When the weather is unfavorable for Slope Soaring, we can fly tiny gliders indoors. They can be flown in still air, and lift is made by walking and pushing a board, which creates an updraft to support the aircraft.
Because walking is a big part of this endeavor, the airplanes are called walkalong gliders. Advanced walkalong glider pilots can omit the pusher board and position their hands to create lift, or even fly the aircraft in the air that passes up and over their foreheads.
Flying small gliders with lift created by a hand-held board was described in 1955, when Joseph Grant was granted a patent for a “toy aircraft and method of flight control therefor.” Since then, many walkalong aircraft have been designed and much has been written about them.
The aircraft can be made at home from downloadable drawings and online instructions. Successful designs have been made from photocopier paper, phonebook paper, and foam. The model shown in the photos is a profile stick-and-tissue construction, designed and built to look like a military aircraft. This follows the Dave Sanders doctrine: “It’s not a crime to fly a model airplane that looks like an airplane.” See the David Aronstein link in the “Sources” for plans.
I saw a walkalong glider session at an indoor event hosted by the Electric Powered Aeromodelers RC Club, an AMA chartered club in Glenville, New York. During cold weather, these RC pilots fly in a gymnasium.
Jesse Aronstein, a second-generation modeler in a four-generation modeling dynasty, was at the event and showed me how walkalong gliders work. His parents ran a hobby shop in Brooklyn, New York, and held building and flying training sessions for youngsters. Jesse, his son David, and his grandson, Jesse, are all active in walkalong glider design, construction, and competition flying.
Studying Jesse’s fleet of indoor flyers—both walkalongs and rubber-powered Free Flight models—it’s easy to see that this man is not afraid to glue balsa sticks together and cover them with light film.
His favorite indoor airplane is a stick-and-tissue profile model of the Consolidated PBY Catalina—with freewheeling propellers, functional landing gear, and a wingspan of approximately 16 inches. The model is exquisitely designed and built, and was a gift from his son, David. I cannot think of a more impressive and meaningful gift.
It’s a practical model. It disassembles and can be packed in a PC keyboard shipping box, and is sturdy and stable enough for Jesse to use for introductory walkalong glider flight training for another indoor modeler, Steve Wattenberg.
I asked Jesse to summarize his teaching points for those just starting out. He told me:
“For successful flying, the pilot has to move along at the same average speed as the model, with the ‘slope’ (the board) positioned close to vertical somewhere under the model behind the wing. The fore and aft position of the board controls the pitch (nose up, nose down) of the model, just as the elevator does in more conventional flying.
“If the board moves forward relative to the model, the nose goes up and the model climbs and slows down. If the board moves aft, the nose goes down and the model speeds up. The pilot uses [the] fore/aft position of the board in the same way that the elevator control and trim are used.
“The model is light and quick to respond to slight changes. The pilot is relatively massive and has a lot of inertia. Dynamic (instantaneous) pitch control can most easily be accomplished by extending or retracting the board relative to the pilot’s body, simply by bending the arm at the elbow. Fly with the arm partly extended, move the board toward or away from the body as required for pitch control, and keep the feet going at whatever pace is required to keep up with the model.
“For making turns, any unsymmetrical motion will do. I think the most realistic turns are made by a combination of yaw and roll. In any event, fly the airplane, not the board, and you’ll get used to doing that and with a little practice, it all seems very natural.”
If walkalong gliding (also called air surfing) captures your attention, plenty of information, photos, diagrams, and video instructional materials are available online. If searching the Internet is not your thing, see Philip Rossoni’s book, Build and Pilot Your Own Walkalong Gliders.