Behind the Scenes at the 'Most' Nats
Before it started the 1974 National Miniature Aircraft Championships had a lot going for it. It had the most competition events ever - 65 - and the most space ever available to fly them in. It also had the most unknowns. Would enough people come to make it all worthwhile? Would the weather be too hot and humid? Would there be too many mosquitoes and other miserable creatures? Would the stretched out schedule be workable?
There were financial worries, too. It was expected that this would be a most expensive Nationals in one particular area, travel costs for officials. Most of the recent Nats were held in locations where many Nats officials didn't have to travel very far. But this one would require long distance "importing" of many more officials. Also, previous travel allowances had to be boosted in the current inflationary period.
The big question behind such worries concerned the number of contestants to be expected. In previous years when the Nats was held in Dallas - the nearest comparable site - attendance was always the least of any Nats, mostly attributed to the typically very hot Texas weather. Without enough contestants, the financial problems would multiply because the fixed Nats costs would go on, and there might not be enough attendees to help share them.
In addition to these concerns, there was a problem caused by the international AerOlympics event held a month earlier in New Jersey. The AerOlympics required some key people who would not be available to help with the Nationals, since they couldn't make both events. And even among those who could help in both, some might be so worn out from the AerOlympics, that they would be ineffective for the Nats.
To sum up, this Nats had many worries for those responsible for organizing and operating the event. In addition, they felt an obligation to improve on the 1973 Nats which had been an unhappy experience for many participants. The 1973 problems could be written off due to the fact that they were natural for such a major event being run for the first time without outside help or sponsorship. But for 1974 similar thinking would not be accepted. AMA was expected to do better.
The 1974 Nats was better, far better than most had hoped for. For many it apparently was the, best Nats ever - a lot of them stopped by Nats HQ on the way to say so. Free Flighters in particular, even though they had some retrieving problems, were a much happier group than they had been at Oshkosh the year before. Control Liners and Radio Controllers also were generally happy. RC Formula I and FAI Pylon Racing people praised their site as the best yet.
It wasn't all rosy, but it obviously was pretty good for most people. It was the easiest Nats ever for getting around. There were so few restricted areas that most people could simply drive wherever they wanted to go at any time. There weren't any restricted hours of operation either. Although contestant and official bumper stickers for cars were issued, to distinguish them from general public vehicles, they weren't really necessary. Control Line and Free Flight test and fun flying went on constantly - flyers could simply find their own part of the field to fly on, without anyone telling them they couldn't do this or that. Free Flight retrieval had the greatest freedom ever at a Nats for cars or motor bikes. Obviously, there was lots of room - so much so that RC officials had problems deciding where to fly from!
One of the disappointments was the lack of help for many events. Only about half of those who had previously volunteered to work at the Nats actually showed. This made it harder for those who did come. The new events especially felt the pinch. RC Quarter Midget and also Thermal Soaring managed, but just barely. However, although these were brand new to the Nats, they ended up successfully. The other RC events did better with manpower, but CL events also shared the lack of personnel. In general, it was a case of too few doing too much, but the job did get done and happily for most contestants.
The weather turned out to be different from what most people expected. Sometimes it got as hot and humid as had been feared. But there was nowhere near as much of this as had been anticipated. The first week of the Nats, in fact, was comparatively mild. There were some whopping rain storms, but none of these lasted long enough to seriously hurt the flying schedule. Evening hours were also available when schedules had to be stretched to make up for weather interruptions. Free Flight Scale, however, had its usual luck of too much wind. It doesn't seem to matter when and where FF Scale is scheduled; wind has plagued this event for several years in a row.
Most amazing was the localization of the rain. It often showered on one part of the field without bothering other parts: During the Sunday afternoon air show, for example, it rained only on the show - two hundred yards away Control Line Stunt finalists continued uninterrupted, and about a mile and a half away (still on the same airfield!) RC Scale didn't get any rain at all. Likewise, on the final day, RC Pattern didn't get any rain while the HQ hangar area was drenched. The net effect of the rain pattern was the development of a general attitude of ignoring the rain or simply waiting for it to go away.
Indoor events went on for four straight days (and nights) from 9 am to 9 pm, but split between two widely separated sites: high ceiling at Spring, Texas (near Houston), and low ceiling at Lake Charles. Both sites were enjoyed, but the consensus seemed to be that only one site was necessary and there was lots of pro and con regarding both.
The Goodyear hangar in Texas was a good first-time Nats Indoor site as was the Civic Center in Lake Charles. Apparently, however, the Goodyear site was not enough higher to justify the extra travel distance, especially since the smooth but lower-ceilinged Civic Center made the latter equivalent to a higher building. Regardless, there was more Indoor flying scheduled than ever before, so there were not many complaints.
