Shallow Thoughts : tags : planes

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 11 Jan 2022

My Favorite Plane(s)

[] On most Sundays, you can find me at Overlook Park where the Los Alamos Aeromodelers fly radio controlled model airplanes at the big soccer field. The Los Alamos Aeromodelers used to be an official flying club, but now it's just a group of friends who fly together.

I first got into R/C flying in the 1980s. Back then, model planes were made of balsa wood. They took forever to build. The planes were heavy (five or six pounds) and flew fast, and so when they crashed — which they did a LOT — you had a lot of fastidious rebuilding to do.

They were powered with internal combustion 2-stroke motors. They were SO LOUD. You couldn't fly them in local parks; you had to drive to a remote flying field where the noise wouldn't disturb anyone.

Plus the motors were finicky and messy: they spewed oil everywhere, so you had to clean the plane off with paper towels and a degreaser after every flight. Ick.

Read more ...

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[ 15:56 Jan 11, 2022    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Tue, 27 Aug 2019

Plane Fishing

[plane fishing] White Rock has a "glider port", which is just an informal spot along the edge of the canyon where sometimes people fly R/C sailplanes. On days when the winds are right, gliders can get some pretty good lift.

Last Sunday wasn't one of those days. The wind was coming from every direction but east, so the gliders were having to use their motors periodically to climb back up to altitude.

I was mostly trying to stay above the canyon rim, but I noticed all the other pilots were flying down below, so I decided maybe it wasn't that dangerous to let my plane get a little below the edge for a while before starting the motor. Wrong! Below the edge of the canyon, there's a risk of catching some evil rotors off the cliffs. One of those rotors caught my glider's wing and tossed it into a spiral. I was able to recover and get the plane flying straight again -- straight toward the cliff. It smacked hard -- I saw parts flying everywhere.

I didn't expect that the plane itself was salvageable -- it's only styrofoam, after all -- though it looked surprisingly intact. In any case, Dave and I hoped to recover the components: battery, motor, receivers, servos. Hiking to the plane proved difficult: you can get fairly near there on the Blue Dot trail, but then you need to climb three levels of cliff to reach the place where the plane sat. Coming down from above definitely would have required rapelling gear.

But Dave had an idea: let's go fishing!

It took some experimenting to figure out what sort of hook, line and pole you need to fish for a thirty-ounce plane that's fifty feet down a sheer cliff out of sight from the cliff above it. Dave did the fishing and I acted as the caller, sitting some hundred feet away where I could spot the plane through binoculars and shout out which direction he needed to move the line. But we got it in the end! I shot some quick snapshots while I wasn't busy spotting, which you can see here: Plane Fishing (photos).

[plane on the hook] Amazingly, the plane was almost undamaged. The plastic spinner was destroyed, but the motor seems fine. The nose of the plane is very slightly askew but not broken. The battery, after being plugged in to the receiver for 48 hours, was down to zero volts, but when we charged it carefully, it took a charge. The canopy went flying off at the moment of impact and is down there in the rocks somewhere, so I have a new canopy, spinner and collet on backorder, but in the meantime, the plane is probably flyable. I'll find out this weekend -- but if we fly at the gliderport, I'm not letting it get lower than cliff level, ever!

[ 16:57 Aug 27, 2019    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Sun, 22 Nov 2009

BAM Indoor R/C Flying

I gather indoor R/C airplane flying is fairly common in some areas of the country. But here in the Bay Area, there's been a lot of demand and not many opportunities to do it, so there was great excitement at a recent opportunity to rent Sunnyvale's community center gym for some Sunnyvale Indoor Flying.

[Parkzone Vapor Micro-flyer] Indoor flying has come a long way. I remember a couple of years ago when most of the indoor planes were either "3-D" planes like my skunk plane that can stay in a small area by hovering, or weirdo concoctions like the Mini IFO. There were a few pioneers who used microminiature actuators and other fancy hardware to build tiny lightweight custom planes, but that was an expensive and difficult proposition.

But lithium-polymer battery technology and advances in tiny servos and brushless motors have created a revolution in super lightweight micro flyers, led by the Parkzone Vapor (Dave's is pictured at right). At a flying weight of half an ounce, the Vapor makes it easy for anybody to fly in a small gym or even a large room.

