Geneseo 2018 - A Journal

This is an account of some of the highlights that I observed and experienced at the 2018 FAC Nats from July 17th to the 22nd. The journal includes photos and movies that will help complete the visuals. Each year there are many many stories from the flying field in Geneseo...these are mine.


The Nats is over

It’s Sunday morning, I’m having breakfast with a dozen pals at the Omega Grill in Geneseo Square. One last chance for hangar talk after three days of heavy flying. Always a great time. Leaving the grill, I head back to the field to retrieve my canopy, giving me one final look at our historic field, and perhaps another flight or two. But the air is thick and overcast, and I’m the only one there, except for a flock of seagulls. A damp mist continues for the next fifteen minutes as I sit under the worn blue & white striped canopy that had been my home for most of the past five days.

My tables had remained, along with my winding stooges and two folding chairs. But I noticed a few other chairs that belonged to friends along the flight line. A quick text to Oliver & Michael Sand will hopefully catch them before they head home. Good, they’re only ten minutes out, so I go back to pondering the past few days, and the weeks leading up to the show.

Geneseo is a challenge on many levels. You can do your best to plan and feel prepared, but the unexpected always lies in waiting. For me, it hit hard fourteen days prior. I was alone on the field in Wawayanda, NY, grooving a new ship, who then selfishly decided to grab my attention and rip my heart out by going OOS. Not the gentle cruise into Geneseo that I had envisioned.

The two years between the FAC Nats are inspiring. The blank canvas of free-flight projects eventually finds its way, but you can never fully predict the direction. Like a maple leaf floating on a calm lake, it goes wherever it chooses. I didn’t build that giant twin I had long dreamt about. But I did complete my first peanut twin…the deceptively light yet stable MiG-DIS.

Nor did a new Thompson Racer find its way to the top of the list. Instead, I was smitten by the special event for the Nats, honoring the 100th anniversary of the first US Air Mail delivery, for which the Ryan M-1 caught my eye. A surprisingly complex structure led to a learning curve that in the end was appreciated. The success of my Haines Racer for the Greve in recent years pointed me to the similarly designed Caudron C-714 for World War II. A difficult bird to trim at first, but eventually became one of my most stable.

Noting that all three disciplines of peanut were being offered this year, I opted for a new Hi-Wing peanut. As a tribute to two of my mentors, Dave Rees and Walt Eggert, I built their beautifully co-designed Corona Cougar. A clean and simple, yet sexy orange and green Nesmith Cougar in disguise, so named because the full sized aircraft was originally built at the Corona Airport in southern California. Lastly, I refit my peanut Mitsubishi 1MF1 with mini electric, in hopes of creating a new, attractive & stable flyer in power scale.

In the months leading to Geneseo, I was able to hit the trim fields in Pine Forge and Wawayanda a half dozen times. Most sessions were productive, but none were slam dunks, so I knew that I had a crop of flyers that were asking for some TLC. No flying right off the board for this crew.

All of free-flight is a challenge. Each new ship has its unique qualities and tendencies. Build the same model, same plan, two or three times, and you’ll know what I mean. Add to that, the space in which you’re able to fly becomes a factor, be it a fish bowl (Pine Forge) or the wide open spaces (Wawayanda). Then there’s the landing surface. Is it short or gently cut grass, with irrigation ditches (Wawayanda) or waist high Timothy grass (Pine Forge)? And finally, how well did you predict the weather? Will you be trimming in dead calm air, or fighting against the unexpected 5 mph breeze with gusts over 10-15?

In the end, these variables are good for us. They give the flyers character, and better prepare us for the ever changing contest day conditions. Learn to fly in the wind, and you can fly anywhere. But then there are the monster thermals, lurking about in the calm to turn an otherwise enjoyable day of flying into one of long downwind chases, leading to exhausting retrieval, and downright primal frustration. “Hung, how could you??! The new Ryan M-1 was there, moments away from her flight box, ready to enjoy the US Air Mail anniversary event at Geneseo. I mean, her dethermalizer even popped early, according to plan, yet, you still needed to have a closer look, didn’t you!!?”…as she rocked and rolled, continuing on downwind, higher and higher…ugh. Ninety minutes of searching, with thunder and lightning closing in from “both” ends of the field…it was time to say good-bye.

