wide enough to accommodate my clumsy turns. The turbulence also presented me from time to time with a plan view of the aeroplane - very disconcerting!

I managed a few passes of the slope before the inevitable happened. I was too late in applying opposite rudder after a right hand turn and before I realised what was happening the model was turning towards the slope, gaining airspeed and losing height. Easing in left rudder at last and the High Sierra obligingly pointed its nose outwards — but carried on, crabwise towards me. A bit more rudder - no response. A bit more rudder — there isn't any more! By now the model is crabbing along the top of the slope about fifteen feet high towards the clutch of unsuspecting pilots huddling together for warmth. What now? Perhaps a touch of down will give the rudder more bite? Now we are a mere ten feet up and still on course for the bodies. I chickened out, released the down and the model sailed serenely over the other flyers, the rudder at last decided to bite and it turned gracefully out from the slope. As my instructor's eyes followed the course of the model they must have alighted on a far from serene expression on my face which prompted a gentle enquiry along the lines of "you mean you didn't intend to do that, then?" In the ensuing conversation it transpired that John had assumed that, since I was flying at St. Catherine’s, I was at least in the novice class and was a little shocked to realise that he had stood by and let a raw beginner buzz everyone on what was only his third flight! A few minutes later I found myself involuntarily repeating the manoeuvre and so, in the interest of my nerves and everyone's safety, I decided further adventures at this site should wait awhile.

Flights 4 and 5 took place at Win Green. Flight 4 was mildly notable on two counts — I was allowed to perform my first loop and Peter accidentally demonstrated the effects of a tip stall on final landing approach resulting in my first introduction to the wonders of Zap!

The following weekend the cold North winds at last swung round to the South West and I set out in search of Bulbarrow. Having eventually located the site the rain started and flying was abandoned. Ever since then the name Bulbarrow for me always conjures up this image of aeroplanes sheltering under cars and hooded figures dashing from vehicle to vehicle swapping views on when, if ever, the rain is likely to stop.

After this it was quite a relief to be back at Win Green again for flights 6,7 and 8. These saw some deliberate, planned progress — my first 360 degree turns and my first flights from (somebody else‘s) launch. What I didn't bargain for was my first, entirely unplanned, landings!. There I was flying back and forth losing height steadily. Suddenly I noticed how low I was and called to my instructor for help. Instead of taking the transmitter (and the problem) from me, this innappropriately calm Campkin voice simply said "you could always land it". "No way!" I thought. Then, as the High Sierra drifted by at little more than knee height, I realised that I had run out of options and touchdown fortunately occurred before I even had time to panic. Heartened by this major if somewhat accidental achievement I turned my attention to finishing off the Middle Phase 2 that I had started building a week or so earlier and so Easter Saturday saw me at the Picnic site for my first aileron lesson. This time the aeroplane was subjected to critical inspection by K.G. himself before being passed to Peter (Ace) Chaldecott to fly. The wind was light but Peter soon managed to gain enough height to give me a go. Now I had been warned that flying an aileron model was a rather different proposition from the High Sierra but I was still somewhat taken aback by how immediate the model's response was. However, once I realised that the ailerons enable you to correct your mistakes just as fast as they let you make them, I began to appreciate the real advantages of aileron control. By comparison rudder commands to the High Sierra sometimes seem like little more than polite requests which the model may take note of if/when it feels like it. I also soon found that the extra concentration demanded by aileron flight — one can't just point the model into wind and relax a while - was such that after 5 or 10 minutes I was more than happy to hand the transmitter back to Peter.

The rest of the Easter weekend was ‘Ailerons only‘ weather at Bulbarrow and Ibberton so I was very pleased to have the Middle Phase - and forced to come to terms with the extra concentration needed to fly it!

