[Headline: Coming home again at the 2014 FAC Nats]
Summer is in full swing as I write, and this year saw something new on my schedule. I made my first pilgrimage to the Flying Aces Club (FAC) Nationals in Geneseo, New York. Geneseo Airport is home to the National Warplane Museum and it is on those very grounds that modelers from across the country and around the world converge.
Held every other July on even years, the FAC Nats is the event for stick-and-tissue enthusiasts and is referred to as the Scale Free Flight Olympics. This was the first time I have attended and I spent four days meeting many modelers whom I’ve known for years through email.
Most of my modeling 12 to 15 years ago was sport and Scale FF, and I have been looking for an excuse to get back to it since. Making a long overdue first visit to the FAC Nats seemed like the perfect catalyst.
For maximum immersion, I drove to Geneseo with my son to camp on the field. Gryffin and I arrived in the middle of the night, and it didn’t take long the next morning to realize that I was returning home from a long trip abroad.
The FAC is a large family of like-minded modelers who believe that having fun is as important as winning, if not more so. Yes, many of the attendees were intently focused on the competition, and with names like Hallman, Nallen, Srull, Gilbert, Ramos, Fineman, Starleaf, Bruning, Stott, and Thomas, among many more on the field, there was no doubt that we would see models of the highest quality. Miniature aircraft from all eras of aviation were lovingly crafted with immaculate attention to detail. Many looked as though they should be encased in museum displays, instead of entrusted to capricious winds.
Despite the parade of exquisite models, it was nice to see that there were others that were—to be kind—“battle weary.” I say this not to point fingers at the wrinkles or repairs that my models also share. Instead, I hope to encourage anyone with even a passing interest in Free Flight to come out and fly. I can assure you that judgment will not be cast upon a less-than-perfect effort. The main point is to build, fly, and smile with friends regardless of your building skills.
This welcoming nature is what has made the FAC so popular for almost 50 years. I took my son to broaden his horizons and show him the best of the best in person. We happened to park ourselves right next to noted author Don Ross, who generously shared his models and magic tricks with Gryffin during the weekend. Gryffin was also drafted as a mechanic during several of the mass launches, carefully cradling a model while its builder wound its motor and then timing the flight duration.
FAC commander-in-chief Ross Mayo also took some time out from his busy schedule to make Gryffin feel welcome. With his best “in your face” drill sergeant impression, Ross inducted Gryffin into the 2014 FAC Nats with an official staff hat.
Gryffin was captivated by the apparent simplicity of Hand-Launch (HLG) and Catapult Gliders, and got a chance to do quite a bit of flying with borrowed models. Dennis Ruhland spent what seemed like half his time coaching and encouraging Gryffin. Thank you, Dennis!
To keep his interest flowing, I bought Gryffin a couple of glider kits from Lee Campbell before we left Geneseo. We built them three weeks later, on the eve of a local FAC event.
Insisting—as only an 11-year-old can—that he knew more than I, Gryffin took to the field to trim out his MiniFlash HLG. I was allowed to help a little later, and we got it flying reasonably well before it was retired for repairs.
The big success came with his Vartanian Catapult glider. With a slightly different design and much higher launches, this model offered a lot of fun for both of us. We hooked a few thermals, but kept it on the field for most of the day—until we didn’t.
In mid-afternoon, Gryffin launched well, but into dead air. The glider had descended to eye level, or even lower, when he caught a bubble just lifting off the field. Before he knew it, the glider was 20 feet above him and rising quickly. We tracked it for another couple of minutes, but it was well over the forest when it finally kicked out of the thermal and came down from its last flight.
Gryffin was well aware that such a model could fly away, but he hadn’t anticipated the rather sizable lump in his throat that would follow his first out-of-sight flight. We still have the glider plans though, and a stack of wood to build many others.
Dennis and Lee, thanks for your help and guidance. No doubt we will be back for more.
As we left the field in search of food after our first day in Geneseo, I warned Gryffin to be careful that he didn’t get hooked by this Free Flight stuff.
“Dad, I think it is too late,” was his reply.
I sure hope so.[dingbat]
Campbell’s Custom Kits