An index to this series appears in the header of the first post.
September 20, 2019
A little less than four decades ago, my father took me to a Kansas City airfield for a show unlike any I had ever seen before. I saw grown-ups grinning like little kids, directing their model airplanes by remote control to fly loops and rolls! When I saw that the Cango Flying Club was organizing the 50th anniversary Oudtshoorn Scale RC event during my week off work, I knew I had to attend.
If you have never been to such a show, you might imagine a bunch of plastic airframes propelled by little electric motors. As I’ll describe, though, the types of planes and the engines that powered them were incredibly diverse. What distinguishes this airshow is its emphasis on scale models. For a scale airplane to qualify for the event, it needed to represent a real airplane that flies today or back in history. Every era of flight was represented, from the birth of flight at the start of the 20th century to contemporary jet fighters!
Perhaps the most dramatic example for me was a model of the Santos-Dumont Demoiselle (“Damselfly”). The real airplane first took flight in 1907 in France. Mark and Roux, representing the Cape Radio Flyers and the Stellenbosch Model Aircraft Academy, were piloting a Demoiselle in ovals around the Oudtshoorn Aerodrome. The other four planes in air were tearing around in acrobatics, but the Demoiselle took a more deliberate pace. Its slow speed made me hold my breath every time it reversed course. I decided to record a little video of the scrappy airplane; it was moving slowly enough that my camera could focus on it! Rather suddenly, though, the plane seemed to make an erratic turn, and then its nose pitched down. I imagined rather than heard a sick crunch as it smacked the dirt beside the runway and shattered to pieces. I felt terrible for its crew.
Real pride of place, however, must be given to the World War I-era Gotha G.II, a heavy bomber employed by the Imperial German Air Service (the Luftwaffe didn’t exist until 1935). The biplane features two wing-mounted propeller engines and a central fuselage for the pilot and gunner. I found myself wondering if this were the type of plane stolen by Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade! The enormous plane (perhaps a 1:3 scale model?) was towed by its pilots to the rear of the airfield for its brief flight. It seemed everybody was watching as they spun up its engines. It slowly lumbered into the air, and everyone applauded. It was only in the sky for a couple of minutes before it was navigated to a careful landing. The Pilot’s Post captured an amazing photograph of the plane in flight.
I had interesting chats with Andries of the Bloem Radio Aero Team and Daniel of Port Elizabeth Radio Flyers. They explained that RC flight has been swamped by newcomers purchasing ARF (“Almost Ready to Fly”) kits. The artistry of building a scale model airplane from hundreds of parts takes considerably more time and energy. Because this airshow was limited to scale models, we were really seeing the products of months of craft. Electric motors are hardly the limit of today’s planes, though they are quite popular for reliability and cost. Plenty of airplanes at the show used two-stroke engines burning methanol, while others featured four-stroke engines burning unleaded fuel. One plane featured a turboprop, quite a technically complex mechanism to fit into a small space!
As someone who grew up making model airplanes of military jets, though, I felt an incredible thrill to see scale model jets taking to the skies! My personal favorite was a model of a Eurofighter, dressed in South African colors. Werner previously flew with the Tygerberg Model Flying Club. The group apparently limited its activities to propeller-powered planes, though, so he has been flying solo in recent years. I also had my eye on a nearby model of an F-15, but I didn’t get to see it in motion.
I watched in awe as planes completed Immelmann turns, snap rolls and many maneuvers one could only do in an RC plane with more energy to spare than the real thing. The air marshals gamely kept limits on the total number of planes in the sky (and kept nosy bloggers behind the barrier separating pilots from civilians). I felt my head getting a bit warm, despite my hiking hat, so I paused for a blue slushy. Oh, life was very good!
In the evening, I attended a special indoor event for the Oudtshoorn Scale RC. The big boys had their fun in the morning, but the smaller aircraft, ranging from rubber-band powered planes up to electrical “foamies,” had a chance to fly inside the De Jagers Sports Complex. The cardinal event was the balloon race. All around the enclosed gymnasium, balloons were tied to crepe paper, with a chocolate bar tied to the other end. Whichever pilot popped the balloon could lay claim to the chocolate bar. Some of the balloons, however, were placed within PVC pipe squares or even under a folding table.
Naturally, this event lent itself to younger pilots. One of their favorite tactics was to direct their foam airplanes into hovers, with the planes hanging down from their whining, madly-spinning propellers. That thrust-to-weight ratio is not typical of private airplanes!
I was fascinated with the diversity of aircraft on display in the windless indoor environment. When I think “drone,” I automatically think “quad-copter.” A company called “E-flite,” among others, has been making very lightweight RC airplanes that are designed for indoor use. I must resist my buying urge! I sat next to Raffaele and Karin and their son; they had come from the Helderberg Radio Flyers near Somerset West to see the show. Their little boy was so excited; when he saw some foam gliders making an appearance, he begged his father to buy one. His dad replied that they would build one together. I rather suspect his son will someday be a young man attending the 70th anniversary of this event!
I am very glad that I was able to attend this 50th anniversary event for the scale model airplane community. I really had no idea that so many flying clubs surround me here in the Western Cape. If you are interested in this hobby, you might want to check in with the South African Model Aircraft Association to find a group near you!