An explanation of why control line declined from the most successful form of aeromodelling to become a rare specialty today.

Let me first hasten to acknowledge that at the turn of the century control line does still exist as a specialty in some parts of the world, and in those areas it is usually practised at a very highly developed level.  You will find some such places mentioned in the links page.

Modellers living in areas where control line still flourishes may find it difficult to believe that there is anything wrong, but gone are the days when boys almost anywhere could follow the drone of engine noise emanating from their local park or sportsground, to find the excitement of a control line model plane performing.

Gone are the days when capital cities supported a dozen or more model aircraft clubs, catering mainly for control line flying.

Gone are the days when the cities supported several hobby shops selling the engines, kits, materials, accessories, books, and magazines required by the control line modeller.

Gone too are the days when competition flyers could make numerous weekend-long holiday visits to country towns throughout their states to compete in regional control line competitions organised by country aeromodelling clubs.

Here's why:

Not in chronological order, nor necessarily in order of importance, the factors contributing to the decline in control line aeromodelling have been:
  • Noise of loud unmuffled engines droning for five minutes at a time gave rise to numerous complaints from residents living close to parks and sportsgrounds where control line models were flown, eventually leading to councils placing complete bans on model flying at these venues.
  • The introduction of television into Australia resulted in people having less spare time available for pursuits such as aeromodelling and organising clubs.
  • Complaints about noise were mainly responsible for the loss of flying grounds where big control line competitions were held in full view of the public (such as at Albert Park in Melbourne), and eventually forced organised competitions to more remote sites.
  • Increasing reliability and capability of radio control attracted more affluent modellers away from control line.
  • Control Line is not immune from the disappointment over crashed models that causes many aspiring model aviators to quit.
  • Increasing complexity of technological developments in the competition classes meant that competitors needed to spend more time and money on their modelling to achieve the same amount of satisfaction as before.  Racing engines capable of winning seemed to double in price in the space of a year.  Grass was no longer considered good enough to race over, but had to be replaced with concreted or tarmac circles.  Aerobatic models got so big that a .35 engine was no longer sufficient to power them.  The more sophisticated competition models became, the more daunting became the challenge posed to beginners wanting to join in.
  • Rules for simple competition classes intended to encourage beginners were (and remain in several cases) poorly thought out, in some cases doing nothing to prevent expert modellers with expensive equipment from entering and dominating the events.
  • The bodies established to control aeromodelling in Australia concentrated excessively on competitions, doing little sustained promotion work that might attract newcomers to control line once its decline became evident.  Flying demonstration teams staging widespread shows the way Monty Tyrrell and others did in the early days of control line were not established and raised to a status equal to competition flyers.  When items needed by control-liners became difficult or impossible to find in commercial model shops, no co-operative or officially supported alternative was established to make supplies readily available.
  • Despite the undeniable contribution of excessive noise to the decline of control line, competition rule makers failed to take advantage of advancing technology to enforce noise reduction in the noisiest of racing classes.
  • Competition rule makers were slow to recognise that engine power had roughly doubled since the rules for racing classes such as Class B teamrace were first devised, allowing a decline in support for those classes as the racing became too fast and perhaps too dangerous to be pleasant.
  • Control line models were degraded to the status of toys in the minds of the public by the appearance in toy shops of the little plastic Cox and WenMac planes.
  • The fascination with flying and aircraft that was once shared by many people eventually faded, and was replaced by fascination with other things.  The Air Adventures of Biggles disappeared from the airwaves.
  • Political wrangling by the various aeromodelling groups trying to exert their wills within their governing state body (the VMAA for example) drained the energies of club leaders who might otherwise have been better able to promote the sport.
  • Meanwhile, an increasing array of sports and other interests competed for time and attention.

Was the demise inevitable?   Probably.

In September of 2005 a correspondent called Jay emailed me with this perspective:

The reasons why the control lines died wasn't fully listed in your essay.

The generation that grew on control lines, advance to radio control, and did not come back to control lines to teach the next generation. The next generation never got off the ground due to this. They didn't have the big money radio control took to fly. A control line model could be had a lot cheaper. This is a reason you didn't list.

Another thing... don't knock WenMacs. They were plastic, cheap and fun. A friend of mine, a long time ago, had a WenMac P-26, I think it was. Pee Shooter. Well, we were flying one day in 1964, and he said he was going to do the first WenMac loop, with that P-26. We got back after he launced. He sort of pulled at the strings some to give it more speed, and then up it went. Over the top and then he tried to pull out. Didn't make it.

That plastic model hit the ground in a near stall, yet really blazing through the air.

I don't think, in my whole life, I ever saw a model come apart as much as that WenMac did. There were pieces everywhere. Our group of young teens never tried to loop a WenMac again. Just wasn't possible.

Jay's comments reinforce my earlier feelings.  His description of that little plastic plane disintegrating as a result of attempting a simple loop reminds me of similar plastic wreckage I saw for myself.  They never flew as well as the average home-built models I saw plenty of, and in my opinion deserved their classification as toys.

Did the next generation of potential control-liners who never got off the ground really need to be taught by the earlier modellers lost to radio control?  Maybe.  Personally, I think that enough teachers remained to teach that generation if they had wanted to learn, and certainly by that time there were numerous magazine articles, commercial kits, proven designs, reliable engines, and established clubs to support them.  There was one thing lacking though, that I didn't realise at the time had stimulated my interest in control line models.  That was model flying demonstration gatherings in local parks and sportsgrounds that I stumbled across mainly by accident (drawn no doubt by the howling engines).  Apparently those flying were not the local modellers I had assumed, but some of the state's most advanced and capable modellers who had come together just to fly the demonstration.  Monty Tyrell's description of the early days mentions some of the demonstration fliers, and it seems they may have had a greater influence than I realised at the time.

In May of 2006 Ron Hewitt emailed me with this perspective:

Talking to a friend the other day about kids who are bored and spend all day riding skate boards in the street and being a nuisance, he suggested this reason why.

When we were kids in the 50's and 60's almost all boys built and flew control line model aircraft, which I agreed as I can remember having classes at school teaching how to construct and fly model aircraft.

His answer was if you look at a model aircraft you start of with a set of plans, make all the parts, assemble the aircraft according to the plans, or to your own design which requires many and various skills, when finished the aircraft has to be balanced to fly, controls have to be built and checked, motors have to be started and fuel has to be either purchased or often mixed.

Then as the age was only 12 or so, push bikes often loaded up with models and equipment were ridden to the local oval to fly the model, which of course requires skills in regard to the size of the site setting up the models, starting and flying, this required a lot of basic skills and commonsense. Things that fly often crash, so models were often brought home damaged, but with a bit of thought and innovation many models were repaired and often flew again.

You have to agree that this pastime for a 12 year old created many extremely useful skills which prepared us for the challenges later in life.

Well what happened. As stated before the only way we could get to the site to fly was by push bike, which limited distance so the sites ovals etc were all in the suburbs, of course these models made a noise so the old lady complained and the Councils banned the activity.

Youth have now replaced this activity with the skate board, may take skill to ride but no construction or life skills, does not damage when crashed, is purchased (or stolen) ready to ride. And as we all know a lot more nuisance than the model aircraft ever was.

Result is.

Old lady who complained has long since deceased

Her Grandson has No skills, No job, No future and extremely likely to turn to crime.

How did this happen.

Small minded Councillors with no vision satisfied the old ladies complaint, kept her vote and put her grandson on the street.

I thought this was interesting and so often can be related to many decisions by all Governments today.


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