NARAM-51 was held in Johnstown, Pennsylvania the week of August 8-15.
Johnstown, about two hours east of Pittsburgh, is the home of the
famous (or imfamous) Johnstown Flood. Given the weather we've had all
summer, I was expecting another one.
I made the nine-hour drive to Johnstown on Friday. The host hotel had filled up pretty early, so I had booked at a different hotel, but Bill Spadafora was staying at the same hotel. When I arrived, Bill took me over to the host hotel to register. My teammates had yet to arrive.
I compete in the team division as part of the Spanish Inquisition Team. My teammates are Gary and Fran Miller from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Life conspired against us and due to various events (and a healthy dose of procrastination), we were unable to finish the Peanut Sport Scale and Sci-Fi/Future Scale models that we were working on. We did have some old models that had been flown and repaired, so we would be able to enter the events, but would not be in contention for the top spots. Even though we were in third place going into the contest, we did not expect to hold on.
My teammates finally arrived around 4:30 Saturday morning and were still asleep, so I met up with Bill and Tony Vincent for breakfast and headed to the field for some sport flying. A few months before the contest, the organizers had to scramble to find a new field and this one was less than ideal. The hilly terrain and the proximity of the trees would make for some challenging recoveries, especially if the winds continued to blow in the same direction all week. They were blowing across the short dimension of the field, straight for the trees. I flew a couple of low power sport models without incident.
Saturday night there was a night launch. The last couple of times they've done one, I've been too busy finishing my scale model, but that was not the case this year. I cobbled together something from the remains of a pranged SEMROC Goliath and some clear plastic tubing from a fluorescent light bulb cover. The light source was a couple of glow sticks in the payload compartment. Bill had a more elegant entry with flashing LEDs. It was a lot of fun. The hit of the night was George Gassaway's R/C glider with lights fore and aft and on the wing tips.
Sunday, the winds were worse and a lot of models were ending up in the trees. I declined to fly anything, but Gary prepped a model. Before he got to fly it, though, word came that they were needed back in Green Bay, so he and Fran gave me their contest models and the various supplies and equipment that I would need for the week and headed back home leaving me to represent the team by myself.
Monday's events were 1/8A Helicopter Duration and A Streamer Duration. Since helicopter duration was worth more points, I decided to fly that first. Gary had built Fliskits Tiddlywinks and had had success with them at the regional contests, but I had never flown a MicroMaxx model before. I prevailed upon the most experienced MicroMaxx flier I know, Bill Spadafora, to assist me. The first flight went up, deployed the rotors and started spinning. RSO Tom Lyon called, "Qualified flight". It was up a pretty long time in comparison to other flights up to that point, but when Bill and I reached where the model landed, we quickly noticed that the motor casing had been ejected. I walked over to the returns table and disqualified myself. The second flight was better. A flight time of 28 seconds and successful motor retention put me in first place for the moment. It held up for most of the day until the Flying I-Beam Kids made their second flight late in the afternoon. Their combined times edged me out by one second. Still, second place is not bad.
Monday's other event was A Streamer Duration. Fran's models use short boosters made of conventional model rocket materials coupled with tubes made from Kapton, a heat-resistent plastic film, to save weight. I added a 4"x40" inch metallic red Micafilm streamer. The winds took the first flight just barely into the cow pasture and it was easily recovered. The timers saw it for 89 seconds. With a qualified returned flight, I could wait for more lift and go for broke later in the day. The second flight seemed longer. It travelled further into the cow pasture and disappeared over a hill. Even though Bill and I had a good line and it appeared to come down short of the trees, we could find no trace of it. 86 seconds pushed us up to second place, but with several other teams having yet to take their second flight, it did not seem likely to stay that way. When the day ended, though, we were still in second place.
After Monday's success, Tuesday's flying brought me back down to earth. First up was Random Altitude. In this event, a target altitude is randomly selected prior to the day's flying and the winner is the one who comes closest to that target. You only get one shot at it. The Millers had flown the event previously using a model built for the Payload event and used Rocksim to generate a set of tables predicting the correct combination of motor and added mass to hit the target. For the 175 meter target, it predicted a B6-4 and 28 grams, which is the mass of a NAR standard payload, so I loaded one in the model and went off to fly it. The trackers got it at 151 meters - quite a bit short of the target. Two teams ended up hitting exactly 175 meters and tied for first place. We finished out of the money.
