The Jeff Sagas

Adrian Duncan. has been sending me humorus and fond recollections of his old friend named Jeff I thought they were worthy of a page on their own.  So on with the show !

Brick on a string!

If you’ve been flying C/L models for as long as I have, you’ve probably become thoroughly tired of the old “brick on a string” comment that you get from so many of the uninitiated!  Many people who don’t fly C/L seem to have trouble accepting the fact that C/L models do fly, just like any other flying model, and do not depend simply on centrifugal force to keep them airborne (like the proverbial brick!). Indeed, if this were not the case, there would be no way that a C/L model could be made aerobatic.

For this reason, the issues of wing loading and aerodynamic design are just as important for a successful C/L model, particularly an aerobatic one, as they are for any other flying model. Speaking personally, I’ve always aimed for a maximum wing loading of 6 ½  ounces per 100 square inches of effective wing area.  This means that with a 240 square inch 2.5 cc vintage diesel combat model (the type that I fly most frequently these days), the weight has to be kept below 16 ounces for a competitive performance. Not hard to do, but it does require careful weight management during the building process. And the results are spectacular – the aerobatic performance of a model built to this loading is way ahead of a similar model weighing only an ounce or two more. With my 1/2A (1.5 cc) vintage diesel combat models, it’s usually possible to get down to 5 ½ ounces per 100 square inches, and those models are a joy to fly.

I recall an incident from some years ago which threw this wing loading thing into stark relief!  One of the senior members of our club was a gentleman in his seventies who was a very early and respected member of the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada (MAAC) and was a stalwart supporter of the various events put on by the club.  I don’t want to embarrass his memory (he’s deceased now) since he was a valued friend of mine.  So let’s call him Jeff (think of me as Mutt!!).

Old Jeff was known for two things – building models that had trouble staggering into the air, and dorking said models into the ground at every opportunity!  When this happened (which was frequently), he would never throw the model away – he would repair it and show up next time to try again.

Part of Jeff’s trouble was that he never quite got the hang of setting his engines up correctly for the intended purpose. His approach to the challenge of getting airborne was to try to get more power out of the engine by using an oversized venturi. Of course, this destroyed the engine’s suction, which caused it to sag or cut at the wrong moment, which in turn caused another pile-in........... and so it went!

Near the end of Jeff’s career as a model flier, we all went down across the US border to fly in a vintage diesel combat event down there. Jeff came along as always, and he brought a large and very “experienced” stunt ship to play with when the combat bouts were either on hold or completed.  It proved that this beast (which was powered by a 1972 Fox 40 Stunt engine) could barely stagger into the air with the engine howling, let alone perform stunts, and the inevitable ending was soon reached with the model returning the hard way to terra firma.

Jeff had a heart of gold, and he knew that I was an engine collector and “fiddler”.  He decided on the spot that he’d had enough of this model and gave it to me there and then, saying that at least the engine would be of interest to me!  He refused to take any money from me, and that was that. A real gentleman ................. I took the model from him and was practically driven into the ground like a nail by the sheer weight of the beast!  Its aerodynamic difficulties were well explained on the spot, although no-one taxed old Jeff with this, naturally.....................

After Jeff left to head back up to Canada, I stayed around at the field to remove the Fox 40.  This was soon accomplished, and then we had the problem of what to do with the model.  No-one wanted it, and I couldn’t fit it in my little car anyway.  So it was agreed that it would simply go into the nearby rubbish bin to await collection.

That was the start of our troubles!  The thing was BIG, as I said, and wouldn’t fit into the bin!  So it would have to be broken up.  Easier said than done!!  First we tried dropping it on the pavement – no effect.  Then we threw it at a nearby stone wall with increasing vigor – ditto.  We tried to get the wings off by putting it over a knee and pushing on each side – the wings just bent a little.  Finally, in desperation, we placed it wingtip to wingtip on an angle at the base of the wall and one of the lads took a run at it and landed with both feet square in the middle.  The first attempt merely bent it some more, so we flipped it and he tried again.  This time, success!!  The wing broke in two.  A similar process removed the other wing, and we were in business.

