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Written by Gordon Buckland
RC Soaring
As seen in the July 2019 issue of Model Aviation.

dennis romano is still flying the graupner dandy
Dennis Romano is still flying the Graupner Dandy and the Doodler with the original MonoKote covering that he applied in 1975.

What is it about human nature that has us wanting to hold onto our past and not let go? As the average age of RC Soaring pilots becomes greater, many of us who actively fly today often dream of a more youthful time in our Soaring lives.

For me, the golden age of Soaring was the 1970s and 1980s as the hobby evolved rapidly and models and radios continued to improve and become more sophisticated. At the same time, contest rules also evolved, and pilots, manufacturers, and builders pushed the envelope with performance to be first with the "next best thing."

As a teenager and during my early 20s (like thousands of others around the world), I eagerly waited every day for the next edition of Radio Control Modeler (RCM) or Aeromodeller magazine to arrive on the newsstand so that I could devour every page and study every photo to see what was new.

Like others back then, I built and flew many sailplanes in the process of learning the craft. Now, 40 or 50 years later, we have that nostalgic desire to build the same models and fly them again. These memories also encourage us to build some of the models that we couldn’t afford at the time (that were often flown by other pilots who beat us at contests).

For many years, we have pondered questions such as, "If I had their hardware, would that have made me a better pilot?" and "How well did Skip Miller’s Aquila fly?" We were envious of others and wondered what their models truly flew like.

As we aged and resources such as RCGroups and eBay came along, it became possible for us to relive these nostalgic dreams. We suddenly had access to myriad "stashed" balsa model kits residing in rafters and attics as older pilots offered them for sale. We have been able to indulge in some collecting and hoarding of these vintage aircraft, and many of us can now fly them and answer some of the questions that we have had about them.

The AMA has also long had a Nostalgia class at the Soaring Nats for us to relive our youthful contest experiences. Every year, many pilots bring their old Paragons, Grand Esprits, and Mirages to do battle again. The internet gives us easy access to comprehensive lists of the old manufacturers and their kits, such as Joe Hayes’ website that is listed in "Sources." The RC sailplanes that I flew in the 1970s and ’80s aren’t all listed by Joe, but maybe that is because I am Australian.

I cut my teeth on the Trident (Aeroflyte), Silent Squire (plans from RCM), Suzi (Wik Modelle), Maestro Mk III (Dodgson Designs), Ricochet F3B (Southern Sailplanes), and T-Bird 2m (Southern Sailplanes). The models that I lusted after in my youth were the Grand Esprit, Multiplex Flamingo, Sagitta, and Dassel. The desire remains and I am still avidly looking for these models to add them to my hangar! I bet you have a list of favorites too!

Dennis Romano, age 71, is one of my column readers. He wrote to me recently:

"I attempted my first model airplane at age 5 with no adult help—a stick-and-tissue kit that never got completed. But the spark was there. I decided to become an aeronautical engineer in the fifth grade and do aerodynamics research at the NACA/NASA Ames Research Center, about 20 miles from my home [in California].

"I was ‘into’ model airplanes, cars, and rockets. I built my first RC set from a Controlaire kit (single channel). Around 1969 (while attending Santa Clara University as a mechanical engineer major), I bought a Controlaire four-channel proportional radio on 27 MHz because I couldn’t afford a Kraft system.

"I worked in a hobby shop in San Jose at the time. I had watched the sailplanes flying at Del Mar High [School] (where the League of Silent Flight [LSF] was formed) and decided I had to do it too. I knew Del Mar because I graduated from there. I bought a Doodler and learned to fly RC at that special place. Many of the LSF founders shopped at the hobby shop where I worked, and I got to know a few of them. I crashed a lot, often because of the poor performance of my radio. Glitches on hi-start launch were not fun.

"I got married a couple of years later in 1971. I got my degree in aeronautics from San Jose State in 1974 and went to work as an aeronautical engineer for the Navy doing in-service engineering on Navy airplanes. The first major purchase I made was a Series 74 Kraft five-channel, which was about a month’s take-home pay. I had—and still have—a very understanding wife for almost 48 years.

"Around 1975, I built a Graupner Dandy and put a Kraft two-channel ‘brick’ in it. Then we started having children, my career got very busy, and I stopped flying about the time our third child was born in 1985. I semiretired in 2009 (from NASA Ames) but had already been teaching part time for several months. I was really starting to do woodworking and ‘filled my garage’ with power tools.

"In 2011, I wandered into my local hobby shop and walked out with a Radian. My power tools haven’t gotten much use since then. I flew the heck out of that Radian. One day I hooked into a boomer. The motor had been off for about 35 minutes and it was getting very small, so I decided it was time to bring it lower … then it was gone.

"I’ve been flying sailplanes and park flyers ever since and having a blast. My life is ‘crazy busy,’ so I can’t fly or build as much as I want. I continue to teach, and we take care of one or more [grandchildren] (10 so far) three to five days a week. I still fly the Dandy and Doodler sometimes, now with a Spektrum radio.

Before my flying hiatus, I built a Soar Birdy, but never flew it. I have flown it several times with my Spektrum radio, but it now has my new Graupner radio installed, complete with a variometer. It only needs a range check and some decent weather.

"I’m almost finished with an original-design 60-inch electric sailplane (rudder, elevator, spoilers, and throttle) and have another original partly completed. My current build is a 30-inch wingspan BMJR Kiwi P-30 converted to RC and electric power; [it’s] really an electric sailplane. The Kiwi uses Graupner micro radio gear.

"Finally, your discussion of losing good friends struck me. I’m about to turn 71 and am, fortunately, healthy. However, I realize that it doesn’t last forever. You need to ‘get the gusto’ while you can. There are airplanes to design, build, and fly, places to go, and friends and family to spend time with."

the author with some of his collection of nostalgia kits
The author with some of his collection of nostalgia kits, including a rare Sitar Special F3B model that was based on the famous Dassel, and the model he learned to soar with, the Silent Squire.

Thanks for your letter, Dennis, and go soaring every day that you can!

If you have a collection of Nostalgia vintage models in your attic, email me a short story about your addiction and how these amazing aircraft from the past make you feel when you go out today and put them in a thermal. I would like to share some of your stories with our readers.

Now I am off to the RC Soaring Nats, to be held August 2-11, to see a bunch of you at the thermal field. See you in Muncie, Indiana, at the International Aeromodeling Center!

Go downwind and soar!



Thermal Rider Nostalgia models

Southern Sailplanes

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