Homo ludens aeromodellisticus

I was about 11 years old. I had built steam turbines, steam engines, electric motors, cardboard planes, simple balsa wood gliders, and tried to make them fly with electric motors. It was hopeless. After giving up trying to fly a cardboard plane with ten batteries on board, I tried to keep the batteries on the ground, and fly the plane in tethered fashion... Hopeless again, those electric motors just didn't have enough power. I needed something better. An internal combustion engine. But there was no way to build one at home, with the tools an 11-year-old can access and use. So I started bugging my parents, and finally I was successful: For my 13th birthday I got the long-awaited engine, a shining, new Cox Babe Bee, sporting a whopping 0.8 cc displacement!

I soon joined a "club" of boys who where also starting this hobby. This photo shows Antonio, ready to start the engine on his plane. Note the telephone battery at the right edge of the photo. It was used to heat the glow plug. I had to learn all those things first! The instructions for my engine came in English, and I had not yet learned this language... It was up to another new friend, whom I knew by his handle "Coco" much before knowing that he had a real name too, to teach me the basics about the handling of these glow plug engines. But then I quickly became a fanatic flier!
We flew exclusively U-control planes like the one in the photo. These fly in circles around the pilot, who has to keep rotating all the time while controlling the plane's elevator through a double string, visible above the left wing in this photo. When the plane was fast, and the string short, one became awfully sick from the fast rotation! I remember more than one pilot crashing his plane, green-faced, unable to keep upright!
I built a total of about 15 U-control planes. They were fast and cheap to make. Either I used one plank of Balsa wood, cut up to make the wing and fuselage, with a small piece of another one for the tail, or I made the planes from cardboard structure. That was cheaper, but heavier. Unfortunately I have very few photos of my planes of that time, and they are quite unsharp (fixed lens camera!). So I will keep them out of this web page, and rather just let you know that I flew U-control planes for about 4 years, until it became too boring. My friends had all moved to radio-control, but I had no money for that. I bugged my parents a lot for a radio control set, but it just wasn't possible. So I went out to the flying fields with my friends, doing mechanic's work and begging airtime from them. I learned to fly radio controlled planes that way...

In my extensive photo archive I found just one nicely documented story from my school time about this RC flying adventures. Here you can make the acquaintance of my classmate Eduardo. He was strongly into gliders. They make no noise (so other people won't complain), need no fuel (students never have much spare money!), there is no engine that could refuse to start (so common with these little critters!), and a glider just looks so elegant in the air!
Eduardo was always very careful with his planes. They had to be in top condition. He inspected everything, before every flight. Here you can see him listening to the plane's heartbeat, I guess... Thanks to this care he had less accidents than most other people, but.... read on!

The landscape was idyllic, and ideally suited for flying a glider. We were visiting at another classmate's parent's farm, and they had such a nice hill, with a soft and smooth wind coming straight up. Eduardo launched his plane, and started ridge-soaring. After a while he handed me the radio. I flew a while, then gave the radio on to another guy. We flew a long time. The weather was nice, the plane flew well, its large dihedral making it easy to control, and in gliders there is no fuel tank to become empty... Just the radio batteries may run down, but they last for several hours. So we flew, and flew...

While the valley had many trees, the ridge under the plane was a smooth field, with just one single tree on it. Maybe I should not tell you that, because you will probably guess how this flight ended... :-)

So I won't make you wait any longer! The funny thing is that it was Eduardo himself who misjudged the distance, and flew his very own plane into the only tree within reach! It was hard to say if he was more pissed off by the mishap, or more worried for possible damage in his nice plane. "How could I..." he kept saying. There was no use in blaming the radio, a wind gust, or... well, blaming the tree for having been in the plane's path. And there was no way around the need to climb the tree to retrieve the plane!

It was not easy. Eduardo, as the culprit, owner, and most concerned of all, climbed to the top. After finding it impossible to remove the plane from the tree without further damage, he decided to disassemble it right there. Two others had to climb halfway into the tree, and a chain was made to handle the parts down.

The effort was crowned by a full success. The only damage to the plane were some slight wounds in the thin covering. The structure had survived unharmed. That evening we provisionally fixed the plane, using self-adhesive tape, and the next day we were out flying again - far away from the only tree!

After this short introduction, I would like to invite you to the main model airplane pages:

My Piper Cub: The story of how I returned to model airplanes, after 10 years away from the hobby. This is not just any Cub!  My Cub started out as a (re-)trainer, then got a fancy power plant with in-air electric start, continued life as fighter plane, killing an adversary, and then was used as a spy plane, fitted with a TV camera and transmitter. After many hundred hours of airtime I retired it from active service, but if needed, it could still fly!

The OS-Graupner NSU Wankel engine: An extreme powerplant for extreme applications!

Scale planes: Here are the beautiful planes built by some other people. Most of them were photographed during championships. Some of them are so real that you may not believe that these are actually models!

Helicopters: Yes, people build and fly model helicopters too!

Fallen angels: This may be the most hilarious aspect of model airplane flying - as long as you aren't the owner of the crashed plane!

Back to the homo ludens homepage.