IMPORTANT NEWS BELOW THE NATS REPORTS
Wow – it’s been a week since I returned from two weeks of Nats flying; first the AMA Indoor Nats in Pontiac, MI and then the AMA Outdoor Nats in Muncie, IN. Apparently, I’m no spring chicken as I was exhausted upon my return – ha! To be fair, I returned home every night from Pontiac as I elected to take the daily 135 mile drive – that was about 1,000 miles that week! Muncie was a 3 hour drive one way and I spent those days on the field with Pat Murray in his RV.
Forgive me if this report is shorter than you might expect; my memory has never been the best and I tend to “live in the moment” and events fade as time passes. The Indoor Nats had 40-50 contestants, maybe more if you include all the Science Olympiad students that were there for a day or two. Most of those flyers were for the AMA events and only a few showed up for the FAC events. This was a little disappointing for me as this was a great opportunity to fly in a wonderful facility.
I had been prepping for these Indoor Nats all winter since they were held on my “home field”. We Cloudbusters have been flying indoors at this site for maybe five years and while I still suffer from collisions with the girders, I felt I had a bit of an advantage. All of my indoor models were trimmed over time to fly within the confines of the facility and only other Cloudbusters would share that small advantage and I felt I needed any leg up as I still consider myself an Outdoor flyer flying Indoors. It turned out that I was the only Cloudbuster that showed up to fly. That minuscule advantage was all mine.
My flying buddy, Winn Moore, showed up every day. He didn’t register to fly and ended up helping me throughout the contest. His help was immeasurable and we increased my flying times for several models. But we still had to contend with George Nunez (FL) and his some Jonathan (CA). I met George when I went to the Indoor Nats at Rantoul a few years ago. George shows up with a car-load of exquisite models. And Jonathan designed the Yak-3 Peanut that I’ve been campaigning and kitting. All of their models fly very well.
Wrapping up the Indoor portion of this missive, I did pretty good. Some events evaded me, but overall I came out on top, as you can see in this photo.
I had a couple days (Saturday and Sunday) to stay at home and do non-airplane things – in between hastily packing orders and the truck and trailer with models and sales goods. I got a few orders out the door and in the car for contest pick-up. I even got a couple of kits cut, but had some minor issues.
I drove down to Muncie Monday morning so that I would have all day to test and trim various models. The weather was great! Sunny with only the slightest breeze and temperatures in the mid-80s. It stayed that way through Wednesday and Thursday promised rain and wind. The rain happened BEFORE and AFTER the contest, but not during and the wind on Thursday wasn’t terrible. The temps felt like high-80s, maybe 90s and without any wind, the sweat just poured off of me. The three of us in Pat’s RV went through nearly 3 cases (32 bottles per case) of bottled water over the four days. At least we were hydrated.
I got my new Holy Ike OT Stick trimmed out on Monday. It climbs like a rocket and glides well. It looked really promising for OT Stick on Tuesday. I put up an easy max on the first flight, but had a brain fart on the second. I clearly remember winding to a specific torque, which was well below max torque. I launched and watched a mediocre flight that ended six seconds short of a max. Well, that ended my hopes of winning OT Stick. I think three, maybe four, other flyers maxed out and had a fly-off. I should have been in that group and this model is capable of so much. Oh well, now I know. I’ll do better at the FAC Outdoor Champs/SAM Champs.
Brain Fart #2 occurred on Wednesday. The weather was perfect. virtually no wind and light thermals everywhere. On a whim, I had brought my INDOOR Stout 2-AT for the OUTDOOR contest. It is a good flyer and I thought it might do OK in Golden Age. Backstory: when I am preparing for events (I guess “seriously” preparing for events), I do a test flight, or several, until the model is where I need it to be for the event. For my OT Stick and Fuse, I always take at least one test flight to verify the model is where is needs to be and is behaving properly. Well, I guess i wasn’t “serious” about Golden Age. I pulled the Stout out of the box and wound it up – with its INDOOR motor and everything. Pat asked if I was testing and I said “no, let’s go with this”. 85 seconds later I was picking up the model after a low altitude flight. 85 seconds is not 120 seconds and I dropped that first flight. I wasn’t upset as I had no expectations for the model. But I wondered why it didn’t climb in the excellent air. I realized that for INDOOR, I was limiting climb with downthrust so the model didn’t get into the girders. I took about half a turn out of the Gizmo Geezer nose button and wound up the 1/8″ INDOOR motor again. I did it again for an identical third flight. Both of these flights were over 3 minutes, with tons of soaring and landing not-to-far away. Had I tested before going official, maybe I could have maxed out. Here is a video of one of them.
My stars aligned for Old Time Fuselage and made my week. I was flying my new-for-this-year Hep Cat. I had tested this in April at Muncie on a windy Saturday and was amazed at how stable the model was. I didn’t try to ROG it (a requirement for FAC OT Fuse) then but it later proved stable in ROG at the McCook contest in June. Again, the weather was beautiful on Wednesday. But I saw so many OT Fuse contestants drop a flight. And these were all the big names. I had put of three easy maxes and was sitting pretty for most of the day. Around 4pm, Ed Hardin turned in a triple-max – that meant a fly-off.