It’s never easy…watching a new bird soar higher and higher, then after a quick glance away, as if by sleight of hand, disappear from view. Had she continued skyward and become a true OOS, or did the silver bird drop out early, become invisible against the blue-gray sky, then find a secret place where even the best hide-n-seek players from the old neighborhood would fail? I’ll never know, but I took it in stride. Forty-eight hours later, I was laying down balsa for a 20” Boeing Monomail. Six days after that I was adding the pilot as a finishing touch. On the seventh day, I rested… Ten days after I had started the Boeing, she was being chased at sunset by a dozen or so barn swallows near an 1850s farmhouse in Pine Forge. Ryan M-1 who? The quickest way to forget an old girlfriend? Build a new one of course.

So this was as prepared as I could be. Twenty-eight models, ready to go into six boxes, positioned in the van like a game of Tetris. Motors for all, lubed and waiting. Then, a bonus…Master builder Enrique Maltz flew in from Tel Aviv to join us for the week. His impressive fleet had seen little air time prior, but he was determined to reach some serious outdoor ozone in New York State.

We arrived two days early, enjoyed the classic, evening Geneseo golden hour of dead calm flying conditions, along with a full day of scale judging. All were excited to see the many new ships fly skyward in the coming days. Here we go, one more time!


Fly Me Now

The positive energy at the start of any Nats is infectious. Two years of building and anticipation comes to a head. Add to that, the forecast showed that the first of three days of contest flying would be the best, so all were anxious to get to their official flights. The action became fast, furious, and high flying from the start at 8AM. A free-flight marathon until the day ended at 5PM.

My Bleriot XXV & XXVI don’t rely on lift to achieve reasonable flight scores in Pioneer, so I started with them in the damp, still air. The XXVI triplane, pusher, canard wasn’t up to her normal self, so I pulled out the reliable Bleriot XXV. This 19” span, Don Srull pusher-canard has served me well over the years. Today she gave me an 86 second flight out of the gate, followed by a max and a near max. On the second flight, nocal pilots Louis Bleriot & Harriet Quimby tempted fate by leaping out from high above. They appeared to remain on the run, which is perhaps why the final flight, sans the pilots, came in a tad short.

The slate for scale flights was full today. Six judged events to consider, along with three mass launches, and three duration events. Only a perfect storm of consistent flight and retrieval would allow me to hit even 80% of that goal. Some events would need to slide for sure. During the first scheduled mass launch at 10AM, my well traveled 20” Fokker DVII was solid through the early rounds, but she missed the good air in the final, coming in for a respectable 4th place. Time to consider a new ship for this always exciting and colorful event.

With over two hours until the Thompson Race at 1PM, my plan was to start a sequence of flying two duration events, along with a couple of scale judged events. Just before 11AM, I was ready with my fully wound 35” Hodek twin for FAC Scale. She had been a solid, consistent flyer, so I felt confident of her flight pattern. Adding to the rush of this first official, Vance joined me with his Flamingo twin at the south end of the field near the gravel road, turning it into a mini-mass launch of twins.

3…2…1….launch!! I can only imagine the look on my face as the reliable, left turning, silver Hodek decided to go against the grain, and head directly south in a straight line, first clearing the road and the 30’ high telephone wires, but then floating deep into the adjoining field of corn. Vance’s ship lifted cleanly to the right, on her way to another memorable flight. In the mild, northerly wind, I waited and waited for any sense of a turn by my twin, but she never came around. Instead, the Hodek continued further into the 10 foot high field of corn, eventually sliding off and into this vast green space, about 300 yards deep, and 150 yards across to the east.

It was eerily quiet. I felt numb. How could this have happened? She never weather vanes under full torque. Never. Clearly, the Gods of free-flight were toying with me. Let’s have a bit of demonic fun with this lad. Test his character. Yeah ok.

The silence was broken by Pat Murray who, to my surprise, had a compass line on the ship! While he instructed me on its use, and as I tried to keep my brain focused on the visual line I had etched, another voice about 80 yards to my right yelled, “…Hey, I have a line, too!!…” It was an angel, disguised as George Bredehoft, coming to my divine rescue! We now had a line on the ship, via classic triangulation, the very best method for tracking a lost bird.