Also being flown on Tuesday was 1/2A Multi-round Parachute Duration. The score is the sum of three flights, rather than the standard two, but there is a maximum time for each flight - two minutes in this case. Anything beyond that doesn't count. The other wrinkle is that you can only use two models to make the three flights. If you lose both models on the first two flights, you're done. I prepped the first model - another one of Fran's Kapton creations with an 18" parachute. The model cleared the tower and almost immediately, deployed the parachute. The motor had failed. I could elect to accept the 7 second flight, or take a reflight. I chose to refly. The pack of motors that I opened for the first flight was fairly old, so this time, I used a pack that I purchased much more recently. The 'chute had been damaged by the rapid deployment, so I had to go to a smaller one. This time, everything worked perfectly and I had a 59 second flight.
For the next flight, I used the same set-up. This one landed deep in the horse corral. It took quite a bit of searching to find it. I was looking for a black parachute and every time I'd see something black on the ground, it turned out to be horse manure. The time was a little better on this flight at 65 seconds. At this point, I checked the standings. Would a third flight make any difference? It appeared that if I got a maximum time, I could tie the team currently in fourth place, so I decided to fly again. This time, I chose a larger model so that I could fit a 24" parachute and hoped to hit a thermal. Everything went according to plan. The 'chute opened and the model settled into the thermal. It drifted out of sight while still going up for an easy max. I must have misread my score before the flight because instead of tying for fourth, I was alone in fifth. In the end, it didn't matter, as another team jumped into the top four later in the day. No hardware today, but four qualified flights is a moderate success.
Wednesday brought B Rocket/Glider Duration, which was the first event for which I had built the models. We had tried a couple of different designs during the year and finally had good success at the last regional contest with a modified version of the Seattle Special. I built a second model for NARAM, but decided to fly the battle-tested one first. It was overcast, but the winds were calm and there was a bit of lift when I flew the first flight. The model boosted nice and straight on a B6-2 and settled into a flat glide, lazily circling the range. What breeze there was pushed it slowly toward the tree line. It landed in the field after 81 seconds, although as Jim Flis pointed out, one more circle would have put it in the trees. I decided to wait until later in the day for my second flight.
In the meantime, the skies were clearing, so I decided to fly B Altitude. Fran had built these models as well. I would use a piston launcher for this event to try to get the most altitude possible. The little model came off the piston cleanly, but proceeded to go unstable as soon as it left the tower. I did not want to risk DQ'ing out of the event, so I put up a flight with a much larger model just to get a qualified flight. Mission accomplished. In retrospect, I had probably left too much of the engine casing hanging out the back of the model, but I wanted to make sure I had enough to accomodate the piston. I wish that I had remembered that Fran had left me a Rocksim printout showing the CP location for her model. I could have made sure that the model would be stable.
After that disappointment, I turned my attention back to R/G. The sun was out and thermal activity was picking up, so I decided to fly again. The second flight was almost a carbon copy of the first, with a time of 76 seconds. That put me into medal contention for the moment, but a couple of teams using radio-controlled models still had flights to make, so I would have to wait and see. When the dust settled, I had held on to third place.
Meanwhile over on the sport range, Bill flew the model that Gary had prepped on Sunday. It was picture-prefect on an AeroTech E30-4. In all the years that Gary has had this model, this was the first time I'd seen it fly successfully. It could be because of Bill's flying skills, but it was most likely that this was the first time that the motor's delay actually performed as advertised.
