|November 1953 Air Trails|
Table of Contents
Some things never grow old. These pages from vintage modeling magazines like American Aircraft Modeler, American Modeler, Air Trails, Flying Aces, Flying Models, Model Airplane News, & Young Men captured the era. I will be glad to scan articles for you. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
The Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, was the venue for the 1953 aeromodeling "Nationals." Lakehurst was still fresh in the minds at the time of everyone there because of the Hindenburg Zeppelin airship disaster that occurred a mere 16 years earlier (1937). All events, including indoor, were flown at the same location thanks to the immense size of the field and hangar. Those of us who have been in the the realm for a few decades will recognize some of the names of folks in attendance. It's kind of sad to think that many of the people captured in the photos here are gone from this Earth by now. Hopefully, a family member or friend will find mention of them here and be given a chance to enjoy seeing a picture that most likely have never been seen before.
By Frank Zaic, Photos by Schoenfield
It is only fitting and proper that the Nationals should begin with the indoor event. This event has been with us since the Nationals began, and it is the only one in which the models are not handicapped in fulfilling their basic function: defying gravity for maximum possible time.
The event at the Lakehurst hangar seemed like a reunion of the indoor alumni responsible for the development of indoor models as we know them. Some came as flyers, others as spectators and officials. Among the flyers we found Bill Tyler who used to represent Boston; John Zaic, New York Aeronuts; and Pete Andrews and Tony Becker, Philadelphia. Jesse Bieberman had his old job as contest director with assist from Mayhew Webster, Erv Leshner and others. If one could forget war years, wrinkles and grey hairs, the event seemed more like one of the pre-war record trials at which the records were pushed higher and higher from the reach of beginners.
Don't think excitement is lacking. As a model gradually spirals toward the treacherous roof, one begins to anticipate the troubles it may encounter before it completes its flight. Will it go up and down without touching the ceiling or sides? Or will it be snagged when it is just about to break a record or beat the previous best time? There are times when the model drifts toward the sides with each succeeding circle bringing it closer to disaster. If you want suspense, watch an indoor model working gradually to the sides. You can see it pass the girder with twelve inches to spare. Then you have to wait 30 seconds before it gets around in its deliberate circle... Somehow, an indoor model gets your sympathy, and it is not uncommon to have spectators shout warnings to the model to "keep away."
Pete Andrew's Class D, 300 sq. in. "stick" was the prima donna. Pete played safe and started his official flights with 1400 turns, and got around 25 min. The ship looked so good that he threatened to put it away for future record trials, but the rest of the boys were pushing, the time up, and he had to try again, with more turns. Somehow he managed to keep his model below the rafters and side girders during his three official flights. But on the very next flight, which was intended for record, his luck ran out and the model drifted to the sides.
Before the microfilm models started to fly at 11 a.m., the hand-launch gliders filled the air. (Incidentally, the first official flight of the meet was made by Fred Salmon of Keesler AFB at 9:35 in the glider event). While Carl Rambo from California was working up toward his 1 min. 7 sec., Ed Luca of Brooklyn was exhorting his fellow Skyscrapers to try their best to keep the honors in the East. When the morning session ended Rambo led with 1 min. 7 sec., but when glider flying resumed after 5 p.m. William Dunwoody of the Skyscrapers pulled a "Dodger" with 1 min. 9 sec.
The opening day can be taken as good indication of how the rest of the week shaped up organization-wise. It was a pleasant surprise to see the timers and tents ready ,to operate. at 9 a.m. There was no time-consuming opening ceremony which usually distracts everyone from his job. As quickly as the flight lines formed, the timers chopped them up. Processing during the previous evening eliminated all but weight and stamp mark checking. At no time during the entire meet did one see a bottleneck. If you were ready, a timer was just a few minutes away - ready, willing and able.
Unfortunately, the opening day also showed how limited the field was for retrieving. A fair drift would take your model beyond the fenced boundary. You may have clocked six minutes maximum, but your model was gone, D/T'ing over brush or residential area. The Navy helicopter and cooperative phone calls plus prompt pick-up service brought many models back for another try, but many were lost or retrieved too late for that day's flying. The Easterners are used to such conditions, and the Westerners were good sports about it. The Navy did its best and no one could ask for more.
Since it would take a long article to describe individual events, max by max, crash by crash, and day by day, it seems best to give our personal impression of events so that those of you who were too busy in your own private corner might get an idea of what went on in general, while the stay-at-homers can realize they missed a good thing.
After all these, years of 100-foot tow lines and tight-turning gliders, the Nordics presented a different picture as they were towed up to the peak of 320 feet (about 30% made it) and then glided in rather large meandering circles. Since most of them had sharp tip dihedral, we could not help but compare them with the Balinese dancers with their outstretched arms and upward-pointing fingertips. And the Nordics looked just about as graceful, if you go for that sort of dancing, in contrast to the gull-like wheeling of the old-type gliders we used to watch spiral upward. Since the day was not exactly thermal, we can't say how the Nordics would react to real thermal flying.
Near the Nordic take-off site the Wakefield boys had their day. As many of you may know, this is the last year in which there is no limit to the amount of rubber that can be used in the model. (Next year, only 2.8 oz. can be used.) And so, the ratio of rubber to total weight was carried to the extreme by many. A 3 oz. model with 5 oz. of rubber was nothing special. In effect, it's like having a 1000 hp engine in a Piper Cub.
The official Wakefield event was held during the day, but the unofficial Wakefield Team event was flown during dawn; it was won by the Detroit team.
A bit further down the line. the gas-powered flyers had their fun. This type of flying can be likened to a thunderstorm cloud. Looking at it from a distance you see occasional lightning in it and hear a bit of thunder - on the whole it seems harmless enough. But if you had to fly through such a cloud your impression would be quickly changed by the violence inside. And so it is when you walk into free flight during the Nationals when every timer is on the firing line. It makes no difference what class of engines is gobbling up the gas, the excitement and high tension edge your nerves. You have no chance to have a quiet talk or even think. Your faculties are tuned to nothing but self-preservation. One has to keep his eyes on dozens of take-offs and make split-second decisions which way to duck. In fact, the action is much too fast to feel sorry for the sad cases. After a while one gets a peculiar sadistic feeling in waiting for a real honey of a splash.
The mortality of the free flight models seems to average about 50% or more. If the splashes were not absolute, the engine just cut out in time. (Can't vouch for the rumor that the timers were giving themselves "Ace" rating after timing five "splashes.") There were a lot of screaming, almost straight-up flights to show the boys that it could be done.
The "National" atmosphere is very catching. It gives the contestant a feeling that by merely being at the big meet, his models acquire unique properties they did not have at home.
With thunder and lightning diminishing in the free flight area, we drifted to the "country club set" where the radio control flyers were going through their tasks. From the outward appearance, the R/C event is ideal. Only one or two models can be in the air at the same time, and no testing is allowed. This sort of a thing gives the boys a lot of time to gossip and visit, which after all is one of the most important things to do at the Nationals - digging up secret information with which to "kill" the boys back home.
Posted May 2, 2015