It’s not a guarantee, but my odds for finding her just doubled to the good. It still felt like I only had a 50/50 chance, even less as I ran the edge of the massive, dense field. Fortunately, a dirt path took me in the 300 yards along the side, but I still needed to trudge across the numerous rows for an additional 150 yards. Using an extended 30’ orange pole, and guided by George on my cell phone, both he and Pat pointed me to the spot where their lines intersected.

I was exhausted already, but determined to find this model. I tried not to think about how I was going to get this bird out of here once I found her. The stalks were only six inches apart, with the rows only ten inches wide! This was feeling more like wheat than corn…it was that dense! George said, “You’re there!!” So I laid down the pole on the row that signaled the hot spot, then started to methodically radiate from that point. I could at least crouch down from twenty yards away, and still locate my original marker.

The initial feeling of hopelessness in this confusing space shifted toward the positive, when I started to stomp down two stalks to my left, then two on my right, as I stepped across the rows, one boot at a time. I was glad that I was wearing long pants this day. After ten rows in each direction I could see a path. The grid was forming, ten yards out in all directions, then twenty. After fifteen minutes of this, I came back to the orange pole to recover a bit. Taking along the bottle of water was a good move, as the sun and swirling pollen was taking a toll.

You can get a bit loopy in a corn field at high noon, especially when you’re searching for an all silver ship. Every stalk, every leaf looks like a wing. I needed to get lucky with what little red and blue trim was on this model.

Once again I trudged out, only closer this time to the original marker. I suspect I strayed much too far from my line, last time around. As I worked my way a few rows to the east toward the school, a glint of red caught my eyes a few feet above me, Could this be?? Yes yes! I mean YESSSSSS!!! It was the Hodek’s striped nose. The bird was pointing nose down, caught between two stalks and their skyward sprouting leaves. She was baking in the sun, her tail just below the highest point of the corn, but safe. Oh happy, glorious day!

I couldn’t resist a few yelps or taking some photos of the bird, along with a selfie or two, showing my crazed, delirious, euphoric state! No apologies. The worst of free-flight, just became the best. An hour after I had first watched her fall into an ocean of green and silver, I was parting the sea and walking out cautiously with this beloved model. An eternity of thanks to Pat and George.

Back at the flight line, after some refreshment and recovery, I checked my list of events for the day. Just enough time to put up the Pulqui again for Modern Military. I had maxed with her earlier that morning, so I was hoping for the same as I launched her from the south end of the field. You would think that, after an hour in the corn, the last thing that I’d want is another walk through the dense rows. But no one told the Pulqui.

She’s a right circling flyer under torque, but instead she slid left, heading toward the school and those two ugly trees that showed themselves in the middle of another tall green crop. Not again! Really??

This time I was on it with the cart, positioning myself in a direct line with the ship and the rows of corn. She struggled to turn right the entire time, but never made it…sliding all the way. When she finally dropped in after ninety seconds, I was able to race cleanly between the rows, rather than across. I found her 150 yards in, and only two or three rows over. Her bright red finish was clearly a bonus. Breaking out from the corn, I made my way back to the flight line, and readied the Loose Special for the Thompson Race.

One of my goals for this event was to stay out of the corn! I love the vibe of the Thompson, so much so, that I’ve been flying the same bird for over twenty years. Through that span, the Loose has gone through a few repairs and a full restoration, but she continues to be a reliable flyer. This day she spiraled skyward to the right on all three flights, but missed the podium in the final. Three of us on the one side of the line missed out on the good air, while the other five hooked the heat. Well done, guys! See you on the Thompson line next time.

With two and a half hours until the next mass launch, it was time to dive into serious rapid-flight mode. The list of flyers included the Corona Cougar in Hi-Wing Peanut, the recovered Hodek in FAC Scale, the 20” Waco YKC in Golden Age Multi-Wing, the Pulqui again for her final flight in Modern Military, and perhaps the Smilin’ Jack X-13 for Fiction Flyer. The jumbo MiG-DIS and the giant Nicholas Beazley NB-3 would have to sit this one out.

