Chaperoned Free Flight
1972 American Aircraft Modeler
article on radio-controlled free flight was scanned from the July
1972 edition of American Aircraft Modeler. It generated a lot of
unfriendly letters to the editor from free flight purists. Such
letters, published in the reader feedback section, were much less
polite than those you would see today.
Radio-Controlled Competition FF Gas Models are a Challenge and
Possibly a New Event. There is No Modeling Activity Quite Like It!
by DICK MATHIS
AAM Editor Ed Sweeney after consultation
with Frank Ething of AMA who is also working with a 15-sec. limit
on motor run. The plane would have to land near the original launch
point for a flight to be counted. A flight over six minutes would
be voided. The motor run would be timer-actuated rather than radio-controlled
and a limit of two channels would be imposed on the RC equipment.
The airplane would be 15 powered.
Two-channel RC units are now available from several manufacturers
for $100 to $120; less in kit form. These units weigh eight to ten
oz. for the airborne components and generally combine receiver and
servos in one compact package, or brick. They are highly developed
and pose no problem for one who has never used radio equipment,
which was my case. The same goes for the other RC hardware such
as pushrods, connectors, and control horns.
Problem of adapting to rudder and elevator control without
adding lots of weight was solved simply. It's easy to build,
The Fortune Hunter sports a hot GMA
15 motor, Cherny-Van Nest pan, and pen bladder pressure
fuel system. Hatch covers RC compartment. Switches for on/off
The author traveled over 9000 miles to FF contests in
1971, and considers himself a FFer even with RC gear in
his ship. Wife Mary-Kay operates starter.
Author with model. Lettering on MonoKote was done by
Tom Peadon using bulletin enamel.
The Fortune Hunter
The idea behind the first ship
was that it should be like current contest FFs so it could be trimmed
safely without RC to fly on its own. This proved to be wise: the
model was saved from destruction by the built-in stability of the
However, after getting used to controlling
the model, FF trim has been increasingly ignored and the model is
now controlled during much of its flight to improve duration.
A typical flight sequence goes like this: set engine run
timer, turn on switches and check controls; start engine and check
controls again; launch model (throw hard straight up) while helper
holds transmitter; take transmitter and feed in up control to steeper
climb angle to about 80 degrees, while applying slight rudder corrections
to keep model going straight into wind. As your helper counts off
seconds 12-13-14, apply gradual left rudder and back off up control
to establish a left banking arc for insertion into glide; as motor
quits, apply more left rudder and correct stall tendency with down
elevator; continue left glide turn until model points into wind.
Relax controls and trim for slow glide with elevator trim button
(model is trimmed to glide moderately fast and straight without
If lift is encountered, circle in it as long
as ship does not get too far downwind; if in bad air, flyaway from
it in search of better conditions. As five minute max approaches,
bring the ship back to launch point with faster glide trim; once
it is overhead, circle or do 5 turns until time to land. To land,
make downwind turn and float in upwind. Or, dethermalize model with
full up control.
It really sounds quite simple, but it's
one thing to describe and another thing to actually do. In 15 seconds
this design is a small speck in the sky - it must hit 80 mph at
the top. To make the longest possible flight, you have to be very
careful not to make mistakes in controls - like stalls, turning
too tightly, or gliding too fast. On a perfect still-air flight
the Fortune Hunter does nearly five minutes. However, a botched
power/ glide transition or a few stalls decrease duration significantly,
as in pure FF.
Fortune Hunter specifications are as follows:
wing area is 600 sq. in.; power is a GMA 15 on high nitro fuel and
Rev-Up 7½-3½ propeller; weight is 32 oz. The covering is MonoKote
and airfoils are conventional flat-bottomed ten percent thick; CG
falls at about 80 percent. The control system is shown in an accompanying
illustration. The engine run is regulated by a Tatone pinch-off
timer. The fuel tank is a high pressure pen bladder. There are no
warps except for ½ in. wash-in (trailing edge down) on the left
main wing panel.
The second generation competition RC FF will probably not be merely
a hot FF adopted to RC. Most experts I've talked to think the best
future designs will be too unstable to be easily trimmed for FF,
due to the need for less dihedral to make control during the climb
easier. One of the worst defects of the Fortune Hunter is its tendency
to overreact violently to one side when more than slight rudder
control is given. Ron St. Jean of California is also working on
RC FF and experienced the same problem with his first attempt. He
used his famous Wizard 700 with a K&B greenhead 19. It was modified
with a larger rudder and larger fuselage and slightly less dihedral,
but it still was almost uncontrollable under power due to excessive
pendulum effect of the high pylon combined with normal dihedral.
