[headline: Steve Helms, Competitor and industry professional]
Jay Smith: How did you get involved with model aviation?
Steve Helms: My modeling career began in the fall of 1958 with my father when I was 10 years old. In those days we built almost everything including some of the radio equipment. Our first model was a Sterling Piper Tri Pacer single-channel model with a tube receiver and rubber-powered escapements. The transmitter was a ground-based Gyro transmitter with 5 watts of power output and a three-section, 9-foot antenna.
We chose a K&B .29 engine, but later downsized to a K&B .23 after we learned about needing downthrust. Our first flight resulted in three consecutive inside loops because it was overpowered and lacked downthrust. The flight did end successfully. With the aid of low motor control, we safely landed the model without destroying it.
From this point, flying RC models was in our blood. My father’s and my modeling directions were different. He ended up competing in Formula 1 Pylon Racing and I choose F3A Aerobatics, competing on three USA World Championship teams (1981, 1983, 1987) before moving on to helicopters in the 1990s.
JS: How has model aviation impacted your life and/or career?
SH: In 1963, Westinghouse transferred my father from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Ft. Worth, Texas, and during the summer of 1964, I attended my first Nats in Grand Prairie, Texas. My mother drove me from Fort Worth to Grand Prairie every day so I could watch the top aerobatics pilots in the US compete. Even though I was not a competitor, it was my first introduction to analog proportional and I knew I wanted to compete in the future.
I began competing in Pattern in late 1964 or early 1965. Competition is what I enjoyed and in order to be a good competitor, I was likely going to need to work in the hobby industry. In 1968 I went to work for EK Logitrol while I finished school.
In 1969 I went to my second Nats and competed this time. I don’t remember my placing. I am sure it was not very good, yet it gave me the adrenalin I needed to get better, as well as learn more about radios and servos simply because they were not the quality-type equipment we have today. The servos took constant work to be able to compete.
From EK Logitrol I went to work for Pro Line Electronics and then Kraft Systems where I worked with Doug Spreng to develop the Kraft Signature Series Radio. After this I started my own company, Radio South, in Pensacola, Florida, doing custom radio work and general service.
During my time at Radio South, a new radio company, Futaba Corporation of America, asked me to work as a consultant. I eventually went to work for Futaba full time in 1985 until April 2013 when I retired.
I still work as a Futaba consultant because my interest in modeling and improving the hobby in general is still a top priority. Modeling has impacted my life in many ways, but the most notable are in competition as well as working in the hobby industry.
JS: What disciplines of modeling do you currently participate in?
SH: Helicopters are my primary interest now, but I still enjoy occasionally flying airplanes as well as indoor airplanes.
JS: What are your other hobbies?
SH: At this time I do not have any other hobbies, but over past years I have enjoyed riding both dirt bikes as well as street bikes.
JS: Who (or what) has influenced you most?
SH: There have been many people in this hobby that have had a long-lasting effect on me and I would just like to name a few.
• My father for teaching me to be patient and learning as much as possible about what I was interested in.
•Jim Fosgate (owner of Pro Line Electronics) for teaching me how to build and maintain quality, reliable electronics.
• Phil Kraft for giving me his theory on models and what it took to win. “I don’t always have the best-designed model, but I fly it until I know what it takes to make it competitive.”
• Doug Spreng for teaching me how to design and develop a product from nothing until it is ready for production.
• Ron Chidgey, Jim Whitley, and Ed Keck for truly teaching me the fine arts of trimming a model for competition.
• Yuzo Daimon for teaching me the business aspects of the hobby industry.
I continue to follow the lessons I have learned from many people to help make this an enjoyable hobby for myself and others.
JS: What would you consider to be the biggest innovation in radios?
SH: Most people would say pulse code modulation and spread spectrum technology, but I consider these just modes of transmission. They are important, but they’re not things we couldn’t live without. For me, there have been three major innovations in the past 50 years that have influenced RC modelers.
• The first major breakthrough for me was progressing from single channel and reed equipment to proportional radios. This goes back to my first Nats when I saw Dr. Ralph Brookes flying an early prototype Orbit analog proportional system. To this day, all I can remember is how smoothly his model flew without the jerkiness of reeds.
• The development of dual rates, end-point adjustment, reversing switches, and exponential.
• The development of computerized transmitters, especially the Futaba 14MZ which used Windows as an operating system.