Flight two for the Hodek was again on the scary side, this time sliding right, making a pass over the flight line and toward the open grass to the west by the hangar. A more aggressive tweak of the rudder on flight number three sent her back to that familiar pattern, spiraling beautifully into the blue for a majestic flight above the middle of the field closer to the runway, but safely away from the crops.

The Corona Cougar showed well, but suffered from slipping landing gear fairings, which became mini rudders near the CG, causing her to spiral from high. Still, a good performance at her first contest.

There were only twenty minutes to go before the Low Wing Military Trainer mass launch at 4PM, so I put up the third and final flight with the Pulqui. The air remained ideal for our rubber ships, although the drift toward the runway and the large field of beans was surely to become an obstacle, should the bird catch air. Many had lost their ships in the waist high, 1/3 mile deep field of beans, or worse, gone far beyond the bordering tree line.

The red bird lifted skyward quickly, then came around without dropping on the downwind leg…I knew she was hooked. Circle upon circle, climbing on each pass, the good air was with her. This was becoming serious yet captivating and wonderful. It’s why we fly, what we long for. I couldn’t look away. At two minutes, she was still going up. Now over and slightly beyond the runway, the Pulqui looked her best, taking in the entire field from 500 feet, as the DT popped. A welcomed sight. Thankfully, this broke her from the grip of the thermal, sending her home. For the next ninety seconds, she fell in slow motion, like a parachute, eventually easing onto the opened rows of beans thirty yards deep. An epic flight of 3:52, her best ever.


Low Wing Military Trainer mass launch was a wild ride for many. The mild yet shifting air made it difficult to determine the best flight line, without sending us into the corn by the road, or toward the nearby farmhouse and the sixty foot high trees. So we walked, repositioned and rotated minute to minute as the late day thermals passed through. The first round went well for my PT-26, but the second round became a nail biter, as many of us watched our ships do a 180 and head toward the farmhouse to the southwest corner. Instead of a longer downwind chase to the north, we were getting ready to rush for our retrieval poles instead. But somehow, the free-flight Gods who were messing with us, gave us only a playful scare.

Three or four models drifted over the tree line and wires, only to fade back to the north, landing on the hangar’s parking lot. My PT-26 cruised in at 2:37 for a perfect, wheels down landing. Huge smiles as we walked back for the final. This felt like schoolyard fun, as it should be!

The last round was clean, with the drift finally safely to the north, middle of the field, and close to the canopy flight line for an easy chase. Congrats to Wally Farrell for the victory with the 97 second flight of his Texan! The PT-26 came in two seconds behind, followed by Dave Niedzielski, Jim DeTar and Andrew Ricci.

With only thirty-five minutes to go before the close of the first day’s competition, I looked at the 20” Waco YKC bipe from the 1935 Scientific plan and determined that she was up for the challenge. Three flights at max winds, hoping to avoid significant drift into the beans…or broken motors. The first two flights were in the low to mid 80s, which turned out to be a bonus. Quick retrieval on the grass gave me a scant eight minutes to stooge, wind, position and release from the south end of the field.

She caught good air this time, huge lift just when she needed it. The bright orange and black Waco was passing the flight line at 200 feet up when CD Dave Mitchell was calling for final flight scores. He looked up and said, “Is it maxing??” I said, “yes indeed…!!” Then he added, “Well, get her in!” 4:59 was on the clock as I ran down to GHQ with score sheets in hand. Just barely, time was on my side. I then took an easy ride in the golf cart to retrieve the bipe near the runway. Two minutes and twenty-two seconds, her best flight of the day. Memorable.

After a cool down period through the dinner hour, many stayed for an evening of classic Geneseo golden hour flying…but wait!! We still had the BLUR Race! By 7:30, thirteen flyers gathered for this powerful yet challenging event. Trimming a ship to fly like a bullet rather than a bird is tougher than you would expect, but just as much fun.

Thirteen rounds, three abreast, three flights for each flyer in a specific randomized order, each trying to be the first across the line, ninety feet away downwind. Octavian Aldea was the King of the Hill this year with his speedy Jack Rabbit. Congrats, pal!!

The day ended around 10PM, with the remaining light creating a beautiful setting for the last silhouetted rubber jobs to float on in, through the calm but damp Geneseo air.