Being now a two-model flyer I felt the time had come to be instructed in the ultimate manoeuvre — the landing. In ideal conditions at the picnic site Peter took me through the approach pattern with the High Sierra. "Fly it along the fence" was the rule of the game. After several circuits at various heights. statistical variations ensured that eventually I came out of the final turn low enough to land. Touchdown was uneventful proving the point that it's the approach that counts. The next two landings were ok (well, sort of!) but it was on the fourth flight that I was really pleased with the approach. It came along the fence beautifully, made the final turn at just the right height, and I eased the stick forward for a purposeful final approach. I was somewhat shocked when, at about four feet, the model leaped upwards a yard or so. It was only after completing the somewhat modified landing run that shock turned to horror as I realised I had ‘bounced’ the model off the barbed wire fence, the implication being that my ‘flight along the fence‘ must have been along the fence on the other side of the road!

Perhaps unnerved by this first experience of what I now know to be the 'depth perception problem', I tip-stalled on the next landing approach resulting in a rather undignified ‘arrival’ and loosening the wing joiners. This seemed to be a good point to draw my first landing lesson to a close!

If, like me, you thought we had prevailing South westerly winds in this part of the world you may have noticed that, for a site facing North, Win Green has figured very prominently in this diary so far. The fact is that six out of my first seven weekends flying were on Northerly or North Easterly winds. After the brief Easter interlude of southerly and Westerlies, we are now into May and, you've guessed it, back to Win Green again! There was quite a contrast between the first two weekends in May. On both occasions we were flying from the field in front of the fence — the first time because it was too windy to launch safely from the top and the second time because there wasn't enough lift to land on the top! The third weekend was squally again, this time at Bulbarrow. I did get one flight in between the showers and once again lumbered Peter with the job of getting the Middle Phase safely down. The technique seems to be one of controlled stalling of the model while holding on full rudder as a form of improvised air brake. This is obviously a vital technique to master for landing at sites like Bulbarrow where one has to land slopeside regardless of how strong the lift is. I must admit that, even though I have now seen this manoeuvre performed many times, I am little the wiser about how it is done. All I know is that if I apply full rudder anywhere near the ground it certainly will bring the aeroplane down — but not quite in the desired fashion!

The next weekend saw my return to St. Catherine's hill. Whilst the slope lift was erratic and the air somewhat turbulent there was plenty of thermal activity and flying the Middle Phase was quite enjoyable. It certainly was an interesting contrast to the earlier escapade with the High Sierra and really brought home to me the benefits of aileron control when flying in a relatively confined and turbulent airspace. Landing at St. Catherine's though is quite another thing and remains firmly on my list of cop outs!

May ended for me on a real high. On Saturday 30th Iain came over for my first outing on my doorstep site on the cliff top at Barton. His exploratory flights with his Phase 6 showed that the lift was smooth and strong but the turbulence on the cliff top was such that one had only a 50:50 chance of getting down before some invisible version of the famous Monty Python foot stamped on the model and brought it down for you! Nonetheless I did have my first cliff top flight (Middle Phase of course) and was delighted at how well the cliff worked. Iain took over for landing and, by coming in fast and flat, evaded the invisible foot and we retired for coffee well pleased with the venture. The following day was the club Fly-in. I had never before been to any organised or competitive flying event and was more than a little apprehensive at having let Iain take advantage of my euphoria after the cliff top expedition by talking me into entering the Rookie freestyle event — I didn't even know what it meant! In fact it turned out to be a very enjoyable day (at Win Green of course!). I spent some time as Flag man at the far end of the pylon race course but was still called back to fly in the freestyle which turned out to be just what it says - fly without crashing for 5 minutes! I was pleased landing wasn't included in the event but in fact the conditions were ideal for landing practice and Peter found time between various judging duties to help me with my first Middle Phase landings. They were a bit variable in quality but, as Brian so reassuringly put it, ‘Any crash without damage counts as a landing!'.

So, by the end of the day I had seen my first pylon race, learned how to be a flag marshal, flown in my first competition, made four landings on my own and still had my aeroplane in one piece. After the cliff top triumph of the previous day I was about to set off home well pleased with the weekend when Iain persuaded me to hang on for the prize giving at which, to my total amazement, I was presented with the Rookie Freestyle and Best Rookie awards — the latter due mainly I understand to those Middle Phase landings.

What I didn't learn until later of course was that, by virtue of Iain being both Competition Secretary and Newsletter editor, along with the best Rookie award goes the task of writing the Rookie's piece for the Newsletter!

I hereby apply for promotion to ‘Novice’.