First Surprising Success

APS debutante

This free flight model is a Debutante, built from an APS (Aeromodeller Plans Service) plan, deserving of a page of it's own. It is very dear to my heart. It was on of those design's by Vic Smeed, a prolific model designer for many years, that just flew. It was one of those rare designs that was just right from the word go.

On it's maiden flight I had been cautious with the amount of fuel I had put in the tank as I didn't want a long walk to retrieve it. The diesel engine was decompressed and running rich to take it off full power. All the APS recommendations on size of engine seem to be based on older engines that where less powerful, as I was to find out over the years.

After a gentle hand launch she went into a series of gentle circles as she crossed the field at about the same height, and I was feeling quite pleased with myself. This was the first time I got the feeling that I actually knew what I was doing at last.

As time went by, and I strolled after it, something struck me as not being right. I was sure the engine should have stopped by now, but there was no sign of the model comming down. That concern rapidly turned into something like dread as I realised it was actually gaining height. When it finally moved off the playing field onto the rough grass at the edge, it started to climb at an alarming rate, finally becoming a small speck high above as it disappeared into the cloud base.


This was my first encounter with a thermal, one of those elusive rising columns of warm air sought after by full size glider pilots and competition free flight duration flyers alike. Great if you need one, not so good if you don't.The journey home was with a heavy heart. Not only had I lost a newly built model, but the new engine had been a present from my father, and I knew I wasn't going to get another in a hurry.

After a few days of feeling miserable, there was a knock at the front door. A man stood there with my precious plane. I had at least done the right thing by sticking a reward notice in the model, just in case. It had flown quite a few miles across the city and finally landed in the mans vegetable allotment. I was one happy bunny for a long time after that.

The model made many more flights after that one but never again hit a thermal. It was many years later before I learned the tricks of how competition flyers cope with that sort of situation.