[Parkzone Vapor Micro-flyer] For folks who want something a little faster and more aerobatic, the Mustang is a bit heavier at 1.2 oz, but still flies well in a gym. And of course, there are the hundreds of micro-helicopters that are popping up everywhere over the last year or two.

Pretty cool stuff! Anyway, we had a great session on Friday flying these planes, and amazingly avoided any serious carnage (unusual for indoor flying where there are so many walls and basketball hoops to smack into). I'm a little out of practice and found the flying a bit intense, so I took a few breaks between flying sessions to shoot photos.

For the new year this is going to turn into an AMA-chartered club, BAM (Bay Area Microflyers). Watch the BayRC forums for more details.

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[ 15:13 Nov 22, 2009    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 19 Dec 2008

Boomer Fest '08

[R/C combat with streamers] A couple of weekends ago, a handful of combat R/C flyers from Dublin (Calif, not Ireland) came down to Sunnyvale Baylands for a Saturday melee with our local crowd. We called it the "Boomer Fest" since the group includes "Boomer Butch" and there are usually several Boomers among the group's combat planes.

[Full contact R/C combat] No long write-up, but I did upload some still images and video from the event. Adding streamers to the planes sounded silly (and didn't last long in the high winds), but they sure made the combat prettier!

Kasra tried to shoot some onboard video, but unfortunately the camera shut itself off a few seconds into the flight. Maybe next time.

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[ 11:52 Dec 19, 2008    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Tue, 30 Sep 2008

Life in the Baitball

I'm flying R/C electric planes again. I'd overdone it a few years ago and burned out; it stopped being fun and I had to take a long break from flying.

But lately I'd been hearing intriguing stories from Dave about the group he flies with at Baylands. They weren't doing the endless hovering-and-rolling-circles that's all the rage in electric R/C circles. (Not to disparage 3-D flying; anyone who can coordinate a rolling circle gets my respect as a pilot. I just lost interest in spending much time at that sort of flying myself.

No, what they've been doing lately is combat flying ... dogfighting. The kind of flying I always thought looked most fun, only Dave and I could never get anyone else interested. You mean, there's a whole group of people dogfighting and I'm missing it?

When I came out to visit, a couple of my old dusty planes in tow, Dave let me use one of his old Boomers (a bit easier for a rusty pilot to fly than the full-on Wild Wing) for the combat. We only had 4-5 planes in the air, but I was hooked right away. Dogfighting is way more fun with five planes than it is with only two. It's still surprisingly difficult to hit each other, even when that's what everyone's trying to do. But even when you don't make contact, it's exciting and beautiful.

When you get a lot of planes in the air, twisting and turning and looping and trying to stay in a little compact region because that makes it more likely they'll hit, Dave put his finger on what it's most like. You know those David Attenborough nature shows where a huge school of sardines or anchovies has gathered, and dolphins herd them into a tight compact ball of shining shimmering silvery streaks, and then the seabirds come and dive from the air while the dolphins are darting in and out from below? Attenborough calls it a bait ball, and that's what Dave calls our combats.

We're gradually pulling in fresh mea--er--new recruits to add to the fun. A week ago last Saturday we all trooped up to Dublin to meet with some east bay combat flyers. We had as many as ten planes all fighting at once. Pete has a video online of the Dublin Melee ... video from a digital camera really doesn't get the feeling across, but it's a start, and gives some idea of the challenge of keeping track of which plane is yours.

Try imagining David Attenborough narrating about the bait ball while you watch the video. Helps a little, doesn't it? Or if you're going for the feel of combat, ditch the narration and play something like the "Asteroid Field" theme from the first Star Wars.

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[ 22:20 Sep 30, 2008    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 22 Mar 2008

Convair B-36 Peacemaker

Dave was browsing old airplane pages and stumbled across a neat find.

The Convair B-36 Peacemaker has a wingspan of 230 feet (for comparison, a Boeing 767's wingspan is 156 feet), and it's powered by four pusher-prop radial engines plus four turbojets, ten engines total. Wow!

But that's not even the cool part. The cool part is the list of B-36es still in existence. There are apparently only five of them left: one at Castle Air Force Base (hey, that's not that far from here -- a two or three hour drive, and we used to autocross there now and then); one at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio; one at the Pima Air Museum in Tuscon, Arizona; one at the Strategic Air & Space Museum in Nebraska; and one in pieces in a field in Newbury, Ohio owned by a Mr. Walter Soplata, who bought the plane when the Air Force was about to scrap it.

