Our Nostalgic Addiction

Written by Gordon Buckland RC Soaring Column 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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I too am an old timer in the hobby. I'm a bit older than you at 73 and am in excellent health. I started building in 1959, plastic models mostly then got into control line in the early 60's. In 1962 I built and flew my 1st RC model airplane - can't remember what it was but the radio was a Babcock single-channel on 27mhz. I aspired to learn to fly which I did and soloed in a Piper Tri-Pacer in 1963. After that I fell in love, got married in 1966, and became an airline pilot which lasted 30+ years. I lost my job flying for Braniff Airlines in 1989 and then went to work for the FAA and an Aviation Safety Inspector. Between 1981 and 2008 I was mostly a watcher of the hobby. I retired from the FAA in 2008 and immediately re-engaged the hobby. Ever since I've specialized in sailplanes and am a pattern flyer - mostly. I have 15 flying rc aircraft that I built from balsa kits or from plans. My favorite sailplane is the Bird of Time followed by the Spirit 100. I love retirement because I can fly any day I want if the weather permits. Thanks for your model biography, very interesting and quite similar to mine. Bill

The advantage of reaching a certain age is you can begin to treat yourself to those airplanes you dreamed of but couldn't afford at a younger age. At this point in time we have laser cutters who can take a plan and turn it into a kit/short kit putting the old die cut technology to shame. CAD software can take out the inconsistencies of hand drawn plans. Today's radios far exceed their predecessors in quality and features at a lower price. We have so much more choices in power plants too. We live in a Golden Age for modelling if only there were more of us around to appreciate it. Yes we have a Nostalgic Addiction so why not take advantage?

Yep I'm still holding on to my 70's-80s' favorites I've got an SR-7, my old Windfree built in 1981, another soon 2B maidened Windfree, a 99" Aquila and a 70's Scratch flying wing Delta (vintage to me) as well as a Quasoar that's still in it's box. There was an OLY II an Oly650 a large and small Saggita too, a Coyote, a Bird of time, Wanderer, Drifter and "so many more". I've only rarely been on a high start and only winch up to thermal on occasion but I've done "a-lot" of slope soaring with all of these birds. I still go! I've always had a special place in my heart for my Windfree; such a pleasure to fly! Thanks for the memories; still making them! Robert

Very nice article! Thanks for taking the effort.

My life has been similar to Dennis’s. I used to drive the hobby shop owner crazy by calling him every day when it was about time for the new RCM magazine was about to come in. I built my own radio in the late 60’s but never got it to work. I bought a Kraft sport series years later and built some sailplanes. The super Malibu with an Asto flite 075 brushed motor. It flew pretty well until a spar fracture ended its life. Then I got an Olympic ll and had fun with it. We watch grandkids ourselves which is quite a job so I don’t get to build much until they get older. But I’ve purchased a Denny Plane and a Windrifter plus a 93” Super Sinbad and other models for future builds when time permits. I got all of those on ebay for a good price but go to every swap meet I can hoping to find more old timers to build. I enjoyed your article and look foward to more like it. Thanks Bill

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