Wind, What Wind?

Driving down to the field with Enrique at 7:15AM, I was concerned about the weather. Wind predictions for the start of the day were for 10-15mph, nearing 25mph by sundown. A surprisingly large number of flyers were already at their mini-hangars, perhaps, as I, hoping the calm air from the previous evening would spill over at a lazy pace until morning. It had! But conditions were still damp and humid, so our ships would carry an extra gram or two of moisture on the earliest flights.

This was the case with my recently finished peanut MiG-DIS twin. The ship had come in at 7.25 grams, much much lighter than I had ever imagined. Add three grams of rubber and you still have a rather light weight model. During two trim sessions and Wawayanda the month before, I found that she required an angled launch, slightly cross wind, in order to handle the torque burst. This gave her a spiraling climb to the right. Otherwise, she would loop, then recover, but waste all of that power. Gene Smith had mentioned that his veteran peanut Tigercat preferred less torque at launch. The MiG proved to require the same. I was able to find the sweet spot with motor cross section and length, giving me fifty seconds in calm air, so I stayed with that for the Nats.

The wind was a bit stronger than she’d ever flown, but I decided to go for it, as I feared a gale later in the day. The first flight just after 8AM was a mere twenty-nine seconds. At least she released well, made it around the corner and continued on. The next flight a few minutes later was better, coming in at thirty-nine seconds. It appeared the damp wings held her down a tad. I saved the third flight for later in the morning. It was solid and clean, forty seconds. Not the thermal ride I had hoped for, but at least I had her safely back in the box, able to fly another day. It was enough for second place, behind Enrique’s high flying Waco bipe.

WWII mass was at 10AM, but I still had enough time to log some officials in Dimer and Golden Age Monoplane. This was the second season for the 1921 twenty-seven inch span Pacific Standard C-1, so I was hoping that the addition of a faux pilot would give her a better sense of self, leading to extended duration and a tighter, controlled flight. It seemed to have worked.

The first official lifted cleanly to the right, came around the corner over the flight line, then started to climb. The power run, using the 10” white EB prop is around 85 seconds, so I was pleased when she came in at 109 seconds. Not serious air, but in the damp and slight wind, it felt quite good. Later in the day, I was able to post two maxes. One laughingly DT’d from 20 feet for a 2:06. But the third will be etched in my mind forever.

I’ve tried to tap into my inner Dave Rees for decades. He was the mentor to many, with an approach to free-flight that most closely synced with mine. His design for the 24” Nicholas Beazley NB-3 inspired me to build my first serious free-flight scale model back in 1989, and I’ve been trying to reach his standard ever since.

Describing Dave’s planes, especially his 36” span jobs, or coconuts, they were light and floaty, with big props and long motor runs. He flew them indoors or outdoors. The launch of his models was delicate. To the casual observer, the first circle was of little impression. Some would turn their head and walk away. But had they looked back 30 to 40 seconds later, they may not have seen it, assuming it had already landed. Instead, they would have been advised to look skyward at a 60º angle, to spot the bird 200’ to 300’ above the turf, cruising about, sniffing for thermals. That was the classic Dave Rees model, more times than not.

So, flight number three with the Pacific Standard…mid afternoon, a calm moment, good air, plenty of heat. Again she rose only slightly on her first circle, but coming around, the bird lifted, bumped, then lifted again through the next few rounds, eventually passing through the burst of sunlight while I captured this majestic moment on film.

She soared over the first field of beans, then over the runway. Circle upon lazy circle, the C-1 finally fell out one hundred yards into the next field, for her longest flight to date of 3:30. Checking the DT button, I found that it had hung up, mid rotation. Luck was surely on my side this day.

Earlier in the morning, we had gathered for WW2 mass launch. Thirty-eight flyers with colorful Allied or Axis ships. The wind was still down, so this lining up to be a good one.

The Caudron C-714 required numerous visits to the trim field before she was finally tamed. The model was even cracked in half after a nasty, wind sheer induced wingover from thirty feet onto short grass. But through the restoration, I discovered a flaw in the decalage, and had built in an excessive amount of downthrust, which created an unforeseen battle for this bird before she had a chance to fly. That damaging nose dive led to a lightbulb moment, and eventually a stable flight pattern.

