Monday, November 24, 2008

Jets over Volksies

It has been a loooong six weeks since the ETB PSS fest and the anti-climax of not being able to maiden the Blue Angels F18 Hornet. Eventually I could bear it no longer and decided to return to Tamatieberg for another attempt at getting the model airborne. Unfortunately the F3B team trials was scheduled for this weekend, so the only person I could coerce to join me, without feeling guilty about robbing the team trials of much needed man power, was Norbert.

Weather forecasts on the telly were not very inspirational (60% chance of rain, both days), but after two weeks of solid work I couldn't care less if they predicted a hurricane with it's epicentre smack bang on top of the mountain! In retrospect I would probably have welcomed it.... I have a plane that I feel could very likely handle it and even thrive on it. But now I'm getting ahead of myself.

We arrived at the slope around 10:30am. I was amazed at the transformation in the landscape since our last visit. Everything had that lush Natal Midlands green to it (see the panorama shot above). First model to take to the sky was my trusted Zagi 5C, just to test the air and make sure there weren't any holes in it. As is so often the case on overcast days thermal activity was either totally absent or unnoticable. This meant the northwesterly could do it's magic uninterrupted. After a while it was evident that the wind was not going to let you down a few moments after launching your prized PSS possession.

For the long awaited maidens Norbert was up first with his F5. Apart from the fuselage being so wide as to make holding it difficult for my average sized hands, the launch went perfect and the Tigershark climb out confidently with a little flap deployed. Being the only two occupants on the slope has it's benefits. I stood watching for a while and then dragged the camera closer to shoot some pics while Norbert could enjoy the slope front all to himself. The F5 has quite a turn of speed and even seems to handle slow flight with a bit of flap, if not very scale like, at least quite elegantly. According to Norbert the F5's behaviour was totally predictable.

After about 30 minutes of flying Norbert brought it in for a nice controlled and dignified landing.

I opted for some quick and light action with my Mini Corado for a spell while Norbert put the F5 up for another bout. Gradually conditions improved even more, up to the point where you could fly the proverbial brick. Time for something heavier.

I discovered the flight pack on the F18 needed a top up charge, so in the meantime I put my Toko together for a flight that turned out to be the adrenaline rush of the weekend. This has been the first opportunity since I bought the plane in April, where I could really test out its capabilities. This 1.7kg carbonized adrenaline rocket was built specifically for DS with a bullet proof full carbon wing and it goes like stink. This plane literally brings out the speed freak in you and you can't but fly it like you stole it. The energy retention through turns and out of dives is something to behold. Coming in with a bit of height to start with, I could do loops of 100m+ in diameter without it losing too much speed to carry it over the top. During one specific speed run from behind I came in a bit lower than I expected and where another plane would usually have been buffeted and slowed down a bit by the usual turbulent section at the crest of the slope the Toko punched through it like it wasn't even there.

The 4 servo wing has been set up with flaps coupled to ailerons and makes for some very lively rolls. The ability to mix crow in helps you slow it down enough from Mach 1 for at least a semblance of a controlled landing. I slowed it down a tad too much and a bit of a hard belly landing stripped one of the HS85MG aileron servos (....?!) The first ever metal gear I have been able to damage to this extent. With the servo being epoxied and no spare gear sets on hand I had to sadly accept that I would not be flying this amazing plane again this weekend.

It wasn't long before Norbert decided to get his speed fix for the day and he put the DG600 together to take advantage of the excellent conditions. I had already assembled the F18 Hornet and felt comfortable that I could manage the launch on my own. Just to be sure I walked all the way forward to the spot where we usually launch the big scale models. This gives you enough recovery airspace between your model and terra firma should anything go wrong. Tentatively "bouncing" the plane in my open hand it felt like she just wanted to go..... so I let her.... and off she went. Two clicks of down trim had her flying straight and level and it wasn't long before I built up the confidence to pick up the pace to see what she could do. I found the elevator a wee bit sensitive and switched to dual rates which sorted it out. Rolls were crisp and axial. In the low fly pasts the digital servos in the wings were humming a quite agreeable tune, almost like an small electric motor. Although a bit of an anticlimax in the speed department, after having flown the Toko, the F18 was everything I had hoped to achieve with this re-incarnation of the first one I flew. It turned out the CG was perfectly set up, with a slow recovery from a shallow dive, it has a very "delicate" stall, but only after really hanging back on the elevator, it does beautiful loops and I'm sure it can benefit in some lead treatment to speed it up some.

The rest of the day was filled with a lot more airtime on both the jets and only late afternoon did I switch to my Zagi again. Although it was completely overcast the whole day we only had some scattered drops of rain, nothing to force you to stop flying though. A pity that I didn't think of sticking my camera in Norbert's hands to shoot some pictures of my models in flight. Next time I'll remember.... The low cloud at sunset made for some stunning scenery. Day end proceedings included a nice bottle of Nederburg Baronne shared between two friends around a cosy braai fire while the rain that threatened the whole day eventually arrived.

The Sunday turned out clear and sunny and as so often happens then, a lot of thermal activity as a result. So most of the flying was done with our thermal and electric ships. There was also some quiet times that I used to wander around and do some flora photography. There is an amazing variety of wild flowers growing on top of the mountain. Although I did manage to squeeze in some airtime on the Zagi as well. I would wait for a lull in the wind and just as it picked up again, toss out the Zagi to hunt that inevitable thermal that was building up somewhere in front. I managed to hook three of these boomers and climbed the Zagi to speck height each time. Then burned off all the height for some high speed passes, only to start the whole process again. Norbert was flying his well worn flying wing and being his usual adventurous self ended up doing two outlandings. He eventually had to retire the wing due to some structural damage purely from old age and too many landings. We reluctantly retreated to civilization just after 2pm, overall very satisfied with the weekend. We keenly await the next trip in three weeks time.