Whitsun Bank Holiday Weekend can mean only one thing – the British Free Flight Nationals! The self indulgent joy of three days of Free Flight contests on an airfield instead of the blasted heath. The “FF Nats” is the biggest free flight jamboree in Europe with a multitude of events to suit all tastes. Three SAA members travelled South this year, David Hambley and Jim Arnott from Dunfemline and Chris Edge from the Borders, David and Jim sidestepping the usual weekend under canvas in favour of the comforts of a lodge room at Woodlands Waters caravan park. It was a problem free journey down until South Yorkshire and then a bit of a stop/start drag for the remainder. On Friday evening, there was full size aircraft activity on the airfield until about 7pm. A stiff breeze thereafter put paid to thoughts of an evening trimming session, so we settled for a relaxing walk along the woody tracks around the fishing lakes followed by a meal and bevy in Woody’s Bar.
Saturday morning started with a steady breeze of 12 mph from the Southeast. It was dry but quite chilly. Jim made an early start in BMFA Rubber, flying an Urchin with a 50 gm motor and saving his lighter Screwtop for the expected fly-off. The first flight was a comfortable maximum, which dethermalised down into the margins of a field of young wheat. After a change of motor and with the breeze starting to freshen, Jim repeated this with a similar max flight. It was a very nice start.
David was hoping to fly his E36 Super Pearl in Open Electric, but found that he was unable to reprogram the timer to the 12 secs run allowance. By the time he abandoned the E36 problem, and turned his attention to Old Peculiar for BMFA Glider, the breeze had increased to an uncomfortable gusty 16/18 mph. On his first flight, the model whipped up so fast that he had to bail out rather than fold the wings. The model just recovered to land safely in 24 secs so David retired for the day.
The wind continued to increase through lunchtime and into the afternoon resulting in very little flying going on. The BMFA Rubber scoreboard showed three others in the same position as Jim with two maxes and looking for an opportunity to make their final flight. Mid-afternoon the wind swung to the South-southwest and contest control was moved half way along the southern perimeter-track. Severe turbulence over the upwind trees and a hanger was now added to the hazards. The four contenders waited until 30 mins before the close before making their attempts. Jim wound his Urchin and waited in the lea of the cars watching the upwind trees to see if they would stop thrashing. Pete Woodhouse flew and his model was tossed around at low level and never got away. There was a slight diminishing of the tree thrashing and Jim launched. The Urchin tried hard to fight its way up but was getting thrown around viciously. Even half way across the airfield the turbulence was severe. The Urchin landed at 1.41 near the windsock in the far corner of the field, 3/4 a mile away, that was a 27 mph wind ! Phil Ball waited until the last minutes and was rewarded with a slight lull. His Waif design handled the conditions beautifully for a comfortable winning max. When the scores were posted, Jim had done 1 second more that Pete Woodhouse for second place.
What a difference a day makes ! Sunday dawned pleasantly warm with a 15 mph westerly breeze and a forecast that it would gradually get calmer throughout the day. David, Jim and Chris were all flying in F1a. While Jim and Chris started with a max, David missed the good air and was down in 1:53. In the second round Chris again maxed. Jim had a good launch but into poor air for a 2:10. David was over-zealous in the tow and brought the zoom rudder on very early for a poor time of 0:53. In Round 3, Chris continued on very solidly with a good high bunt launch. David gave up the chase. Jim maxed this one but on retrieving the model he found it inverted on the runway with the fin detached. Despite the benign conditions, fliers were finding it difficult to choose their air and get their launch right. In each round, about half of the field were missing their max. By the end of round 3, only five fliers including Chris had maxed all their flights so far. In round 4, Chris maxed again and one of the five leaders spoilt his card leaving four clear. Jim’s fin repair was not straight and his model was released going left for a 1:04 flight thus dropping him out of contention. In the final round, John Cooper dropped from the shared lead with a surprising 2:27, leaving Chris, Stu Darmon, and Peter Tribe in a three way fly-off.
By fly-off time, the wind had gone and it was so calm that the flights were taken from the centre of the airfield. A 9 minute max was specified as the tie-breaker, but all three F1a were seen floating upwards in the gently rising air that seemed to be oozing off the whole field. Unluckily for Stu Darmon, his timer had a limit of 8 minutes and he was down in 8:40 for third place, while Peter and Chris cleared the nine minute max. With the sun now set, a second fly-off was arrange for the following morning.