But what an eye-opener!!  It turned out that whenever the thing broke during its former hard life as a working model, Jeff had taken steps to reinforce it!  All of the spars were strengthened with lashed-on metal channels, and the broken ribs had been replaced with plywood items. Any gaping holes were plugged by the simple expedient of pouring liquid epoxy into them! The two halves of the wing were quite literally held together by a lump of reinforced concrete - Jeff had inserted twisted piano wires through the joints to act as rebars and  had then poured some kind of very hard concrete or plaster around the rebar!  This occupied most on the wing cells closest to the fuselage (although he did leave gaps for the leadout wires in the inboard wing). The wing itself was covered with what appeared to be some kind of heavily-doped artist’s canvas!

The result was a model having a wing area of some 650 square inches and weighing around 80 ounces (determined by weighing the remains plus the engine as best we could). The reinforced concrete accounted for a fair bit of this.  The resulting wing loading of over 12 ounces per 100 square inches was enough to doom the model from the outset as an aerobatic performer!  It’s a credit to the Fox 40 (which I still have) that it got into the air at all! 

I took the lessons learned from this incident very much to heart, and have always been very mindful of the weight factor in my subsequent building activities.  These things do fly – but you have to give them a fair chance to do so!!

 When to hang it up?!?

In an earlier contribution to the “memories” section of this site, I mentioned an old friend (now deceased) whom we’ll continue to call Jeff out of respect for the memory of a fine gentleman, good friend and dedicated fellow modeller. One could go on forever with Jeff stories, since he was one of those memorable characters who write the script as they go along and never repeat themselves! Here’s another true tale from the twilight years of Jeff’s long and distinguished career as a control-line competitor. 

Jeff was a charter member of the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada, and was a respected competitor who had assembled a fine contest record in his heyday. But time moves relentlessly along, and perhaps Jeff’s greatest failing as he grew older was that he simply didn’t know when it was time to quit!  It’s a sad fact that as we age our capacities for clear vision, quick thought and quick movement progressively decline, and so it was with Jeff. We can accommodate these changes by setting our sights a little lower and continuing to enjoy our chosen activities at a slightly more relaxed level.  But not old Jeff!!  Despite his advancing years and diminished capabilities, the competitive juices flowed as strongly as ever, and he remained a fixture at the control-line contests in our area.

It must be said that Jeff’s presence certainly added some new and exciting elements to the challenge involved in competing in those events which he entered, especially the racing events!  Firstly, he lost his ability to react sufficiently quickly to his own model’s behaviour, with a consequent dramatic increase in the carnage rate of his own models. When this happened, he rarely built a new model - he repaired the old one, often with dire results in terms of weight (see “The Heavy Brigade” above)!  To compensate, he would tinker with his engines to try to extract more power, generally with the opposite result! As a result, his models became progressively worse performers, adding to Jeff’s challenges.

Secondly, Jeff’s vision became progressively less acute and he lost the capacity to anticipate, analyse and respond to interactions between his model and those of others. Avoidance of mid-airs in multi-pilot events therefore became a required survival skill among his competitors, even in dead-level events like sport racing. This challenge was complicated by the fact that Jeff’s flying became increasingly erratic and unpredictable - one had to react like lightning to the unexpected!  Each heat was an adventure ……………..

Thirdly, Jeff lost the ability to get about in the centre with the required agility to avoid physically interfering with other competitors, who therefore had to do all the avoiding while at the same time trying to remain focused on their own flying.  And finally, he got to the point where he was simply unable to keep up with a model that was performing as it should.  Despite all of this, Jeff was so enthusiastic and well-liked that no-one had the heart to tell him that he was no longer up to it and that his entry would not be accepted.

The following true tale will illustrate the problems which all of this caused. At the time in question, I was the pit-man in a highly successful Northwest Sport Race team (profile fuselage, unmodified Fox engine, standard fuel, .15 and .35 classes). We showed up for a local contest to find old Jeff wandering around looking for a pit crew for the Flying Clown event which he’d entered. Being gluttons for punishment as well as being on the best of terms with Jeff, we took pity on him and agreed to pit his model.