When I was a kid in the sixties, I loved riding my bike a few blocks away in the neighborhood to hang with my friends. Besides the usual pick-up games of baseball or basketball, we’d also play darts. Never did I imagine that I would associate that game with model airplanes, but that’s where my brain goes whenever I launch the Caudron, the Haines Racer, and a few other ships. Their long nose moment makes for a more efficient way to control the launch. By grabbing the model in front of the leading edge, rather than behind the trailing edge, you’re given a better directional launch…secure and more forceful, like throwing a dart. Try tossing a dart by holding it 25% aft of center, you’ll see what I mean. The same can happen with a model.

So during the three rounds in WW2, I was throwing darts disguised as a Caudron. On the left side of the line, she nearly bought it in round one, but slid past a fighter who tried to chop her tail. 1450 turns and 80 seconds were enough to move her on to the second round. Her next flight was a wandering affair, but she stayed aloft and floaty. 1750 turns and some good air sent her north for 111 seconds.

I had never fully torqued this ship, so I didn’t know what to expect when I wound in 2000 turns for the final round. Would she nose up and stall, or worse, the left wing could drop, sending her hard into the turf. I simply wanted to toss the dart and hit the board…get her out of my hands safely, up and away. The rest would be up to her, and the whims of Hung & Co.

Relief when she flew solidly to the left and started her climb. All eight flyers got away clean, so this was going to be good. My focus was on the Caudron, and any others who ventured near, as mid flight midairs, though uncommon, are always a possibility. I saw the C-714 slide into an open area of the field to the east, but did not see any other birds circling about. Had she done it? Could this really be happening, her first time out at the Nats??!….were the 107 seconds enough to take the event?!

No. Seems two other flyers had gone in opposite directions to mine, a product of the crazy air we were experiencing at Geneseo. But I was pleased with her performance. She had come a long long way since those early trim flights in Pine Forge and Wawayanda. Congrats to Oliver Sand and Paul Boyanowski, whose Hellcat and Wildcat had come in first and second, with massive flights of 131 and 122 seconds respectively. Well done, guys!! Another fierce battle for WW2 honors at the Nats.

Between mass launches, I had around ninety minutes to put in more Golden Age monoplane and Dimer flights, before it was time to throw darts again, this time for the Greve race with the Haines. She has been a steady and reliable model in normal conditions, but the wind was kicking up out of the south, so those beans 1/4 mile to the north beyond the runway were going to become a serious obstacle for the twenty-six flyers of these high performance models.

Play it somewhat cautiously in the first two rounds, and you might make it into the final. But if you powered up too far, you may end up in the next county, and not retrieve in time. Nine models were being dropped in round one, so I opted for 65% power and a short DT. The Haines got away clean, but headed north in a hurry. Many came down early…12 seconds was the cut off!!…but a few really soared, taking them deep into the beans, with one going past the tree line…another 1/3 mile beyond the runway. After nearly two minutes, I was relieved to see the copper colored Haines fall out and land just beyond the runway, only 50 yards into the open rows.

After an anxious delay, in hopes of seeing the downwind flyers, round two started thirty minutes later, and would become another wild ride. Again, they were dropping nine flyers, leaving eight for the final. Looking to stay in the game, this time I would to 75%, hoping not to drift a half mile away deep into the beans. I’m sure the remaining flyers felt the same. I mean, who wants to walk through the strangle hold of viny, waist high beans, attacking your legs and ankles with every step?

As in round one, a few came in very early, but most of the ships found the good air. Cut off was sixty seconds, but that didn’t stop some of us from having our longest flights of the event! Pat Murray’s Mr. Smoothie came in at 152 seconds, while my Haines circled safely into the shorter beans for a 183. Four other flyers logged times over ninety seconds.

With eight remaining in the final, it was now or never, no holding back. I would to max around 2200, and set the DT for four minutes. If she caught air, and if I were lucky, I still might get the ship back. Six of the eight made it off the line heading skyward, again to the north. Low score of the six was 85 seconds, while Richard Zapf’s Goon hooked the best air, scoring the victory with his 177 second flight. My Haines came in second at a distant 129, followed by Dave Mitchell’s (wheels down!!) Howard Pete at 122, Pat Murray’s Smoothie at 109, and Charlie Sauter’s R-4 Firecracker with an 89. George Nunez’s Gee Bee D just missed the podium with an 85 second flight. Classic FAC Greve action!! Clearly the top of the class duration ships for mass launch action at Geneseo 2018.