Wouldn't that be a cool accessory to liven up your back yard?

[ 14:50 Mar 22, 2008    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Tue, 15 Mar 2005

The Talking Dog at the Men's Club

Dave and I went flying (radio controlled model airplanes) at Baylands last Saturday.

Dave got to the tables first, with the toolbox and one plane. I followed, carrying two of my planes. As I walked up to the table, some guy I hadn't seen there before chuckled, indicated Dave and said "Heh, I see he's got someone to carry his stuff for him."

I gave him a strange look and a "Huh?" and then "No, he can carry his own stuff."

It eventually dawned on the guy that those planes I was carrying were my own, and I was going to fly them (perhaps the transmitter hanging from its strap around my neck was a clue?), and he apologized.

It's amazing how often this happens; about every other time I fly there, there's some guy reacting like "Unbelievable! She has breasts, yet she flies airplanes! How can this be?"

It's not that they're unfriendly -- usually they're much more complimentary than this particular fellow. But it can get old being the phenomenal talking dog week after week. I'm reminded of the recommendation in Val's "How To Encourage Women in Linux" document: "Don't stare and point when women arrive". Fortunately, the Bayland regulars aren't like that, so it's not quite that "stranger walks into a bar" scene mentioned in Val's howto. But it's frequent enough that I bet it discourages women newbies.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, based on the state of model airplane magazines, which are still stuck at that pleistocene "Each month's cover shows a different scantily clad bimbo with big tits and lots of lipstick, posing with an airplane" stage from which most other male-dominated hobbies graduated ten or fifteen years ago, or longer.

I was thinking about that today after class when, as I was getting ready to ride home, a woman walking to her car hailed me with some bike questions, and we had a nice talk about motorcycling.

She said her boyfriend thought she might be too short to ride (she was about my height, possibly a little shorter) but she'd seen a Rebel at a Honda dealer and was pretty sure she could ride that. I assured her a Rebel should be no problem, nor should a small sportbike like a Ninja 250. I offered to let her try straddling my CB-1 (about the same height as a Ninja 250), but she declined -- on her way somewhere, and perhaps nervous about sitting on someone else's bike.

Anyway, she had already decided to take the MSF course and get all the safety gear before buying a bike -- she'd obviously thought it through, and had come to all the right conclusions on her own. You go, girl!

(I probably should have thought to tell her about the Short Bike List FAQ.)

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[ 23:40 Mar 15, 2005    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

Sat, 04 Dec 2004

Predators and Flocks

I've always read that the reason that animals congregate in flocks, schools, and swarms is that it's more difficult for a predator to attack an animal in a swarm. The predator goes for one animal, gets confused and veers off after another animal, veers after a third, and ends up catching none at all.

Today, I experienced this effect more directly, from the vantage point of both predator and prey.

We were flying model airplanes with the folks at Baylands. We brought the Pocket Combat Wings out of retirement, because there's been chatter on BayRC about people dogfighting Mini Speedwings, and we wanted to try dogfighting with more than just the two of us in the air.

We hit the jackpot today! The combat session had seven planes in the air at once, though it seemed like twice that as they twisted and twined and screamed and whined and tried to hit each other. Beautiful!

There's been some talk about rules and engine classes and that sort of thing. Speaking as a pilot of the smallest and least powerful plane there (I think I was the only one with a stock IPS motor), it doesn't matter a bit whether some planes are faster than others, or slightly bigger. Nobody can make contact anyway.

In some twenty minutes of intense dogfighting (and sore hands and raw thumbs!) there were maybe four hits total (and no kills -- in every case both wings continued flying). People tried different strategies: pick out one target and follow it (invariably to lose it quickly in the melee), fly straight and let everyone else attack you (except mini wings don't fly straight all that well, especially in high winds), fly straight back and forth through the center of the bait-ball, fly into the bait-ball and start doing tight loops, fly above the bait-ball and spin down through it ...

Didn't matter. It turned out to be impossible to aim for a particular plane as they all swarmed and twisted, and impossible to pick one and follow it. Life in a swarm is chaos, and all you can do is join in the chaotic dance.

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[ 22:21 Dec 04, 2004    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]