Talk of snakes prevailed, but there were few to be found and no cases of snake bite were reported. The real problem turned out to be red ants. Many people got ant bites, and a few required shots of penicillin at the local hospital when severe swelling developed. But that was the most serious problem. The most pleasant surprise was the lack of mosquitoes in what should be prime breeding country for these pests. The evenings were particularly bug free - even the concentration of lights in the headquarters hangar area didn't cause any bug problems. Evenings were generally pleasant.
Enough contestants came to wipe out the worries about numbers - over a thousand, plus hundreds of mechanics, family members, and helpers. They filled all the area motels and all the available college dormitory space in five separate buildings. The only lack of people involved campers - there were some but not as many as had been expected.
Because activities were spread out so much over the huge airfield, the usual crowded Nats atmosphere was missing. It wasn't really a lack of people - they were simply scattered. Combat for example, was located far away from the other Control Line events in order to use a better grass area. The RC, CL, and FF areas were actually completely out of sight of each other during much of the Nats.
The college dorms were especially great. The air-conditioning was actually overdone, and the use of blankets was common until thermostats got adjusted to provide less cooling! The college cafeteria was not available for meals, but there were enough other good and reasonably priced eating places to minimize the food problem. Also helping the eating situation was a large variety of food concessions in the airfield hangar. Besides the usual hot dogs, hamburgers, and soft drinks, there was pizza, soft ice cream, watermelon, roast beef, iced tea, coffee, and other pleasantly unique food items for a Nats.
Contributing to the generally happy mood that prevailed during the Nats was the genuinely hospitable community spirit. It was constantly plain that Nats contestants and officials were welcome everywhere. Those staying in motels often commented on the friendly atmosphere toward AMA people. Similarly, those in the dorms frequently praised the cooperation and helpfulness of college personnel.
The climax of this spirit came during a special session of the Lake Charles City Council when the AMA president and the executive director were presented keys to the city and were made honorary citizens. Other gifts were presented during the Sunday air show, including a pair of the governor's cuff links given to the AMA president. No doubt about it - Lake Charles people were happy to have us there. They even had billboards at the east and west entrances to the city welcoming AMA and the Nats to Lake Charles.
But maybe there's too much of a good thing. Well into the second week of the Nats some of the officials were really dragging. For some who had been on hand since a week before the Nats began, it was a very long operation. However, this didn't seem to be the basic problem with the long Nats. Rather it was the lonely ending caused by the nature of the schedule.
Free Flight ended after only five days, and so did Control Line except for Slow Combat which provided a sixth day. But RC, including the unofficial Helicopter event, went on for twelve straight days! Included for the first time was Quarter Midget Pylon Racing and two classes of Thermal Soaring. But making room for these required Pattern to go into the second week. Originally, AMA RC Scale was supposed to share part of the second week with RC Pattern, but when only a few AMA Scale entries appeared it was decided to run them off on the same day (Sunday) as RC Sport Scale. This left Pattern all alone for the last four days to finish up the Nats, and there were gripes about Pattern being isolated and ignored.
Contributing to the feeling was the field clean-up going on while Pattern was all alone during the second week; most of the headquarters' staff had gone back to Washington, and most concessions were closed down. Some RC'ers even mentioned missing seeing CL and FF flying; in contrast to other years when most of them ignored any other event besides their own.
As a result of this lonely second week, some new thinking is currently going on concerning next year's schedule. Most likely is a slow start-up with simultaneous finish for all events rather than this year's tapering off. Chalk up the experience to an experiment that solved some problems but created others.
The 1974 schedule also made it awkward to find a natural time for the usual Nats RC banquet. Pylon ended on Saturday, but Pattern didn't start until the following Monday. There was also transmitter processing for Pattern and Scale on Saturday and Sunday nights. So the RC banquet gave way to a general Nats banquet on Saturday night. It was fairly successful and indicated that such a banquet would be a good thing for future Nats, but a better schedule has to be worked out to prevent the lack of RC participation.
A spectacular sight on the first Tuesday night was the processing hangar. In addition to the usual Free Flight and Control Line model processing, there were 115 RC Pylon models being measured and judged! The hangar was absolutely jammed with people and models. It all went very smoothly, but it was a long night - the RC processing went on until one am Wednesday morning. It was another problem with the new schedule that caused the crowding - not desirable, but it added some special flavor to the Nats (the one time that everybody seemed to be at the same place at the same time) and most everyone stayed cheerful through the long night.
