Well, yesterday was the last contest (for me) in 2021. I flew in four events and won one of them – and I “could” have won all four. I almost feel like karma followed me to Pontiac yesterday: I’ve been in a real building funk for the last month.
My performance yesterday could be a reflection of that. I lost the Greve/Thompson NoCal Mass Launch when my (used) rubber motor broke during winding for the final round. I lost the WWII NoCal Mass Launch when my rubber motor bunched and caught on my motor stick in the final round. I lost Phantom Flash when my newly-repaired #11 wasn’t completely trimmed and failed to win the fly-off (ok, this one wasn’t so bad – The plane was flying well, but not well enough – sometimes it is hard to beat Winn Moore). I did win the Comet Nickel event – and my little Miller racer flew surprisingly well, with 16, 25, and 28 second flights. This surprised everyone, including me. And I think there is more to be had in that one!
The 2021 flying season seemed to “fly by” (haw!) but it was not without its rewards. I won plenty of events and got to fly at Muncie three or four times (but that’s never enough). I even did really well at the AMA Indoor Nats (I was the FAC High Point Champ). Two of my new large outdoor models did really well (Hep Cat and Holy Ike).
Looking back, the entire year seemed rushed. It is almost like recovery from the COVID cancellations caused me to lose the rhythm of flying at contests. (Speaking of COVID, we were back in masks yesterday since COVID rates are at an all-time high in Michigan.) It seems I no longer have time to get all the flights in that I want. What has happened? At neither Indoor or Outdoor contests, I can’t seem to find the time. I don’t know how I flew so many flights before.
I did purchase a new laser cutter this year. I had to, as the old one crapped out on me. I could argue that this was long overdue – the new laser performs much better and is about 3 times faster. I do have a hard time etching on light wood, but I hope to figure that out.
Speaking of “not enough time”, I feel like all I do is cut wood and pack orders. Yet my records show that I have had busier years. This is literally an every-day job and any time off taken is rewarded with a growing backlog. Even if I don’t ship everyday, I have to pack orders every day so that shipping can take place every other day. For example, I shipped on Wednesday, but didn’t have any orders packed for yesterday (Thursday). And yesterday was contest day, so no work during the day. I was pretty tired coming home (it’s a 2+ hour drive each way), so I didn’t pack any for shipment today (Friday) so I will need to work hard today and tomorrow morning in order to catch up from all that slipped time so I can ship on Saturday.
Postal rates have increased. You may not know it, but the post office hiked rates as a temporary seasonal adjustment back in October. About half of my orders (and all of the orders shipping to the west coast) are now costing more than the flat rate that I charge. I am absorbing that loss in hopes that the post office is true to their word and drops prices back down after the new year. If they don’t, I’ll be forced to bump up my rates.
This brings up a pet peeve for me. I actually feel guilty about charging for shipping and even more so for charging more than the actual cost. In general, my charges were about $1 more than it costs me for postage. Frankly, that really doesn’t cover the actual expense. “Why not?” you might ask. If I get an order for a single item, it takes at least 5 minutes to pack that up and prepare it for shipment. That’s probably closer to 10 minutes, if you include the computer time to weigh and print postage. “Five minutes? That’s nothing.” Until you consider that any order with multiple items increases that packing time and packing multiple orders multiplies that time. It generally takes me 3+ hours to pack the daily packages. Now, imagine HIRING someone to do that work. Could you hire anyone to pack orders for less than $1 per package? I’ve hired myself to do that work and that is apparently the rate I work for – I pack orders for less than $1 per package; well that was the rate before the USPS raised their rates. Now, I pretty much do that work for free.
Of course, I do most of my design work for free, and any of my machining and assembly work for free. The prices I charge are basically for the finished product, not including labor. If I charged for labor – and I think this is the same for most of us small Free Flight suppliers, the retail cost of the times would be much, much higher. Consider this a labor of love.
Periodically, I reconsider ordering items I sell. I no longer offer many items that I used to sell. I’ve considered selling even less, but then I wonder where you, the modeler, will get stuff. On the other hand, I’ve stopped some items because I just cannot get them any longer. Czech props are gone and I only have a few left. Esaki tissue is gone (remember that large and final lot – I ran out of the last of it last month). I once felt I would stop selling tissue altogether, but I know there is a demand for it, so I’ll be restocking tissue from Asuka.
As for upcoming kits – this is what I really like to do. I’ve got several in the pipelines already and am looking forward beyond that. I recently asked for interest in some of the ones that I have built and flown but not produced (Holy Ike, Stallion Jumbo, etc) but received no response indicating interest. This is always a question as I work on plans. Most of them, I do because I want to do them. It’s not important to me if no one else wants them. So I won’t invest my time in finalizing the plans to make them production-ready.
Here’s a thought I have had – and there might be interest in these. I recently (with the help of Archie Adamisin) released the Comet 20″ Dimers. These were not built and the plans not redrawn – we just laid out the parts per the plans and produced cut sheets. As you are likely aware, this is not my typical method – I like all products to be successfully built and flown. But there is another series (of three) that I would be willing to undertake if there was significant interest: the Comet 54″ Free Flight models: The Taylorcraft, the Aeronca Chief, and the Aeronca K. I have the first two kits in my possession,so I can use them for parts reference. I don’t recall ever seeing the Aeronca K in 54″ span, but had an interesting thought on that one: Comet did the K with floats in a much smaller size – wouldn’t a 54″ K WITH FLOATS be interesting? These also would probably not be built and tested, but just laser-cut parts based on the plans. In addition, they might not even come with plans – I don’t have a printer capable of producing such large drawings – and all the plans are available for download already. Any thoughts about this?
Regardless, I’m hard at work developing more short kits. I make a list ever year about this time for future projects. There are always new items added to the list during the year and ones that have been on the list, just waiting, for several years. One final comment regarding kits: according to my records, I’ve produced over 100 different short kits and sold more than 5,000. That’s a surprise to me, too!