Free flight model planes have been around for a very very long time as the first successful model glider was flown some 200 years ago.
In 1804, Sir George Cayley, an enthusiast for the then popular kite flying thought he could make a kite that flew untethered. He wrote a series of scientific papers describing how the model was able to maintain a stable flight pattern. He used a long rod fuselage, with the main kite wing near the front and arrow style four small wings at the back set at an angle to give longitudinal stability, he used dihedral for lateral stability, he used a movable weight at the front to experiment with CG positions. His gliders provided a solid foundation for aerodynamics 100 years before the Wright Brothers flew. Certainly a man well ahead of his time.
In 1857, Frenchman Felix du Temple built a steam powered model that took off flew and landed under its own power. This was generally accepted to be the first successful powered model flight.
In 1871, another Frenchman Alphonse Penaud demonstrated a small 18 inch span rubber powered model to a scientific society. It featured starched feathers for prop blades and flew a distance of 131 ft in 11 seconds.
Since then model builders have tried to make models that fly higher and for longer. From the earliest days most free flight models have been built to gain a competitive edge. Once someone had flown for 15 secs, someone else tried for 20 secs.
The first formal model aircraft contest in Britain was held in 1907 at the Alexandra Palace, organised by the Daily Mail. There were 130 entries. The winning model, a rubber powered model by a young man called Alliott Verdon Roe flew the length of the hall. He used his cash prize to build a man carrying Triplane and then founded an Aircraft Company called Avro – which went on to produce the legendary “ Dambuster” Lancaster bomber.
Now in the 21st century, what attracts people to build and fly Free Flight models ? There are many aspects to the sport. There is the joy of building something from basic raw materials and the enormous satisfaction of seeing your creation flying. There are the skills of understanding aerodynamics and adjusting your model to fly well. There are the challenges of matching yourself and your model against others in competitions. It is not expensive – one can put together a Glider or Rubber Model for say £40 that could win contests. There is the purity of being judged by a stopwatch and the not the opinion of a judge. There is the attraction of actively using the countryside and developing an understanding of the weather conditions and how they will influence your models flight.
These are all part of the package, but they just scrape the surface of a myriad of little complexities that make Free Flight Contest flying truly an intriguing sport.