Wittman’s Pursuit

Wittman’s Pursuit

Wittman’s Pursuit

Merely having fun can make one a legend

By Jim Buxton

As seen in the January 2011 issue of Model Aviation.

Ron Wittman (L) stands in front of the Tustin Blimp Hangar with the author, who holds the model he used to break Ron’s 35-year-old Indoor Glider records in the fall of 2009.

Ron Wittman (L) stands in front of the Tustin Blimp Hangar with the author, who holds the model he used to break Ron’s 35-year-old Indoor Glider records in the fall of 2009.

Ron Wittman is an FF Indoor Hand-Launched Glider legend. He set the high-ceiling record at the Tustin Blimp Hangar in California on February 18, 1973. In so doing, he accomplished what many claimed to be an impossible feat: he threw a Category III (now Category IV, for unlimited ceiling height) flight of 90 seconds.

That record, achieved with an all-balsa javelin-launch glider, was a target for all to throw at for the next 36 years. Stan Buddenbohm finally broke it with a tip (or discus)-launch glider in the same venue in late 2009.

The evolution of tip launching as the superior method in the late 2000s led to Ron’s legendary record being broken three times in the Tustin hangar between October 2009 and April 2010—twice by Stan and, most recently, by me on April 10, 2010, with a flight of nearly 106 seconds.

I met Ron on the day I broke that record, in the same hangar in which he set it in the early 1970s. After the dust settled and the adrenaline faded, I talked with him about his path to setting the record and related it to my 23-year quest to break it.

Following is a transcript of our conversation.

JB: What drew you to Indoor Hand-Launched Glider?

RW: I went to a contest at Wilmington to fly Microfilm and saw Cat. I Gliders, and just had to fly them.

JB: Was there a specific motivating factor that led to your quest for the 90-second Indoor Glider flight?

RW: After flying in a contest and not doing well, I had a conversation with Dick Peterson. We decided that higher-aspect-ratio Gliders would be the future, and that is when the Supersweeps got their start.

JB: How many models did you build specifically for the blimp hangar in Tustin?

RW: All told, about 12 Supersweeps were built in the quest for the record.

JB: How much of your daily life was consumed by preparing for the record, and during what period of time?

RW: My son, Steve, and I spent 45 minutes every day possible throwing a baseball, and I also practiced throwing a partial fuselage with a finger grip on it, to gain more power and control. We also did weights and aerobics three to four times a week.

JB: Can you describe your specific thoughts and emotions at the moment you first broke the 90-second barrier.

RW: It felt great. The impact doesn’t sink in right away but eventually does—a feeling I hope you will enjoy as I did for a long time to come, because that first time really does only come once.

JB: How long did you think the record would hold up after you set it?

RW: Since they were having record trials every month and they would continue, there was no way to tell, but I hoped for a few months at least. No one ever thought it would take almost 37 years and a completely new type of Glider and a new style of flying to break the record.

JB: What impact has the record had on your life?

RW: It definitely makes you feel good that you accomplished a goal that took over a year of really hard work, resulting in a record time that no one had done before. To be the best at something, anything, is pretty awesome.

JB: Did you have any idea what long-term impact the Supersweep design and article would have on Indoor Hand-Launched Glider?

RW: I remember that after the 1-minute, 30-second flights, which they said couldn’t be done, my friend, Larry Cailliau, who helped in my record attempts, and I felt that there would be other modelers who would build Supersweeps and compete with them for sometime to come.

JB: How do you feel about the evolution of launch style from javelin to tip?

RW: The new style and designs brought about by tip launching are a good thing. The times are really high, and I think 2 minutes might even be possible someday. There are still some improvements to be made, and I don’t think you are done yet.

JB: You seemingly left Indoor Hand-Launched Glider after you set the record. Why, and what have you been up to in the 37 years since?

RW: For about 25 years or so, my sons and I competed at the US Free Fight Champs once a year and also RC Soaring. I still compete in Old-Timer events. I also fly some RC for fun in 3-D, Scale, and glider.

Many kids who are involved in competitive sports look up to a certain athlete because of his or her record or playing style on the field but never get to meet that person. I became a fan of Ron’s work in approximately 1990 and studied every detail I could about his record and his models. And not only did I get to meet him, but he also ended up timing and coaching me on the way to setting the record.

It was a thrill to finally fly in the Tustin hangar—a place that many consider to be holy ground when it comes to Indoor flying. Perhaps the most lasting memories will be of standing in that building with the man I was chasing for more than 20 years but had met only hours before.

The bond among modelers allows for the formation of instant and meaningful friendships unlike in any other activity I can imagine. As I look back, I realize that it has been one heck of a journey. Thanks for the ride, Ron!

Ron studies the record-breaking Category IV Indoor record holder—the Amalgam—that features an all-composite wing. It is a tip-launch model, as opposed to Ron’s javelin launch style.

Ron studies the record-breaking Category IV Indoor record holder—the Amalgam—that features an all-composite wing. It is a tip-launch model, as opposed to Ron’s javelin launch style.

Ron is an Indoor legend who set the high-ceiling Indoor record at the Tustin Blimp Hangar in California on February 18, 1973. The record stood until 2009.

Ron is an Indoor legend who set the high-ceiling Indoor record at the Tustin Blimp Hangar in California on February 18, 1973. The record stood until 2009.

Ron enjoys all aspects of aeromodeling, including FF and RC. He has said that his physical condition, as well as his aircraft being in top condition, is important.

Ron enjoys all aspects of aeromodeling, including FF and RC. He has said that his physical condition, as well as his aircraft being in top condition, is important.

SOURCES:

The AMA History Project Presents: Biography of Ron Wittmanwww.modelaircraft.org/sites/default/files/files/WittmanRon.pdf

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