In my book, Clown is a drag - the model is based on the old classic Flying Clown design but is fitted with a high-performance modern glow motor of up to .199 cu. in. displacement.  Seemingly a contradiction in terms ………..The format is simple - you fly three-in-the-circle for 15 minutes exactly, with the one who covers the most laps being the winner. For me, pretty boring stuff, but the fact that there were only a maximum of two other fliers in the centre was a bonus given Jeff’s avoidance issues!  The downside was that he had to keep it up for all of 15 minutes - quite a challenge for Jeff by this stage! 

For once, Jeff had a newly-built model in good condition, with a near-new Picco .15 up front.  We checked it over and it looked fine - everything was well attached and all of the controls seemed to work. The pull test and the engine test-run both went well, and we actually thought that Jeff might make a reasonable showing for once………………. 

Due to the number of entries, there was only one other competitor in Jeff’s heat race - this is allowed under the event rules. So everything seemed favourable for Jeff to have a pretty good run!  The signal sounded, and the motor fired right up.  Away went the model …….. straight up, right over the top and down!!  Pilot confusion ……………..Jeff manage to pull it out (just about!) before it hit the tarmac, but the landing gear was well bent and the prop was busted.

Jeff signalled that he wanted to try again, so we worked on the model while the other competitor enjoyed the reprieve granted to him in having the circle to himself!  We quickly sorted the landing gear (more or less) and replaced the prop.  Once again, the engine fired right away and we sent it off with a good needle setting.

This time Jeff managed to stay out of wingovers and the like.  Those Piccos were darn good little engines, and his model quickly settled down and began to look very competitive, actually going faster than the other model in the heat!  But therein lay the foundation of the next issue - Jeff couldn’t keep up! The model steadily got further and further ahead of him as he tried to run around the centre area.  Plus his model was overtaking his opponent…………………

Naturally there could only be one result, and it came soon enough - Jeff’s lines started to wrap around his somewhat taller fellow pilot. Not surprisingly, that worthy found himself greatly inconvenienced by this, and tried ducking and weaving to get out of the tangle, almost being bowled over by Jeff in the process, quite apart from nearly crashing his own model. The inevitable end came when a bob or a weave caused a sufficient disruption to Jeff’s controls that his model pancaked quite neatly, restoring tranquillity to the centre of the circle as the competing flier extracted himself from the wrap and was once again on his own!

We had watched all of this with growing incredulity, and fully expected Jeff to call it quits at this point.  But not Jeff!!  He frantically signalled to us that he still wanted to go back up for more!  AAARRRGGGHHH!!!#@?! Ignoring the dagger-like looks from the opposing pit crew (who clearly wanted us to stay down), we sorted the landing gear (again!), changed the prop (again!) and fired up the Picco (again!).  But we had now learned an important lesson - with Jeff, speed was the enemy!  So the needle came out quite a way and the model went off in far more subdued fashion than previously.  Since Jeff  now had the slower model, his opponent was far better able to stay out of line-wraps and to manage the overtaking situation. 

We thought that at this point we had it cracked, but there was still more to come …………  At the first pit stop after the second crash, we were a bit concerned to notice that Jeff was looking a little blown in the centre while he waited for us to get him up again.  Partway through the next stint it became apparent that there was reason to worry - Jeff was clearly in physical distress, even at the reduced speed that we’d given him.  By the end of that stint he was really beginning to stagger and was once again beginning to make physical contact with his opponent due to his loss of control over his own mobility.  But he still indicated that he wanted to continue - his fighting spirit simply wouldn’t let him quit! 

So we played our final card - we practically pulled the needle out of the spraybar and sent the model off so rich that we actually doubted that Jeff would be able to coax it into the air!  But here we were treated to a masterly display of one of Jeff’s remaining talents!!  For the reasons stated earlier, his models were usually so overweight and so inadequately powered that they were generally very marginal fliers at the best of times. Consequently, there was no-one more adept and experienced than Jeff at coaxing an underpowered and poorly set-up model into the air! 