The rest of my day was spent logging flights for a few duration events, Golden Age Monoplane and Jet Cat. Unfortunately, my new 20” Monomail couldn’t handle the wind, and would need further trim sessions. Still, it was plenty of action to fill yet another amazing day of flying at the G.

Uncharacteristically, the golden hour remained windy, so it was the perfect evening to recoup with the Boys at the Village Tavern, followed by the usual stop at the ice cream shop, for another round of hangar talk.


Enter the Wind Monsters

Many of the previous FAC Nats were defined by the final day of action. Epic flights and battles, enough to fill numerous chapters in the grand history of the Flying Aces Club. Today would not be one of those, as the wind would quickly become the story, the Monster that kept many flyers under their flight line hangars, unwilling to risk carnage or long downwind chases. But we still had to try…it’s the Nats after all, and we’re the Flying Aces! A little thing like 20-30 mph wind isn’t gonna stop us from tossing our ships into the blue!!

With that in mind, I was surprised to find what my intuition pointed toward as my choice for the first ship out of the gate. Like hands over an Ouija board, my marker hovered over the box containing my 6 gram Koolhoven nocal! What? Really?? I guess I figured that 8-10mph now is better than 20-30mph later, so it was now or never time!

While Enrique gently held the delicate ship, I was able to wind on the downwind side of the van. Then I used the dashboard of the golf cart as a shield against the wind, as I drove to the south end of the field by the road. I held the Koolhoven inside the cart until I felt a very small window of calm, then released. In this air, you can’t actually launch. Just let her go and hope for the best.

To my surprise, she quickly rose to twenty-five feet, fluttered a bit, caught herself again, then started to circle smoothly as she broke through the ground turbulence. Hard to believe, but she was actually on her way to a respectable flight, even as the wind swirled about. The 2700 turns gave her a ride of 171 seconds, landing just past the runway.

Hoping this wasn’t a fluke, I ran back to my mini hangar and loaded her up again. 2650 this time, but with a similar result at launch…even better, as she climbed high into the choppy air, though further into the beans. These carts are slow, but I was able to stay under her, and had a good line when she touched down. Two hundred yards into the beans, but the weightless red nocal was still resting on top of the deep green leaves after her 212 second flight.

I rushed back to the flight line to put in a flight with my veteran Waterman Aerobile for the power scale event. She gave me her classic left circling flight, as she moved north across the field. But slowly, she dropped down, well short of a max. Heat from the motor was the culprit, as a melted plastic prop shaft coupler did her in. It would be her only flight of the day.

World War I peanut mass launch at 9AM was sure to be a challenge for all of us. Most of the fourteen flyers had a deer in the headlights look about them, as we wound and launched in round one. It was Dark City for half of ships, including my Martinsyde S.1. Up and down quicker than you could say “run for cover!” I didn’t stay to watch the rest of the carnage, opting instead to fly the nocal’s final flight, as the morning wind continued to build. But the ground turbulence monster showed his teeth, preventing the Koolhoven from breaking through into the cleaner air, and pushed her into the turf after a mere twenty-five seconds.

In my effort to fly all three peanut events, I brought out the orange-red Mr. Smoothie for his first official. I knew this could become his one and only flight, so if he were to be sacrificed to the Weather Gods, I hoped it’d be a long flight. The launch was clean, quickly avoiding any ground effects as he spiraled high and to the right. The Smoothie circled a few times, but came around far too quickly during my chase to keep her overhead. At ninety seconds he was already past the runway.

Thirty seconds later, he was deep over the crop of three foot high beans. The tiny ship settled in as he neared the distant tree line, but from my vantage point five hundred yards away, I couldn’t fully track his landing spot, when he dropped out of view at 2:35. The flight had ended. Now came the battle with the beans.

