Continuing the aeromodelling autobiography of Western Australian Charlie Stone, who grew up during the golden age of control line modelling.
1963 Strathalbyn Nationals
At the end of 1963, Hans, Geoff and I went to Strathalbyn in South Australia for our first Nationals. Hans and I drove over the 900 miles of potholed, dirt road that was the Nullabor, in his Volkswagen beetle, while Geoff Barnes and Jimmy Trevaskis travelled by train
Dad had written to his father in England that we were going over the Nullabor, and upset him no end. It seems the English papers had recently featured a story about some tourists that got lost out there (how I'll never know, with only one main road), and died of thirst. He wrote back to Dad with the details and begging him to forbid us from taking the risk. I imagine that he didn't want to lose a grandson, even one that he had never seen. However, by the time the letter came from England, we had been and were back already.
Hans and I drove over the 900 miles of potholed, dirt road that was the Nullabor, in his Volkswagen beetle, while Geoff Barnes and Jimmy Trevaskis travelled by train. We just plodded on, stopping only when the tank needed filling. We had carefully planned out our stops, based on the known range of the VW, a model which did not have a fuel gauge fitted. Instead, there was a fuel tap that switched to a reserve sump of fuel in the tank. The idea being that you drove along until the engine stopped from lack of fuel, then switched to the reserve and with a bit of luck and experience, you would know how far you could go before finally running out. After travelling some miles from a re-fuelling stop some place in the middle of nowhere, and a hundred miles before we planned it, the engine stopped. That did worry us. We switched on to the reserve and kept driving, wondering when the engine was going to stop again. This time we would be stranded properly. After the point where we estimated the reserve would run out we were on tenterhooks. But the motor just kept going and going. We did make it to the next stop OK and finally worked out what must have happened. One or other of us, must have bumped the fuel tap to the halfway position where fuel flow was cut off by the tap. We were never in any danger of running out of fuel at all. There is something to be said for fuel gauges after all. Maybe that is why VWs have them these days.
I flew FAI and B team race with Hans using ETAs, and C class with Geoff using his new `Golden' Fox .40BB. We also flew Combat, speed, proto speed and Power Scramble in Free Flight, breaking a few planes in the process. We met a lot of interesting guys who had only been names in magazines up to that time. Among them were David Kidd and Andrew Kimonides who were flying as a team in the racing events, although I think that Andrew"s main interest was speed. Also the South Australian Ian Bristowe, who was a local guru at the time, and Brian Eather who was involved in FAI T/R then. We didn't win, but we did have fun and some people noticed that we were there. This was the last year as far as I know, that a concourse d'Elegance of team racers was held, and Hans' team racers were named as the most beautiful in Australia. We got a trophy to prove it.
While we were at Strathalbyn we noticed a midget speedcar parked at the oval. It was the McGee cams special driven by Kev Park, and was maintained by Phil McGee, a speed flier. (I believe that Phil later moved to America and a career of building racing car engines and I hear that he is back in the control line circles flying .60 speed again using his own home built engines.) That was it for Strathalbyn and our first Nats. Soon we were on our way home again across the Nullabor's dirt and potholes.
Pacifier fuel tanks
While reading contemporary American modelling magazines, we noticed a few references to something called `Pacifier' fuel tanks. The only sort of tank that we had any knowledge of was the tin plate variety, and that is what we all used. Geoff was buying a few engines at the time direct from Duke Fox in Arkansas, who was making Combat engines and could be assumed to know about such things. He wrote to ask what the heck a pacifier was, and Duke sent back an explanation and a plan of a Larry Scarinzi design called the Blitz that showed details of installation. We were surprised to find out that a pacifier was a baby's dummy. The dummy was inflated to about the size of a cricket ball, by pumping it full of fuel. This provided a source of fuel at very high pressure and gave an extremely steady engine run, as the pressure didn't vary with fuel quantity and without any air in the tank there were never any bubbles in the fuel. I proceeded to modify my old `Destroyer' combat ship for experiments, and I was the first person in WA to use these tanks. Maybe the first in Australia. I was impressed by the constant engine run, but had troubles with bursting the bladders, and did not persist with the development which hindsight now shows, was the way to go.
Combat was a lot of fun and Geoff and myself flew against each other nearly every weekend to hone our skills in that fine art. My high point was winning the State championships a couple of years later. Largely by avoiding my usual fate of model destruction by collision with either Hans or Len Armour. Both of whom were prone to indulge in over enthusiastic attacks.
Model takes to water
Thinking of combat and Geoff brings another vivid picture to my mind. That is also at the Causeway. A wintry day with the sun shining, but a light breeze blowing cold. A mid air collision had cut away his plane from the control lines, but the motor continued to scream at full power as the plane climbed vertically until it was almost out of sight above us. It then turned over and dived at tremendous speed into the adjacent river which was fast flowing, swollen to the banks with winter rains and brown with mud carried down from upstream. Zooming down the bank and shedding clothes as he went, was a distressed Barnes. Having disposed of his outer garments, he then plunged into the icy water (Which I can state from personal experience tasted rotten too) to recover his OS .35. It was happily bobbing off towards the distant sea, supported only by the remnants of his flyaway combat model. I am happy to report that he was successful in recovering it, but he did get almost snap frozen in the process. He then went on to take second place in Combat that day. He would probably have won, but his hastily repaired plane re-kitted itself (fell to bits) in flight halfway through the final. You were only allowed two models per contest in those days. I don't think that I will ever forget that day. His lawyers will probably be along shortly to remind me of some other things that I've forgotten - like how to keep my mouth shut.
Lightning attack !
