Round & Round

The Control-Line Modeler at Large

By John Thompson

February 2007

Modeling thought for the month:

"This is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way."
­ Doris Lessing

New dogs learning old tricks, etc.

It recently has been suggested that contest organizers appoint a "mentor" to assist novice fliers at their first few contests. The idea is to help the newcomers learn contest procedures and protocol, field etiquette, do's and don'ts -- and probably most importantly, to help them with their equipment: Getting engines to start, planes trimmed, etc. What a great idea.

This was proposed in the context of helping beginner and intermediate stunt fliers, but could apply to any discipline: combat, racing, speed, carrier, scale. It's similar to something I suggested years ago for our local club: That we assign a "mentor" for each new club member -- an experienced flier who would help the newcomer learn about building and flying, about field rules and protocol, where to find supplies, etc.

We never stop learning in this hobby. Never has this been brought home to me with more force than in December when I read Bruce Hunt's latest Heavy Stunt column. Bruce was writing about the feel of the stunt pattern. Bruce has helped me a lot in recent years as I struggled to improve my precision aerobatics flying, a monumental task for someone who has spent 25 years flying with nothing more precise on his mind than "hit the streamer" or "pass over the top."

The weekend after I read Bruce's column, I went out flying and it seemed as if I was flying a different airplane in an entirely different pattern. I just saw everything differently. It has made my winter practice much more valuable. Recently I printed Bruce's column out so I can refer to it again, maybe before each flying session. I don't think I've ever found an article that conveyed more useful information in one concise package. If you're a "developing" stunt flier, I recommend it highly. But Bruce's article is only one of many on this Web site and elsewhere that can be a great help in developing our flying. Reading is one way to continue our learning process in this hobby/sport. Every now and then, we find one article that really helps us jump up the scale of understanding.

The article's success for me points up another important fact: Each of us with some experience in the hobby has something to contribute to the greater knowledge and the success of our fellow fliers. Many already have contributed to the general knowledge of the hobby. If you haven't checked out our Regular Columns section, you owe it to yourself to browse the offerings there from Dirty Dan, Alice Cotton-Royer, Snoopy, Zoot, T-Bone and, of course, Bruce Hunt. Other columns are being added as they become available. Also check out the individual event categories, where technical articles are added regularly by enthusiasts for particular events -- such as Ken Burdick and Buzz Wilson in the Combat section, Don McClave in the Aerobatics section and Todd Ryan and Paul Gibeault in the Racing section -- have added to the general knowledge pool. In looking at these articles, you may that you have something to add. If so, send us your contribution in the form of an article or column. E-mail the editor if you have any questions about how to go about this.

The mentoring idea got me thinking about the people who have helped me in the hobby over the years. Far too many to list, of course, but some stand out.

I've already mentioned how Bruce Hunt has helped me in recent years. Bruce has the perfect approach to assisting other fliers: helpful without being critical, thoughtful, always willing to study and probe into little trim or flying problems no matter how trivial. It seems as if every expert competitor (whether a stunt PAMPA expert or a hot-shot combat flier, etc.) has a ready-made entourage of fliers willing to hold their toolbox -- but the expert fliers helping the novices and less-experienced fliers is what really makes the hobby succeed. And it's where CL flying seems to have a wealth of understanding; I just can't think of an expert modeler I've met who wasn't ready and willing to spend their time helping a novice. Bruce especially has seemed to be able to spot trim problems with my airplanes and make suggestions that seem to be right on the mark with uncanny accuracy, and his eye for problems in my stunt pattern has been extremely revealing.

Among the hall of fame who have helped me over the years, of course my Nitroholics partner Mike Hazel has to be at the top of the list. Mike has put up with my floundering in the racing area for three decades now, and has never seemed to tire of it. Besides gently adding to my knowledge of these sometimes arcane subjects, he also has been willing to put hands on to help me whenever I have asked, such as just lately when I asked him to repitch the 3-blade carbon fiber prop on my Ares. The only thing Mike never told me that I wish he had was, "Don't let go of a set of .018" single-strand rat lines after you take the clip off." The association with Mike illustrates the value of a flying partner: The progress two fliers can make together is always faster ­ and at least more pleasant -- than what one can do on his own.

In my developing days as a combat flier, Gene Pape served as a mentor and flying partner. Just spending time around a guy with numerous successful airplane designs and the respect of every top-level combat flier was bound to rub some useful information off onto a novice like me. Gene, who still comes out and flies once a year or so at no discernable loss of skills, was an absolutely feared combat flier, a fine craftsman as a builder, an innovative thinker and an astonishingly incisive problem-solver. He also was something of an "engine whisperer." An engine that would not start with 100 flips of the prop in one person's hands would go on Gene's first flip. His engines were always among the fastest on the combat fields, despite the fact that all the rework he ever bothered with was to make sure they fit correctly. But the main thing about Gene was that he never hesitated for a second to lend a helping hand to me or any other flier who needed help. I recall at least one time when Gene loaned me an airplane to use in the finals of a contest when I had run out ­ and the opponent in the finals was to be Gene himself. Gene also had a laconic way of saying just the right thing to make you feel good about your hobby, just a the right time. Gene designed the Underdog fast combat plane that I used for many years, and I think it's still one of the best fast combat designs available. It also illustrates Gene's knack for analyzing a situation and coming up with an elegantly simple solution. The Underdog was Gene's improvement of my published Undertaker design (which of course was influenced by earlier designs by Gene and others). Gene saw that the Undertaker had a successful simple structure and excellent flying characteristics but was a bit slow in raw airspeed. He kept the structural concept, designed a new airfoil and planform, and, voila! a plane with all the the Undertaker's good habits and lots more airspeed.

The point here is that my enjoyment of the hobby has been greatly enhanced by these and other fliers as I've developed from novice to more experienced flier. Everyone who has had some success in the hobby has been helped along the way by somebody who took the time to guide them through the pitfalls and problems that are an organic part of this hobby. Every one of us with a bit of experience can do this for someone else, thus passing on a long, honorable tradition.

It can be formalized, as was suggested as a part of contests, or as part of a club's normal operating procedure. Or it can be informal, in the way that Bruce, Mike and Gene have helped me. It doesn't take any special teaching skills or any formal long-term commitment. It's just a matter of being willing to lend a helpful hand or pass along a bit of gentle advice just at the right time when it's needed. We're always busy with our own competitive program, but a bit of extra time invested with a newcomer is well spent. Whether the formal mentoring idea takes off or not, each of us can step up when we see a new flier and offer a helping hand that will be remembered for years to come.

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This page was updated Feb. 24