Thursday morning was foggy - perfect weather for D Dual Eggloft Duration. Since it was scheduled as a short day anyway, it was decided to push the start of flying back and go later in the afternoon than originally planned. I had the first shift of range duty that day, so I didn't mind. During the first shift, there were not many flights. Eventually, the fog lifted enough so that lower-performance models woul stay below the ceiling. By about 10:30, the clouds started to break up and patches of blue appeared. I had checked in a D12-3 for my first flight based on the sky conditions and even though they had changed, I decided to stick with that strategy. The boost was good, although there was a good deal of spin. The parachute ejected, but never opened. The model landed hard and was disqualified, although the eggs survived the landing. I figured that they must be tough eggs, so I decided to use them for the second flight as well.
Bill Spadafora had headed home that morning, so I was without my trusty recovery crew. Gary and Fran are also members of the SMASH section in Michigan and the team flies for them, so I prevailed upon them to help keep an eye on my flight. It turned out that I needn't have worried, but they had a couple of flights going up after I had recovered mine, so I gave them a hand. Dave Gilmore had a record-setting flight of over ten minutes that he and I chased so far that we needed someone to come with a car and get us.
I decided to stick with my strategy of getting a qualified flight, so I abandoned the D10 powered model in favor of a second D12 flight. I used a different booster which hopefully would have straighter fins and less spin. Dave's wife Pam had her model on the pad next to me and fellow SMASH member Randy Boadway pointed out a group of hawks circling in a thermal getting closer and closer to the range head. I watched and waited until it looked like the hawks were in the area where the rocket would go and I raised my paddle to signal that I was ready to fly. Pam put hers up a split-second later. The model took off with no spin at all and headed right for the hawks. This time, the 34" parachute opened perfectly. The model flirted with the thermal, but never really caught it. Pam's model caught more of it and her time would have been good enough for fourth place in the team division. We would both have to settle for qualified flights, though.
After the flying was finished, there was a picnic at the field. The food was good and there was plenty of it. Unlike recent years, they did not present any awards, although they did give away a lot of door prizes. I won a Quest kit as did Bill, who bought a ticket for the picnic without realizing that he would not be there.
Viewing of the scale models took place Thursday night at the host hotel. As expected, ours were well down in the standings. Although they were once fine models, both had seen better days. My Peanut Sport Scale Hydac was the model which took second place in C Scale Altitude at NARAM-49, but the white finish was stained with tracking powder residue and the fins were not quite straight after having been knocked off when it hit a building on recovery. Gary's Sci-Fi/Future Scale entry was a proposed five-engine Atlas missile taken from a book about I.C.B.M.'s written by G. Harry Stine. It had zippered on a previous flight and the repair was quite obvious. Neither model had the degree of complexity of the top-placing entries. Still, we were fortunate to have models that we could enter at all.
I planned to fly the Atlas twice on Friday - once with a single engine and once with a five engine cluster - so I prepped it with a single D12-3 for its first flight. After a slow, majestic boost, the magenta nylon parachute brought it safely back down. There was some minor damage to the transition, probably from snap-back, but other than that, it was intact.
With a qualified flight under my belt, it was time to turn my attention to the Hydac. I knew that it was a high flier and since I didn't need to push the envelope, I selected an A8-5 for the flight. The model boosted straight as an arrow despite the misaligned fins and began descending on its streamer. It was headed right for the range tent! It clipped the edge of the tent, once again breaking off a fin. The damage points were offset by the mission points for the "simulated chemical release", also known as tracking powder.
Flying the Atlas with a cluster would not garner enough points to move into the top four places, but I wanted to do it just for fun so I loaded it with a D12-5 and a quartet of A10-PTs. The difference was obvious as the model leaped off the pad. Again, there was some damage from snap-back and one of the A10's had failed to light, but it was still a good flight.
At the awards banquet that night, I sat at one of the SMASH tables. Once again, the food was good and plentiful. Taking a page from NARAM-50, medals were given out for the events rather than trophies. Personally, I prefer the medals. They're much easier to transport back home. There were trophies for the Meet Champions and National Champions. Despite a pretty good week, we were not able to hold on to one of the top four spots, finishing in fifth place by a narrow margin.
Saturday was time for the long drive home. Next year, NARAM-52 will be in Pueblo, Colorado, which is a short distance from Penrose, home of Estes Industries. I expect that I'll make the trip again, and hopfully I will have all my models built well ahead of time.