One weekend, a few of us went out to Guildford Airport where we were allowed to use a small field alongside the narrow road that was the old way in. Above us were clear blue skies, but far, far in the distance, maybe 15 or 20 miles away, we could see a line of black storm clouds that were flickering with lightning. It seemed quite obvious at the time that there was no risk from the storm in the distance. Or was there?
I can't remember the plane that I was flying that day, but I can remember some details of the flight with awful clarity. Only a few seconds after getting the plane into the air, and halfway through a wingover I got an electrical jolt that nearly fried my brains. It hurt, and frightened the Hell out of me. Not wanting a repeat dose, I very rapidly ditched the plane. Although I didn't see anything untoward, one of the kids there had yelled at me just as I got zapped. He had seen something that I had missed. Usually, I flew with a metal, wheel handle, but this day I was using Geoff Barnes' plastic Schuco-Hegi adjustable handle. What the kid said that he had seen, was a spark running down between the two wires from the plane to me, finally jumping from the lines on to my hand. I noticed that part.
Before I flew, I was sure that thunderstorm activity so far in the distance could not possibly have been any risk to me. After getting zapped I reconsidered that view. Now, if there is even the hint of electrical storms, I will leave the control line flying to braver souls. I would recommend that you do likewise.
Pulse jet demonstration
One of the things that Aeromodellers used to do every so often was to fly at shows. Some were in the country, but we also flew at East Perth oval on Labour days and at the Royal Show. It was at these occasions that Len Armour first introduced quite a few of us to the world of pulse jets.
The Dynajet is a miniature pulse jet, modelled on the engines used to propel the German V1 buzz bombs to their targets in Britain. It's main use in modelling was for the crowd pulling din that it produced in those days before noise pollution was a catch phrase. He used to bring it out for such occasions as our annual night flying display at the Royal Show. Our display was done in conjunction with a big fireworks show. It had everything really, model planes, the smell of gunpowder, mixed with burning castor oil, noise, smoke, fire. Heavenly!! What more could a young lad want?
The method of starting that was used was not too complicated, and some of the pit crew were often drafted from the modellers standing around; Many of whom had never seen a jet close up, much less taken part in firing up the frightening beast. The starting was generally done by 3 people. One pumped vigorously on a hand pump that provided the compressed air needed to start the pulse cycle. Another had only to push the large button on a box that was wired to the spark plug in the motor. The box held a trembler coil that produced a shower of high voltage sparks and fed them indiscriminately to the motor or to anyone that touched any conductive part of the plane. Even the pilot was not immune, and if he was foolish enough to pick up the handle before the pit man stopped pushing that red button, he would be painfully shocked too. The third member of the team was the controller. He held the plane, tilting it delicately to get the fuel to feed and not flood the engine. He was also responsible for disconnecting the air and electrical connections before launching the noisy and very hot projectile.
One of these night displays is etched forever in my memory. Pulse jets brought terror to the skies of Britain in 1945, and on a night some 15 years later, one brought terror to the grounds of the Royal Agricultural Society. Len had issued firm instructions that the plane had to be launched within ten seconds of start up, as the engine rapidly overheated unless cooled by the airflow in flight. I didn't have a clear picture of what would happen to the engine if it was kept too long on the ground, but visualised it melting, and blowing up seemed well within the bounds of possibility. However, stunned by the noise of the jet at start up, the provider of sparks froze and would not take his finger off the button. I was holding the plane, but fearing partial electrocution, I wasn't game to touch the air or spark connections until the button was released.
Len waited in the centre, with what I imagine would have been an expression of concern, and carefully avoided the handle. Meanwhile, I was holding an ear splitting inferno, that was growing more incandescent by the second and as far as I knew, may have been about to blow us all to smithereens. Panic is a weak way of expressing my feelings at the time; Something much stronger is needed. Unable to stop the engine or to think of anything more clever, and with both hands occupied holding the plane, I was reduced to savagely kicking the hapless button pusher. Finally the sparks man was separated from his button and after what seemed like 5 minutes, the by now white hot and glowing projectile roared into the darkness of the night. Leaving behind it 3 weakened, deafened and shaking pit men. That memory lives on.
These were mainly happy times for me. I didn't have much money but I did have lots of time and lived a relatively care free existence. I dabbled with most branches of control line flying and some Free Flight until the end of 1965. Then this idyllic life was rudely interrupted when my employer, relocated me (unwillingly on my part) to Kalgoorlie in the Eastern Goldfields. There was no aeromodelling activity there at all then (except for mine). When I first arrived I started to build a Thunderbird stunter, but it wasn't finally finished for another 21 years.
The solitary modeling existence wasn't as much fun as I had hoped and I drifted into other activities for some years. I bought a 1949 MGTC and began restoring it to concourse standard and at the same time I started racing Go Karts. In 1970 I moved back to Perth, established a home workshop for model engineering, and brought the first Bolwell Nagari to Perth (Chassis # 11), then to fill in any empty weekends, I started flying full size gliders.
Family and house took away a few more years, but by then I had a son old enough to be introduced to model flying. Despite the general shift of modeling to Radio Control, my interest was still with Control Line, but that was not so easy to find. Several model shops that I queried denied it's existence and even seemed remarkably vague about the existence of an association contest calendar. Still, persistence pays off and I finally contacted the guys that I wanted. I would bet that there are a few folks that don't make it past the model shop barrier though.
Now my son flies Iriquois helicopters for the army, and I still regularly fly control line models for sport. On occasion, with my teammate and pilot Norm Kirton, we do a little Vintage `A' class team racing to feed the competitive urge. Vintage team racing is fun, not quite such full on competition as the international classes, and I highly recommend it to anyone (especially ex-racers).
Charlie Stone VH4706 January 2000