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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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