CD Mike Welshans had decided that fly-offs would be settled by a 4th unlimited duration flight and Ed went back and put up his 4th flight right away – a 4:42 flight that went pretty far down field. Clouds then rolled in. All of our nice sun went away for long periods of time. Pat Murray helped me a lot – telling me “no, let’s wait” when I was getting itchy to go. We could see breaks in the clouds coming and we waited for more sun – and more air.
One of these larger breaks we coming and I decided that it was time to go. I told Pat to get ready to time and I wound up. I would it up pretty tight, stressing the motor, probably close to max safe torque. I set the electronic timer to 5 minutes and went to the table. I stood there for a time, resetting the timer for a fresh 5 minutes. The sun was popping out, the streamers were starting to flutter…then I felt the light breeze shift about 90 degrees or more. I told Pat this was it, made sure he was ready, reset the timer one last time, turned into the breeze, and launched.
Whatever thermal there was wasn’t the strongest (I had launched into one on the second flight that nearly knocked my model out of the air as I released it), but man, that model climbed up. It was getting really small and I asked Pat “we aren’t even at 50 seconds yet, right?” He replied the time was just over 40 seconds. My motor run is about 55 seconds under normal torque and this was mega torque. The Hep Cat finally settled into a gentle and flat glide, making big turns over the field. I was just a few hundred yards from the launch site when it finally came down. The DT hadn’t popped yet – the flight was under 5 minutes. I rode my bike over, bent down to pick it up and it popped. This was going to be close. I got back and Pat told me it was a 4:49 – I won by 7 seconds!
The rest of the contest was immaterial. I didn’t expect to win anything else – and I didn’t. But I had a great time doing what I did, and learned a few lessons that will be helpful in the future.
P.S. Wally Farrell took Outdoor Nats High-Point Champ!
MORE DOWNS WHEN I GOT HOME
So, getting back home after big contest means lots of catch-up work filling orders that come in while I am gone. Of course, people don’t stop ordering just because I’m not there and, of course, they order my short kits. My kits are probably the part of my business that I like doing the most. I like finding designs, drawing them out, building them, flying them and then making those designs available for others.
I mentioned earlier that I had “minor issues” with my laser cutter in between contests. The cutter would start cutting and would just STOP CUTTING after about 10 or 15 minutes. This may be during one cut, or it may be in the 2nd or 3rd cut of the day. I mostly cut one kit at a time, due to the limitations of my 14″x9″ cutting bed. Not only would it stop, but the laser would still be firing – so it would burn large holes in the balsa, ruining the piece. The computer was reporting it was losing connection with the cutter.
I found that if I stood by the machine and watched it during the cut, I could quickly unplug the USB cable and plug it back in and the cutting would resume. I might have to do that two or three times during a single cut. This was entirely unpredictable – it was failing at various points in the cut and not repeating at a specific spot. Besides being very annoying, it is wasteful. The balsa might be ruined, but it also required that I stand by watching for 10 or 15 minutes during a cut – time that I usually spend packing or making other things.
I contacted the manufacturer. I had issues with the controller board in the past: the board got hot enough that the heat sink on the chip slid off the vertically-oriented board. They had sent me a replacement board back in 2016 (had it really be that long ago?) Now they told me that the 2013 purchase was too old and they no longer support that model in any way. They said I might try to install a 3rd-party controller board, but could not recommend one, nor offer support on how to do that.
I started doing research online. While replacement is possible, it doesn’t seem to be a simple swap. Still considering a swap, I purchased a new USB cable, just in case that was the issue. This cable is a USB printer cable and the end that plugs into the board is a little loose. I got the cable and used it. I was able to cut about three kits before the board crapped out again. This time was slightly different – it finished the cut, returned the cutter head to the “home” position, and shut down. I can get no reaction out of the cutter at all now.
You know what that means? Most of my back-orders cannot be filled – I generally cut kits as needed. I did make some extras in preparation for the Nats but as they have not been purchased, they are not the items people want the most. I am faced with many orders that I cannot fill because I cannot cut balsa.
While considering how to proceed with this ancient piece of tech that has served me so well, I have gone ahead and ordered a replacement. This one has a 28″x20″ bed and is much, much larger. I doubt I can fit it through the door to the basement, even if we could carry it down the stairs. According to the published dimensions, it should fit through the back door of the house and the Lady of the House volunteered that I could use that back room for the new cutter – even before it was necessary to buy one.
Delivery should be within two week. In the mean time, I will get the room prepped. Then I’ll have to hook up the new machine and figure out how to operate it. Then I’ll have to reformat all my cut files, as I am sure the format I had to use with the old machine will not be readable by the new machine. Hopefully, it will cut a lot faster, and eventually I should be able to rework the files to fully take advantage of this much larger bed.
To shorten up a long story, it might be a month before I can get back to cutting short kits. Ugh.
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