Competing For Our Affection

Monday, 5 November 2018  |  Jonathan

It is late afternoon and I am standing on a low wooden jetty with steps at one end leading down into the water.

The heat has gone out of the day and sunlight enhances the colours of the rocks and trees all around. The water is as still as glass and my yellow Tiger Moth float-plane sits motionless on the surface.

I am on holiday in the south east of the country and have two weeks staying here at the family cottage by the sea, before we head north to the mountains.

My boys are watching as I check the controls and begin to ease the throttle control open.

I have two floatplanes with me - both are GWS foam models; a Tiger Moth 400 and an E-Starter. I like GWS models and have made quite a few, finding them easy to build and fly.

Some of our neighbours come down here at weekends in full-size float-planes of their own, so that they may return to the capital easily on Sunday evening and avoid the queues back into the city. These sparked me into trying float-plane models myself and I'm glad I did.

The Tiger turns to run parallel to the shore, leaving a wake behind. It rises easily off the water and I let it climb away. A small group of people are watching with interest as I buzz the model up and down - no aerobatics, though it would quite easily loop if I wanted it to.

After a few minutes I line it up for landing. The thing about electric RC models is that they don't mix with water if you make a bish of the landing, so I slow it right up and let it float down, flaring as it just touches. Luckily it stays on its floats (I am no RC expert) and I taxi it in. The number one son collects it by the steps and we prepare the the E-Starter for flight.

The E-Starter is very easy to fly and number two son takes the transmitter. He is a much better pilot than I will ever be, with no fear and reactions that I may once have had, but sadly no longer posess!

He puts on a display for the watchers, who applaud from the edge of the water. As the battery begins to fade, he deftly lands and taxis in. Show over.

In the following days I do some "proper" aeromodelling, sitting on the decking above the cottage in the sun and building a Keil Kraft Competitor.

The finish is well down to my usual standard, but I finish it in good time and when we pack up to head north, it is placed carefully above all the luggage at the back of the car.

The quality of Keil Kraft kits was variable at the best of times to say the least, but some just seem to redeem themselves and the Competitor is one of those. It looks vintage, from another time, but to me at least, it looks elegant and I just know it will fly.

It takes hours to get to our place in the mountains. We are high up and the mountain tops are covered in snow though the weather is still sunny. It is fresher and colder than down by the sea and we are 1950 metres up in a sparsely populated area.

My boys are not aeromodellers - they fly but do not build.

"You build it Dad; I'll fly it!" they usually say.

So I did. So few young boys and girls make model aeroplanes.

My boys are grown up now and lost to the "Great Wen" that is London. One day, I think as I stare into my glass, they might remember aeroplanes and go back to them. I don't hold my breath!

A lovely calm evening and I am standing on a field of heather and have persuaded the boys to act as holders as I wind the rubber motor, stretched long with my ancient Stanley hand drill. Fit the propeller and nose block back in, launch and away.

My heart sings as the model circles and climbs into the sky.

This is joy, pure and simple.

Something I have made with my own hands is doing exactly what it was meant to do - fly.

If you are an aeromodeller, you will know exactly how I felt. You would have the same grin, looking at those watching on in triumph and feeling wonderful.

The turns on the rubber run out and the model glides away, landing with a gentle bump among the tussocks. The boys wander off to retrieve it for me.

Over the next few days, the model flies long and well until it is time to pack up and head for the boat home.

I hang the model from the main beam in the ceiling. It never flys again and I close the door and drive away.

I do not go there anymore, but I am still an aeromodeller.

Nearly twenty years later, I build a test Competitor model for The Vintage Model Company  and discover I still like the way it looks. Testing shows that we need to select the wood with care as some of the cut parts are delicate and I want to design a laminated nose for it instead of supplying a lump of balsa block to carve.

We make the much bigger brother, the Contestor, that sells very well, but somehow I still like the Competitor - it may be because I remember the one I built on holiday and flew in the mountains.

This test build has to be photographed before I can take it out and fly it, but I just know it will perform. It looks right, it balances in the correct place, it is light and very elegant standing on its leggy undercarriage.

We have not had a calm evening up here in the Moorlands despite prolonged sunshine, so I have not had much flying time with my rubber-powered models for a while.

When I do, I could watch my model competing for my affection and giving me the feeling I had of triumph and joy all those years ago in another country.

My boys, like many others, don't know what they're missing, but fathers shouldn't preach. It doesn't help and sometimes seeds take a long time to germinate. Perhaps next time they go down to the sea and stand on the jetty or walk up into the mountains, they might want to fly a model they have made. You never know...

I'm sure you can guess where the place I am talking about is. Like the Moorlands, it is very beautiful and though it is a long time since I last went there, it is etched in my memory along with its northern lights and midnight sun.