Jeff was now in his element - he was able to stroll around the centre (presenting a frequent but easy overtaking mark for his opponent) and enjoy doing what he did best - keeping aloft a model that really had no business being in the air!! We finished the heat like that and were well rewarded by Jeff’s very sincere thanks for our help.  We were perhaps even better rewarded by his announcement that he didn’t feel up to giving it another go, and would be scratching from the contest. Reprieved ………. and we were relieved as much for Jeff’s sake as for ours!!  

My association with Jeff remains one of the warmest memories of the many that I’ve accumulated over my many years in control-line modelling.  He was always a true gentleman and a great friend.  The fact that he clearly should have gracefully bowed out of the contest scene long before he did is in no way a blot on his memory - far from it!  It is in fact a testimony to his unquenchable desire to remain active for as long as possible in the hobby that he loved.  Indeed, it’s a measure of just how much he loved the hobby that he found it so hard to recognise when the time had come to lower his sights.

That was one of Jeff’s last contests - he seemed to take the lesson of that heat race to heart, and confined himself thereafter to one-in-the-circle flying with his own brand of overweight models of indifferent performance. But he never lost his love of the hobby, and his eventual passing from the scene was sincerely regretted by one and all. If he did perhaps give all of us some bad moments in the centre circle by hanging on too long, none of us found it at all hard to forgive him!  

Jeff takes to the water

I've mentioned my old friend Jeff in a number of previous contributions to this website.  Here's another true tale of past misfortune that will hopefully add further to Jeff's legend.

One of Jeff's favourite events was control line combat. In his younger days during the 1950's and 1960's, he had been quite adept at this rather tricky sport, earning his share of wins in the good old days of North American Fast Combat using the old-style .36 cu. in. loop-scavenged glow motors.  But time marches on, and by the 1980's Jeff had abandoned this branch of the hobby for more relaxing events which remained within his capabilities.

However, all that changed during the early 1990's when some of the local fliers (including myself) made a determined effort to get British-style vintage diesel combat established here on the Canadian West Coast.  The rules were simple - 2.5 cc non-schnuerle iron-and-steel diesel motor, 8x6 nylon airscrew, only a single ball-race permitted (no Ollies), a model built to a published design that had been in common use at some point prior to 1972, no foamies, structural modifications allowed provided the planform was unchanged.  The intent was to keep speeds and costs down to a reasonable level and reduce the carnage rate to manageable proportions.  It was hoped that this would encourage more people to participate in what was intended to be a strictly for fun event.

Initially, this worked out well, and I was encouraged to resume combat activity myself, having quite a lot of fun in the process.  A good few of the Fast crowd who had had enough of that high-pressure high-cost branch of the sport also joined in.  But their former Fast colleagues soon noted their absence and came looking for them. This exposed the event to the age-old problem that whenever you organize a competition, someone will want to win it regardless of what it takes - the important thing is to WIN rather than to have fun!!  The Fast crowd decided that they wanted to win this class as well, and sadly they brought their attitudes with them ....................

Inevitably, the event thereafter degenerated from a low-key fun class into just another cut-throat carve-up, with fun and sportsmanship being very conspicuous by their absence and the rules being stretched at times to the breaking point. The testosterone flowed, tempers became frayed, the carnage rate went back right up and only the winners had any fun. I for one didn't stick around long after this development.  I fly control line because it's fun! 

But for a couple of years before the win at all costs crowd took over, the event did offer a chance to enjoy some low-key friendly matches using models that could take a dork or two (unlike the foamies) and could be comfortably flown by a normal human being, with engines that were inexpensive and very user-friendly. Jeff observed this and decided that he might be able to manage one of these relatively slow and manageable models.  Here was another chance for Jeff to relive the glory days of his youth, something that he was always up for!! 

Everyone had strong misgivings when Jeff showed up for his first event with a new Warlord that he'd cobbled together.  It had a PAW 249 BR up front (the motor of choice for this event) and weighed in at a hefty 19 ounces (mine weighed less than 16 ounces!).  Building light wasn't Jeff's strong suit (see The Heavy Brigade above)! 

