Something Else! (continued)

From an analysis of air foils by Peter King. (Courtesy of Peter King)

It’s difficult to get out to competitions, because they are always on weekends, and half the time the gigs are on weekends. When I first came into it, I was able to juggle the gigs around a little bit to make the competitions, but it’s gotten expensive. Nowadays, to be competitive, you have to spend quite a bit of money. They’ve dropped what they used to call “the builder of the model” rule. In theory, you had built the model yourself. What happened was that the Russians started to design these things that you had to be a skilled engineer to make certain items for the models. We started buying the bits, which is fair enough. Eventually, they started selling whole models. You could buy world championship models from the world champions themselves, at around 1,000 pounds each. And that’s cheap. If they were made in America, they would be more like 5,000 pounds each. The other thing is that there aren’t many competitions in England. What a lot of the guys who are keen on the international class, which are the ones I like to fly, is compete abroad all the time, and I can’t afford that, both the time and the money. There’s a World Cup series of competitions that are now open to anyone, but they are held at out of the way places like a frozen lake in Norway. I don’t have time for that anymore, so I spend more time on the computer, working out simulations. But, I’d much rather be out there flying. It’s like playing. You have to have your models well trimmed, and you have to be used to flying, because you’re trying to pick thermals coming up from the ground all the time. You can, if you know what you’re doing, but it’s really difficult. Most top modelers will pick a thermal 9 times out of 10.

What’s a thermal?

Rising air. What you want to avoid is sinking air. Take a big international competition. You have seven three-minute flights, where you fly from pole positions. If you get a bit of bad air, you can drop a flight. Now, they’ve extended some of the early rounds to four-minutes when it’s calm, and there’s not much thermal assistance. Then they have fly-offs: 5 minutes, 7 minutes, 9 minutes. That’s how it works. Duration is what it’s all based on. But, if you’re not practiced at it, if you’re not doing it all the time, you kind of lose out. It’s like playing that way. I like to be competitive. I try to win. I’m not there to rack up
numbers for a cup.

Do you have any trade secrets?

No, not really. The thing about aero modelers is that, even though they’re all working like mad to get an
edge over everyone else, they will tell you about it. Even the Russian flyers are very open. They will show you their model and what they do, because a lot of it is simply the flying ability. A classic example: when I found myself in this fly-off with Alex Andriukov. He had a superb model and I had a pretty good model. And we’re waiting for good air, with the propellers all wound up, and I thought I’d wait and see what Alex does, because he’s far better at picking good air than me. He’s looking at me as if to say “No Pete, after you.” All he has to do is launch in the same air as me and he wins. So, I had to find a thermal of my own,
and a better one than his.

How do you find a thermal?

There’s a classic thermal scenario, but it’s open to endless variations – weather conditions, terrain, all kinds of things. To put it simply: if you imagine a package of air is coming towards you in a whirlpool going up. What will happen is that the prevailing wind is vectored upwards, so there’s a drop in wind speed and a very slight rise in temperature. We actually have sensors that detect these tiny temperature differences, which are measured in tenths of a degree. A lot of us have what are called chart recorders with radio sensors that are stationed upwind, measuring wind velocity and temperature and giving you a read-out on a chart. You’re waiting for what they call the in-fill, because as a thermal is building, you can end up in the sink in front of it, or behind it. So, you have to wait and launch just before the wind picks up, because that’s when the air is going up. You also watch other models and hope someone flies, which can be exciting at a big competition where you have 30 guys standing there waiting. One guy goes up and it looks ok. Another guy goes up and it looks better. And then everyone goes up in a mass launch.

(opening photo on laptop) These are the kinds of models I fly. That’s one being wound up. It’s a rubber
motor. We wind the fuck out of them. They only get used once. Alex leans back 45 degrees and fights the
rubber all the way. The models are basically gliders. There are three types: sail planes, which are towed up
on a line; the rubber powered ones; and the F-1C class, which are powered by small motors. They’re phenomenal, great big planes that weigh about 30 ounces. They get to 500 to 600 feet in about 5 seconds. They have a 5-second motor run. They go up vertically.

The torque curve of the rubber motor is such that there are 3 or 4 seconds of huge power, and then it
drops down. In the old days, that was a problem, because the models would zoom around in tight circles, wasting a lot of what we call the initial burst of the motor. Alex said you have to use all that power to gain height, so he developed a system where the propeller is locked open and it’s on a timer, so they hurl it 30 or 40 feet before anything happens. Then the timer starts the propeller and it goes vertically for 150 feet and then tapers off.  It’s incredible and pretty exiting, because it’s so easy to get it all wrong and crash the plane.

Beyond personal satisfaction and the admiration of your peers, are there any concrete rewards for this –
prize money, product endorsements?

Oh yeah, millions of pounds in prizes. You might get a piece of paper saying you came in 1st. Absolutely
nothing. You do it solely for the satisfaction and the thrill of it. If you win the Wakefield Cup, which is a beautiful cup donated by Lord Wakefield in 1920 something or other, I think you can keep a small replica of it for a year. And there are the one or two odd trophies that you have to give back after a year. There was a nice little trophy when I won the nationals, a beautiful speckled block with a silver model set in it. You basically do it for the love of it.

Peter King (playing Bird's King Super 20), Chan Parker
(Courtesy of Peter King)

High Zero Festival

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