Tuesday, September 26, 2017
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Only Human 2: Winds Light And Variable

By Scott Copeland

Piece O’Cake kit box.

After the humility of my Bonzo experience, I resigned myself to the fact that I really needed a trainer.  Not a converted pylon racer, but a true, purpose-designed trainer.  Lucky for me, Santa put a long rectangular box under the tree that year.  Inside was the Craft-Air Piece O’Cake.  This would be perfect!  The Piece O’Cake was basically a powered sailplane with a 6-foot wingspan, polyhedral wings and light wing loading.  My grandfather supplied the Cox Golden-Bee .049 for power.

Within a week, I had most of the framework done and ready to cover.  Grandad’s Castoff Market supplied a couple rolls of dusty old monokote for covering and I cobbled together a simple orange and blue color scheme.  It looked fairly dreadful, but I was proud that I’d built the whole kit by myself.  Flying was, well … let’s just say that Craft-Air named this kit perfectly!  Hand launching was so easy that I hardly had to run before it lifted out of my hand.  The flight manners were extremely forgiving and it handled the extra weight of my archaic equipment with ease.  For the next few months, I enjoyed much success with the Piece O’Cake.

Me flying at the Brimfield, MA hydro meet a few years after the events of this story took place.

As is human nature, I was not satisfied to rest on my laurels.  I looked ahead to my next goal in modeling- to fly from water.  Every spring for as long as I could recall, I had attended the Brimfield Float Fly with my grandfather as a wide-eyed observer/helper.  The spring after I had completed the Piece O’Cake, I built a pair of Astro Sport floats designed by Mitch Poling and fitted them to my trusty machine.  The Astro Sport was a much smaller plane than my Piece O’Cake, but because there was little difference in the weight of the two planes, the floats supported the larger plane quite well.

I did not have a chance to test-fly my “Hydro-Cake” before Brimfield so I had no idea what to expect.  The forecast was partly cloudy with “winds light and variable”.  As one might expect from a typical weather prediction, we arrived at the lake to find strong, gusty winds whipping the treetops from side to side.  These were certainly not conditions suited to an .049-powered sailplane.  As I sat and pondered my chances of flying that day, an overwhelming force that has been the source of my undoing many times since began to take over; PRIDE.  I wasn’t going to show up and not fly, breezes be damned!

When the winds had lessened a bit, I fueled the little .049 and grabbed the frequency pin.  I was unsure whether I could take off from water, but wanted to try.  I tuned the engine for maximum RPM and set the model in the water.  It started gaining speed for about five feet then was promptly flipped by a wind gust and dunked in the drink.  The floats that had supported the model easily in calm conditions were no match for the leverage a gust of wind creates on a 6 foot polyhedral wing.  Foolish pride!  I dried everything out and probably should have called it a day at that point.  In stepped pride … again.

The venerable Cox Golden Bee .049.

I wanted to prove that I was not just another kid with no flying skills and I wanted to prove all of the people wrong who commented that the Piece O’Cake wouldn’t fly with my float setup.  I decided to have another go at it, but this time I hand launched.  I was flying!  Once airborne, I realized immediately that the wind was quite a bit stronger than the conditions I was used to flying in.  I also realized I had no clue how to keep my lightly-loaded trainer from being blown back over the beach by the strong head wind!  In hindsight, I probably could have used down-elevator to improve wind penetration or added some ballast to increase wing loading.   For that moment in time, however, I was petrified at the prospect of flying over the crowd, over the trees and into certain oblivion.

My RC airplane collection circa 1990. The wing from the Piece O’Cake can be seen on the flying boat in the back row. The floats from the “hydro-Cake” have been mounted to the Ace “Dick’s Dream” seen in the foreground.

After a series of twitchy turns and near crashes, the Piece O’Cake planted itself in the very top of a tree behind the beach.  Fail!  I was able to retrieve the plane by knocking it out of the top of the tree with a tennis ball.  As the airplane toppled to the ground with the sickening, drum-like sound of tree branches piercing hollow, monokote-covered wing bays, I wanted my pride to present itself in human form so I could give it a swift kick in the rear!  The airplane was repaired and flew many more years … on land.  The take-aways:

  1. – Pride is poor counsel on matters of model airplanes
  2. – Common sense should always supersede pride
  3. – This hobby is a humbling endeavor

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