From Rubber Band Power to Radio Control Gas
(Long, read only if you have the time or the interest in this hobby)
This is a work in process
This is a history of one of my hobbies over the last 75 years. I don't remember what I had for a hobby until I was about nine years old, but I do remember that I started to like to tinker with how toys were made and to want to build (create) something on my own about that time.
The first project that I can remember was a rubber band model of an airplane that was given to me by a gentleman (whose name I recall as being Russ) that taught crafts at the school gym in Dearborn, Michigan on Saturday, to allow the children in the neighborhood to have something to do to occupy their time. I am sure now that the program was sponsored by the school system, and the gym, hallway and playground were used for this purpose during the summer vacation months only. Some of the children played baseball, some played basketball, some played a form of kickball in the gym and the crafts were located in the hallway alongside the gym. This is where I was first introduced to the wonderful world of modeling.
There were about six of us that would go there every Saturday to continue to work on our projects, which Russ kept with him all during the week, so it took quite a while to complete an airplane that was built up of a lot of 1/16 inch square by 12 inch long pieces. On Saturday I just about couldn't wait to get my home chores (dusting, scrubbing the bathroom floors etc.) done and head for the school. During the following summer, I had built an airplane that Russ said was good enough to take to a rubber band free flight contest at the Selfridge Air Force base at Mount Clements, Michigan. I didn't win anything but it sure got the adrenaline going.
One weekend we drove down to Toledo, Ohio to a national contest. At the contests you were allowed a 20 second engine run and the total air time was recorded. The last that I saw of my model was a speck a half mile high out over Lake Erie. I never did get it back even though I had my name and address taped inside in case somebody did find it. I lost most of my contest models since the 20 second engine run put them up high enough to catch thermals or upper air drafts.
I did get one of my planes back after a contest at the Henry Ford Airfield in Dearborn, Michigan. The fellow that found it tried to run it on pure gasoline, so the engine was warped and seized up, and was useless. The plane was still in good shape so it wasn't a total loss. I thanked him and asked him what he would like as a reward, and he said he was glad to be able to do me a favor. I guess he was embarrassed about ruining the engine. I never heard from him again.
Most of our first flights were disastrous and it would seem that we would lose control at about 100 feet. We kept improving our receivers until we could keep control for maybe 500 feet which we thought was a great accomplishment. The original escapement was a Bell Telephone ringer coil as a solenoid, with a split armature pivoted above the coil, a 3 pawl armature wheel mounted on a shaft running under the coil and through the fuselage, with a loop on the end that would fit over a pin in the rudder. Each pulse would pull the armature in against the core of the solenoid and allow the wheel to rotate, first one quarter of a turn (left rudder) and then one half of a turn (right rudder) and upon releasing the button it would rotate one quarter of a turn, which would put it back into the neutral position. The catch on the back of the split armature would restrain it until the pulse was released. The shaft was be rotated by means of a wound rubber band, to give either a left or right control, until the rubber band was unwound to the point that it wouldn't have enough force to move the rudder..
We were continually trying to improve our radio control and soon we were working on a system where we made an escapement that would have a third position. This was accomplished by putting a tab on the wheel just before recentering, which had a contact on it that would allow a current to flow through a solenoid and a 1-1/2 volt battery. A two pawl, rubberband driven armature similar to the directional control escapement was connected to a lever on the exhaust manifold bar to open and close the exhaust manifold. The manifold bar was a brass bar enclosed in a piece of copper tubing. The copper tubing was soldered to a brass plate and then the whole assembly was cross drilled through, so that in one position the holes were open, and 90 degrees from that, the holes were in a position that it would restrict the outflow of the exhaust gas to a great degree and slow the engine down. In other words, it choked the engine to an idle. This was quite an improvement since you could now slow the engine down and try for a controlled landing. Previous to this you had to try to fly until you ran out of fuel and then land "dead stick".
This system seemed to be the cure all for "proportional control" but in reality was much more bother than it was worth, since everything had to be synchronized to a tee for it to work as desired. It seemed that most of the flights ended up with the plane in a left bank death spiral until the ground put a stop to it. Even with new batteries replaced every flight a flight of more than a few minutes drained the batteries so much that the receiver couldn't follow the input pulses. More flights were disastrous with this system than the previous one which isn't saying much for either, but that was the way it was back then.
This was about the time that my company duties didn't allow for a hobby distraction since customer satisfaction and entertainment was now the priority. This was also about the time that the reed receivers were coming into the system. My ham operator buddy got one but was very disappointed with it since the allowable transmitting power on the RC bands was so slight that even the reeds had a lot of problems.
My first RC model this time around was an ARF Right Flyer 40,
a 5 ft. wing span plane from Hobby Shack with a Magnum 40 FP
(ABC) engine and a Futaba 6 channel radio system. By the time I
had all of the gear that I though that I would eventually need, and really
wanted, this first order ran over $650. Of course, I got a number of items
that I knew I would need once I got into the hobby with both feet and that
ran the cost up almost double. You'll notice that I bought 6 channel radio
gear just in case. They told me at the club flying field that I could get
started for about $350 which I think was about right.
I hadn't realized that I was not as coordinated in using my thumbs for flight control as I thought I would be, and there was a period of about 50 lessons on the "buddy" box before I was given the go ahead to complete a take-off and landing on my own. After that, I practiced take-offs and landings in both, right and left directions, until I was quite comfortable with my ability.
I found out very soon that I was very anxious to make modifications
on the model, as I had done ever since I built my first model, and when
a "mishap" occurred, I was able to modify the monocoupe into a mid wing
which performed slightly better in stunt maneuvers than when it was a high
wing monocoupe. I also got rid of the rubber bands as wing hold downs and
replaced them with a 1/4" dowel and two nylon bolts. I still have it, and
if I haven't flown for a while, I will fly it until I get comfortable with
the feel of the controls and my visual perception. It's really my workhorse
It is now a mid wing with all new covering material and 4" foam rubber wheels. The large diameter wheels are for flying off of rough gravel or grass that is cut with a Bush hog. It has been changed so radically that everyone would ask what model it was. I finally named it DON'T ASK and now visitors answer their own questions. The yellow wing panels are for orientation since the bottom of the wing is the burgundy color. When the plane is banked, the top of the wing flashes the yellow color for visual orientation. The wing tips are squared off with turbulator tabs. The engine is still the original Magnum 40 FP which must have at least 500 hours of running time, and it still starts with a finger flip or two of the prop, runs with plenty of power and idles beautifully.