Our worst fears were soon realized. Jeff's model was a real dog, and he couldn't keep up with even these relatively slow models (and his was slower than most).  He'd  messed about with the engine as usual, and as a result it didn't run worth beans.  This made it more or less impossible for him to get a cut on his opponent, but it also made it very difficult to get a cut on Jeff because his model was completely unpredictable with its uneven motor run, flying in bursts rather than at a constant speed.  It was also way slower than the opposing model, making attacks somewhat fraught due to the very high speed differential coupled with the model's erratic behaviour. 

In addition, Jeff was not at all adept at staying out of his competitor's way, and inter-pilot collisions were the order of the day, as were line tangles.  The only way out of a tangle was to dork it in and then sort it, because Jeff was unable to co-operate with the other pilot to resolve tangles in flight. 

We somehow got through that first contest more or less unscathed, and no-one had the heart to tell Jeff that he really wasn't up to it - he was simply too well liked.  We agreed that a more consistent motor run would improve matters, and I persuaded Jeff to let me take his motor home to get it sorted out. There was a lot to sort, but I eventually got it well set up.

The next contest was at a really special venue - a beautiful field operated by one of the local R/C clubs in the coastal mountains of British Columbia.  One of our C/L contestants was a member of this club also, and he kindly arranged for a one-day C/L meet there. The perfectly-groomed field was spectacularly located in a mountain valley and had a wide but rather shallow slough on one side beyond a fringe of fairly high reeds and grasses.  Combat with water hazards - perfect! 

Jeff's model was at least a lot more predictable with its improved motor run, but his other problems persisted. He had even more trouble keeping up with his model now that it was somewhat faster, and the inevitable result was increased inter-pilot interference in the centre circle.  I survived my match with Jeff by grabbing a quick early cut and then staying as far away from him as I could!! 

Several matches and line-tangles later, Jeff was still on his feet and still in the thick of it!  But the inevitable finally happened - Jeff zigged when he should have zagged - straight into the path of his opponent's somewhat faster model.  Instant matchwood ......... bits flew everywhere, including a small solid lump that was Jeff's motor, which was last seen heading at high speed towards the nearby slough!

When the wreckage was collected and assessed, one thing was missing - that pesky motor along with its pod!  Everyone agreed that it had gone in the direction of the slough, and a thorough grid search of the bankside vegetation was undertaken.  No luck ....... and we didn't have a metal detector handy.  It was agreed that the engine might well have gone into the slough, but that wasn't certain.  And if it had gone into the drink, recovery would be a matter of luck more than anything else. It didn't look promising, and Jeff looked pretty glum.

So we returned to the field and the contest went on: until we noticed that Jeff was missing!  We immediately thought of the missing motor, and off we all went to the slough.  And there he was - Nessie in control-line combat guise!  There was old Jeff, up to his waist in water and wearing only his knickers, taking deep breaths and ducking under the surface to scrabble along the bottom for his missing powerplant!  He kept losing his footing and going for a full-on bath, but that didn't deter him in the least!  He was going to find that motor or die trying..................

Naturally, we weren't prepared to contemplate the latter possibility, and we couldn't stand by and watch poor old Jeff suffering in this way!  And it was a pretty warm day in any case. So off came the shirts and pants, and we all waded in!  What a hoot - the entire combat field all splashing around in the muddy water looking for this little piece of metal that meant so much to our mate Jeff.  Wish someone had taken a photo ...... but we were all in the water! 

In the end, I was the lucky finder of the motor - I noticed a small oil sheen at one spot a little farther away than people were searching, and there it was on the bottom right below the oil.  It had gone quite a bit further than we had expected. We gave Jeff the good news, and he was really happy.  Someone did take a photo of the lot of us beside the slough in our knickers, but sadly I've been unable to track down a copy after the passage of some 18 years ...... this was in the pre-digital days.  

I took the motor home again to dry it out and check for damage.  It seemed just fine - it had obviously stopped by the time it hit the water.  I soon had it right back on the top line.

Jeff did build another Warlord for the recovered motor, but he only entered one more combat event before deciding (rightly) that he wasn't up to it any more. Thereafter, he stuck to racing and stunt events, although eventually he had to give up the racing as well (see When To Hang It Up above). But it remained true right to the end to say that Jeff was always among the most welcome sights at any control-line contest in our area.  Thanks for the memories, mate!!