Throughout the Nats a special group of people kept things under control and earned tremendous praise and respect. These were the people who were behind the bid to have the Nats at Lake Charles, and they followed up by providing a fantastic amount of backup support before, during, and after the 1974 Nats. Approximately twenty members (and wives) of the Lake Area Radio Kontrol Society (L.A.R.K.S.) worked constantly to keep many details of the Nats operating. They painted all the circles on the airfield, emptied trash barrels, provided water and ice to events, acted as timers, flagmen, and other officials, transported equipment all over the field, posted signs, put up tents, mowed grass, loaded and unloaded trucks and trailers, repaired and assembled Nats gear, installed air-conditioners in the headquarters offices, made electrical hookups for events and concessions, swept floors, installed over two miles of field telephone wire, roped off and barricaded thousands of feet of the airfield, erected the Scale and trophy cages and shelving (then disassembled same), unpacked over 800 trophies, and much more.
Blue-shirted LARKS were everywhere all the time. Some took two and three week vacations from their jobs and used all of it for Nats work. They were on hand by eight each morning and typically worked until eight each night. The effort was so outstanding that AMA's Executive Council voted the LARKS the AMA Distinguished Service Award. Nats Executive Committee members also noted that the LARKS provided the greatest local area Nats support effort ever seen - an incredible and marvelous example of how an AMA chartered club can contribute to an event such as the Nats.
The LARKS effort is a strong factor favoring a return of the Nats to Lake Charles for 1975. This, plus the excellent (and huge) Chennault Airfield, the great hotel and dormitory facilities, the very favorable community backing, makes the Lake Charles package a difficult combination to beat. Backers note that 1975 conditions will be even better - many wooded and heavily shrubbed areas of the airfield will be cleared, buildings and grounds are to be improved, two more motels will be available, a new interstate highway right to the airfield will be open.
Meanwhile, even though the second week's weather produced several days of the extreme heat and humidity that had been dreaded, many RC Pattern flyers noted that the conditions, otherwise, were near perfect - still air most of the time for precise maneuvering. The event - and the Nats - ended with calm and relatively cool weather for trophy awards on the airfield; it was a peaceful twilight evening with many people saying they would be happy to come back again next year.
It was a great Nats, mostly a smooth running and happy one. The rough spots were comparatively minor, especially considering that this was only the second Nats in over 25 years to be organized and operated by AMA on its own: a grand achievement. With a better field layout and schedule to blend rather than isolate events, the 1975 Nats should be the one which proves that AMA can do even better.
People are what make the Nats the outstanding event it is. Not all can be shown, but in these pages are some of the key people who deserve much credit. Above: President John Clemens presenting AMA's Distinguished Service Award to key officials of the LARKS Club. Left: Pat Kendall (L) and Leeann Smith who handled RC Pattern tabulation with calculators loaned by the Heath Company. (Thanks, Heath, and thanks to K & B Manufacturing for supplying FAI and Quarter Midget fuel.) Lower Left: Larry Bolich (L), energetic PR Director for the City of Lake Charles, and John Embry, the LARKS member who set in motion Lake Charles for the Nats site. Below: Les Hard rode herd on the daily Nats News and also hand-lettered innumerable signs.
Above Left: RC Pattern judges had to contend with the morning sun as did the flyers. Above Right: Ned Barnes (R) of the LARKS Club was in charge of volunteer official recruitment; here he's chatting with Bob Vojslavek concerning requirements for CL events of which Bob had overall charge. Below: All-gal tabulation crew. Yvonne Baker, Midge Olson (chief) and Lois Bigelow, did an outstanding job. Frank Nantais, behind, was statistician.
Above Steve Ellison, one of 20 qualifiers for Q.M. Pylon finals, works on his Miss BS. Right: Charles Johnson looks for good air before launching FF Rocket Power model.
Left: Mark Valerius flew Indoor, FF and CL events to amass points for the Open and Grand National Championships. Daughter Marguerite winds Indoor Easy B. Above: Happy youngster is Tom Fluker whose Sig Bearcat placed second in Junior Control Line Scale.
Above: Dr. John Martin took 3rd in Indoor Scale with his Stahlwerke RII. Below: Carl Linstrum, 6-1/2, is a good flyer - 3rd in A-2.
Above: Dick McGraw's RC Sailplane was the Windfree. Below: The Akro Star was Mark Sadler's entry in RC Sport Scale.
Doug Stout, a Senior CL Stunt entrant, flew his own design airplane to second place.
First of the 1974 Hall of Fame awards was presented to Sal Taibi during the Nats Old-Timer Banquet. Shown (L-R): Taibi, President John Clemens, and John Pond, banquet organizer.
Above: RC Pylon processing and judging crews (here shown checking FAI specs) worked into the wee hours of the morning to handle the many entries. Below: Signs shown are just two of many which welcomed the National Contest and AMA member participants.
Sign on AMA trailer is similar to others displayed at the main gateways to Lake Charles.
Clean Competition - The Soaring "Nats"
After watching the flying competition for a couple of hours I was so very impressed by how sparkling fresh and clean everybody looked! Everyone looked like they had just showered and put on fresh clothes. Was this actually a model airplane flying meet? Then it suddenly dawned on me why the competition looked so clean. There wasn't a drop of blood or oily fuel slopped on anyone! It was Radio-Controlled Glider Soaring.
