I’m writing my inaugural column from the Sun ‘n Fun air show, where I’m volunteering in Air Operations. Traditionally Sun ‘n Fun marks the start of the full-scale airshow season and for many of us in the United States Sun ‘n Fun also coincides with the start of RC flying season.
The first time I entered the hallowed shack called Air Ops I was struck by a sign at the exit to the ramp. “Don’t Do Nothing Dumb” it said and I was impressed by the attitude it conveyed with so few words. As it happened this was 2011, when two tornadoes struck Sun ‘n Fun. While the destruction of property and airplanes was tragic, I feel a lot of the reason no lives were lost was this attitude toward safety as professed by Air Operations Boss Dick “Yoda” Hansua, and carried out by those who work for him.
You’d never guess just by looking at him that Yoda was a Vietnam veteran helicopter pilot with thousands of flight hours in military and civilian fixed and rotary wing aircraft. True to his nickname, Yoda runs Air Ops with a quiet voice and authority that comes from decades of experience and no need to prove himself. In the morning briefings he leads a group that includes representatives from the FAA and Air Traffic Control, along with hot-air balloon, ultralight, rotary wing, military and warbird airshow pilots to solve problems from the day before and clarify plans for the day to come. If totaled, the accumulated flight hours in that room would run well into six figures, and one can readily imagine the egos present during the briefings. While there are occasional conflicts between departments, I’ve never heard a raised voice or a cross word between the department heads. People may disagree, but they pull together with professional respect to make the show safe.
Knowing When To Say When
Looking forward to some end of the day flying a few years ago, I was assembling my 81-inch electric Proctor Antic at my local club field. It was one of those perfect May evenings that make up for Puget Sound’s short, cold rainy days of winter. I was all set for some relaxing thumb twiddling when a pilot I didn’t know sauntered over. “Flying one of those old things, huh?” he asked, gesturing to my Antic and putting a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry. One day you’ll graduate to real airplanes like mine” and he pointed to the .60-size P-51 and Spitfire on a nearby table.
I’ll admit, it was hard not to respond. While I am a Ken Willard “Sunday Flier” type of RC pilot, I am also proud of my aviation career. I began with RC models in 1978 and have been lucky enough to progress to flying as a co-pilot on Boeing 777s. I was determined not to ruin my night, so I bit my tongue and simply agreed that maybe someday I would graduate to real airplanes like his. I then returned to my Antic as he turned to his models on the bench next to mine.
An hour later the sun was dipping to the horizon and my mission was accomplished. I was embarrassed to actually find dust on my model, so I had used the first battery returning to “Stick and Rudder 101.” After flying basic maneuvers like boxes, figures 8s, stalls and steep turns at altitude, I spent the next couple packs in the landing pattern. The Antic is a terrific airplane to fly. For all her vintage looks, she has the flying characteristics of my old Carl Goldberg trainer and is ideal for such evening sorties. During one break while others were not flying, I ran down my last pack with some hops in ground effect, experimenting to see what happened if I raised the tail too soon during takeoff, or tried to keep it up too long during landing. I might have even snuck in a high-speed pass once or twice, and of course had to test the integrity of the spars and rigging with a few loops and rolls.
I was feeling very mellow and had started taking my plane apart when I heard the unmistakable, sickening sound of a high revving engine that abruptly stops. The silence echoed across the field. Scanning the flightline, I saw my friend with the real airplanes standing at a station staring off in the distance, transmitter still pointed to the sky. He stood there like we all have at one time or another, looking and waiting and hoping for his model to reappear. He eventually put his transmitter down and made “The Walk.”
I was gathering the last of my tools when he made it back to his bench and laid down a broken wing and shattered fuselage. As I looked over he offered “Thought I could squeeze out enough power for one more flight. Guess I didn’t.”
Until next time, don’t do nothing dumb.