Adding rudder area did not help, according to Ron, so he removed
I also added about 30 percent more rudder
area after initial flights, but I have not experienced extreme difficulty
because the Fortune Hunter's pylon is rather low and the high thrust
line design inherently flies a groovier pattern. Future designs
will reflect the need for less built-in stability-they witl probably
be shoulder-winged with low dihedral, as shown in the drawing.
Another problem is wind penetration. Both Ron's ship and
my own are fairly large for their weight and are limited in their
ability to make progress against strong winds, which is necessary
in order to range far from the launch point in search of thermals.
Future designs will thus be smaller and more streamlined.
The drawing of the Fortune Hunter control system shows how dethermalizing
capability is incorporated. While it may not be necessary in the
future, it is nice to have the dethermalizer when an emergency situation
occurs and have the ship correct itself and float safely to the
ground. In this regard, a safety catch on the transmitter is a good
idea to prevent the dethermalizer from being actuated accidentally.
It is obvious that this type of model will appeal to many
sport fliers who now enjoy RC glider soaring, but it is also inevitable
that competition-minded types will seek the ultimate in performance.
There will probably be several distinct trends in this regard, depending
on what the AMA does with rules and which manufacturers and designers
get a head start,
One exciting prospect for free flighters
is that RC FF will interest the RC manufacturers. This will mean
more FF hardware, engines and research, which is bound to benefit
normal FF activity as well, since many of the components will be
interchangeable between pure and RC FF.
Undoubtedly RC FF
has all the appeal needed to become very popular. It should draw
fliers from all ranks, including present RC fliers who recognize
fun and a challenge when they see it. FF'ers who try it will be
rewarded with the knowledge that their sport has a new lease on
Rules, Frequencies and Conversion
Rules to govern future competition should be kept
simple and they should emphasize duration as the deciding variable.
In other words, no bonus points awarded for spot landing, stunts,
problem of already crowded frequencies in RC is undeniable. It is
intended that RC FF will use the 27.255 MHz spot frequency. This
channel is not normally useable for RC due to interference, hand-held
transmitters, certain FCC limitations, etc. However, a new concept
which provides as many as 32 commands on one frequency may provide
a solution and thus completely avoid interfering with present RC
channels. It ;s also a license-free channel. The radio system requirement
that later rules will specify will describe the physical size, weight,
frequency and channel operation, and permit only two operating functions.
Any manufacturer can produce the airborne unit for the activity,
meeting only these requirements. How each manufacturer achieves
the requirements will be up to him. Cost of the airborne unit will
be low but the transmitter will probably be club-operated.
Several FF kits could be converted to two-channel RC with extensive
modifications required only on the fuselage. The Starduster 900
and 600, the Galaxy 585, the Witch Doctor 800, and the ABC Scrambler
are the most likely choices. A safe way to go about converting all
of these designs would be to first reduce the dihedral angles by
50 percent and lower pylon height by 75 percent. Rudder area of
the Stardusters should be doubled. The Witch Doctor and ABC Scrambler
should have about 50 percent more rudder area. The rudder of the
Galaxy 585 should be moved aft of the stab and doubled in area.
In all cases, the fuselage would have to be widened to accommodate
the receiver and batteries. A one- or two-inch nose extension will
be required to retain CG location with the added tail weight of
the pushrods and control horns. The Fortune Hunter control system
should work fine on all of the above designs, and the rudder flap
area should be retained at about 2 to 3 sq. in. The Starduster
900 might even put a ! few 12-foot RC sailplanes in the shade when
it comes to sheer glide.
The AMA Plans Service offers a full-size
version of many of the plans show here at a very reasonable cost. They will scale the plans any size for you. It is always
best to buy printed plans because my scanner versions often have distortions that can cause parts to fit poorly. Purchasing
plans also help to support the operation of the Academy of Model
Aeronautics - the #1 advocate for model aviation throughout the world. If the AMA no longer has this plan on file, I
will be glad to send you my higher resolution version.
Try my Scale Calculator for Model Airplane Plans.