At 8am on Monday morning Chris and Peter lined up for the second fly-off in very different conditions. It was cool and misty, the cloud base no higher than 100 metres. There was a light drift from the East. In difficult conditions Peter made a very competent 2:46 flight, but Chris did an outstanding flight 4:40 to win the Ronytube Trophy.
The contests on Monday were scheduled to start at 9am. Chris entered F1h glider; David entered Classic Glider and E36: and Jim entered Classic Rubber and Vintage Glider using an Odenman built and flown by the recently deceased Ron Sabey.
It should have been a busy day from the start but with the very low cloud base, only a few low flying models were active for the first hour or so. Some test flights were made with higher climbing models which showed the cloud base to be around 75 metres. David had a few test flights with his Pearlite E36 on short motor runs. It was performing well but he found it very sensitive to the launch angle. His last test flight on a full 10 sec run went into the cloud, but with a short d/t it was readily found again. As the cloud base eased a little higher to over 100 metres, we were able to fly vintage and classic gliders with their long tow-lines
On the first launch, the Odenman’s auto rudder pin pulled out causing the model to pull right on tow and Jim had to release at half height for very disappointing 1:23 time. The second flight was super and showed what the model was capable of. Straight to the top of the line and into a gently supportive patch of air for a comfortable max. With the top two fliers out of reach the second max was enough to secure third place.
David had two flights with his classic Sans Egal. They were almost identical – good straight tows to the top of the line and then gently floated off. The Sans Egal was gliding beautifully to give two very nice maxes.
Chris was churning out the maxes with his F1h glider. Then the rain started.
The forecast was for one or two short showers, but this rain just kept coming. It got heavier, it got lighter but it would not go off. When the time reached 3pm and it was still raining Jim decided that he would have to start making Classic Rubber flights in the wet. The first flight with his Urchin was a good comfortable max, d/t’ing down just in front of the compound. It was fetched back quickly and then dried off with kitchen roll then set aside for the tissue to re-tighten.
David found himself in the same position as Jim had been on Saturday, with two maxes on the board and looking for a weather break to give a chance at his third. He gave up thoughts of flying E36 to be ready to use any chance that presented itself. The rain persisted.
Jim sent the Urchin off again, another very smooth climb looked good – but then “oh no”, it faded into the low cloud at about 100 metres height. It disappeared then reappeared before d/t’ing down safely into the compound. Still the rain persisted.
Chris used his skill in circle towing to clock in the five maxes that he needed to get into the F1h fly-off.
As we came into the final hour of the contest with a light drizzle still falling, Jim and David had to make their third flights. Jim sent the Urchin off again, this time letting the initial burst run off in hand before launching to keep it below the cloud. This worked well, there was still enough performance in neutral air for a comfortable max to reach the classic rubber fly-off. When David took the Sans Egal out for its third flight the clouds were still low, the air was cool and there was light drizzle. David did everything possible, getting the model up to the full line height and releasing it smoothly. It looked promising initially as the model was gliding well, but the air was unhelpful and the model was back on the ground in 2:10. This was enough to secure 3rd place.
The Classic Rubber was a combined event with Classic Power and Jim would fly-off against Steve Barnes, who had qualified flying a Lucky Lindy. As the Urchin wing was not well dried out and still a bit baggy, Jim stopped short of full turns for the fly-off to keep the climb quite sedate. The model climbed away gently but still gained a good height. It d/t’d down for a 2:57 flight. Steve Barnes did not make a flight, leaving Jim as the winner.
In the F1h fly-off, Chris lined up with Gary Madelin and Andy Chrisp. Gary started circling straight away. Andy waited on the ground. Chris started to tow then crickey a “systems failure?” as he towed up and the model was dumped back to earth. Chris had a quick look at the bundle on the ground and went scampering off to his car. Andy then towed up quickly and released. Gary circled over beside Andy’s model and launched directly above it. My guess is that he thought with Chris grounded all he had to do was beat Andy’s model. However, a minute later, Chris was back in action and hunting for the good air. With the extra adrenalin pumping, he made a superb launch and the model floated away for a fabulous 4:50 flight, to win by a large margin. All this in the space of the five minute fly-off slot!
It was a double victory, F1a + F1h for Chris. These two wins meant Chris received a third medal as the overall Glider Champion. Overall a successful three days for DMAC. and a superb boost in Chris’s preparation for the World Championships in Szentes, Hungary this August.
Report: Jim Arnott.
Photos: Sue Edge, Cathy Arnott, David Hambley.