A quarter of a mile, 500-600 steps through dense, clinging bean stalks and leaves, a blanket that hides everything, even a red Smoothie from the view of its hopeful yet desperate builder. After an hour, I gave into the inevitable, and headed back to the flight line. I then did what any respectable free-flighter would do under these extreme, wind conditions. I pulled out two World War I themed kites, going into battle with Vance Gilbert, with young Owen Houck providing the sound effects. At the start, even the kites couldn’t handle the wind, but eventually they came around, giving us some dog fights that left us roaring with laughter, like two grade school kids. A much needed break from the Smoothie chase.


I went back though, telling myself I would give the Smoothie one more hour before accepting defeat. Walking through that field, any field so thick and deep, can put you into an alternate state of mind. I’m in waist high beans, looking for a toy airplane. It’s not normal. But it gets one to thinking about life and such. Old hymns began to float through my brain, along with the memory of friends and family, long since gone. A distant hawk was soaring in slow motion, roller coaster fashion just above the tree line to the north, his classic cry forming a pace, a cadence, every fifteen seconds or so.

But I was glad to be there in this moment. All that was around me and above, taking it in. I was grateful. Felt blessed. With the hour spent, and the Smoothie gone, fittingly, it was time for the memorial flight back at GHQ, where we solemnly honored the dearly departed since the previous FAC Nats.

At the end of the tribute, as if a magic wand had been waved over the field, after Erika Escalanti had released the memorial balloons attached to a vintage model, the wind suddenly died. Not far, mind you, but enough so that the flight line became a beehive of activity once again. This would be the final shot at the 2018 Nats. Thirty-five minutes to post our final officials.  

With the Pulqui anxiously nudging me forward, I prepped her for her last two flights. If she stayed “in the park” for her next official, surely she’d have a shot at her third official in Simplified Scale. What felt like days ago, earlier in the morning she had posted a disappointing 78 second flight, not nearly enough to reach the podium. So I cranked her up to 2000 turns and released her from the south end, again praying that her flight would soar, while staying well within tracking view.

She gave me a beautiful flight, only one hundred yards into the beans. I quickly had her in hand, pleased with the 1:44 flight. With only twenty minutes to go, I rushed back to the stooge and wound her tight for my final flight of the Nats. Here was the Pulqui’s chance to place a positive spin on an otherwise, mostly exhausting day at Geneseo.

The launch was smooth and clean, as she solidly began to circle to the right in her familiar pattern. When she first came around into the wind, she lifted. Circling back toward the north, the bird didn’t drop, but stayed level when she came around again, this time lifting twice as high as the first. In the gray, cloud covered sky, she was soaring as happily as I’d ever seen her, as though she had something to prove. Down below, I was simply trying to keep up.

However, sensing she was going to stay close, I stopped the cart and watched her floating peacefully, the rubber now spent, as she finally touched down on the runway, a mere ten feet from the beans. With that flight of 2:36, for me, the Nats was over. The two years of preparation had finally played out.


Parting Flights

Returning down the long gravel road for those forgotten chairs, the magic that is Geneseo took hold. The mist was gone, the air was dead calm, and Oliver had a youthful glint in his eyes. “One last flight, dad?!” The car doors opened, along with the back hatch. A good sign.

Soon after, I was watching the efficient Team Sand, once again winding a favored rubber-powered bird, Oliver’s Go Devil embryo. A gentle launch, an effortless yet majestic climb, the Go Devil was on its way to a graceful two and a half minute flight, a max in FAC terms, landing only one hundred yards to the east. A fitting way for Oliver to end this year at Gtown, having won the embryo event the day before, in twenty-five mph winds.

Once again we say our good-byes. As they headed back up the road, I launched my favorite model from the Nats, the bright red, 1947 Argentine Pulqui. She had given me numerous long flights, had also found the corn and beans more times than I had liked, but always came back. With a smooth, silky, right circling pattern, it was the perfect, late morning flight to remember as I left the field for home in Pennsylvania.

So the circle continues. Another FAC Nats on the Geneseo field of dreams, in the books. But also the start of another two years of model building, with a blank canvas. Life is good.

Tom Hallman 11.24.18


Oliver Sand’s Post-Contest Go Devil Embryo Flight

Free-Flight & the Arts With Enrique Maltz


The Fleet in Their Travel Hangars