This appearance of personal neatness about everyone was because this was a Sailplane Soaring meet, where there were no backfiring engines with razor sharp propellers and no oily fuel required to feed those engines. Of course if you are an RC Soaring flyer you are accustomed to this "sanitary" condition. but if you haven't before attended one of these great Soaring Nationals, the cleanliness and the quiet calm of everything comes as a bit of a pleasant shock.
One hundred and eighty-eight contestants came from twenty-two states to compete hopefully for the honors of winning in a national championship event and carrying home some of the prized "hardware." And to coin a phrase, it was a "proud crowd" because nearly everyone there was wearing his local club insignia. Some wore shirts or jackets with the club emblem printed on the back or shoulder. or perhaps they were even embroidered. Some wore sewed-on "patches" or sported decals on equipment boxes and planes, but all expressed the pride of belonging to their local group and being identified with the sport of aeromodeling.
The championships were held on the airport grounds of Lewis University, with the excellent cooperation of the University. Lewis University is located near the city limits of Lockport, Ill., some 30 miles from Chicago. With the mentioned excellent cooperation from Lewis University, the meet was practically self-contained. The school's dormitories took care of the housing problems, and the cafeteria handled the meals and a handsome banquet. All of these fine accommodations were just a stone's throw from the flying site, and within easy walking distance.
I discovered that there is another great "plus" in Soaring with RC Sailplanes. There is no need for acres and acres of hard-to-find and hot-in-the-summertime concrete takeoff and landing area. Launch area problems in Soaring are as minimal as can be found in aeromodeling. You simply find the right size area, free of obstructions, then mow the grass, set up the portable launching winches, and away you go. It will be cool because grass or bare ground does not reflect the summer heat as does concrete.
Soaring with a winch-and-cable launch is a very non-violent activity, with power being used for only a few seconds, aimed away from the crowd, applied to only one model at a time, and all in such an atmosphere of quiet that it will never offend the neighbors.
AMA President John Clemens, right, presented his own hand-crafted President's Achievement Award to Dave Burt during the 1974 RC Soaring Nats in recognition of Burt's organizational work in establishing the event as truly national. AAM photo by Bill Coons.
How is a flying site like Lewis University Airport discovered? By some wideawake aero-modeler like Dan Pruss. Who is Dan Pruss? He is a model Soaring enthusiast who has been one of the real developers of the art right from the start. He found the Lewis University site because he was hunting for a place to fly his own Sailplanes. He explained his problem to the authorities, got permission, and found it so ideal that he wanted to share his discovery with other Sailplaners. When Dan later approached the University about the possibility of holding a national meet there, the university reasoned that since they had aeronautical courses in their curriculum it would be excellent publicity at little investment. The marriage has been a happy one and should lead to a great future.
Each competition assumes it's own personality, and I enjoy seeking out the things that make it unique. This meet had cool weather, keen competition, paper sheets on the dorm beds, and watermelon to eat on the field. Have you ever slept on paper sheets? Don't snicker! In the interests of economy the dorm beds were furnished like that. They are fresh and personal and completely satisfactory as long as you don't toss around and wad them up. To avoid wadding them up I recommend that you simply fasten the corners down with masking tape. I even made some of my friends more comfortable with a foot or so of masking tape. I hope to have the masking tape concession at the next meet!
A welcome visitor to the meet was a Chicago hobby distributor, John Osborn of Midwest Model Supply, who appeared with a trailer loaded with cold watermelons. John cut the melons with a sharp machete and fed everybody in the place. It was a much appreciated gesture and added another bit of the unique to the Soaring Nats.
The competition itself was run so smoothly and so well that it could easily have been just taken for granted. All of the fun of flying was topped off with an excellent banquet put together by John Nielsen. Here the awards were given out, along with a zillion door prizes. At the banquet I had the privilege of giving my President's Achievement Award to hard working Dave Burt for the great amount of organizational work he has put in over the several years of getting the Soaring Championships to really soaring.
A symposium was held on the day after the meet, July 25th, where the final decisions were made to organize Radio Control Soaring under one national banner. The National Soaring Society was formed, with a hard working organizer, George Durney, as president. The avowed purpose of the new 1,000-member organization is the administrating and furthering of the sport of Radio Controlled Soaring, directed democratically by a president and a fifteen-member Board of Directors, offering representation in all of the eleven districts of our national governing body, the Academy of Model Aeronautics.
With a personal salute to "whisper flying," I offer congratulations and best wishes from all of the Academy of Model Aeronautics membership to a proud new special interest organization, the National Soaring Society, and to the leaders who put the whole cloth together from so many fine threads!
John E. Clemens AMA President