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For many years I’ve been watching the American BOM ( = Builder of Model ) discussion from a far distance. It’s not the kilometres or miles which define the distance - it’s the FAI versus AMA difference. For an FAI flyer the discussion may sometimes appear quite interesting as long as he doesn’t know the American aerobatic scene intimately. For reasons which I will not explain in detail here, the FAI has abandoned the BOM requirement long ago. So people flying under FAI rules don’t spend any thought about this topic. Most countries ( like my own: Germany ) automatically adopt the FAI rules for their international classes. If ever a majority of competitors is not quite satisfied with those rules, there’s always the possibility via rule proposals to have some influence on how things are run. Obviously flyers are generally happy with what they have today. Apart from some rather violent K-factor discussions recently, stunt rules have stood essentially unchanged for a long time. There was no need for a drastic change but times are changing. It seems that this distant BOM idea begins to slightly touch FAI minds.
Being a spectator at the World Championships 2008 in Landres, France, I had enough time to fill the memory card in my digital camera with pictures of beautiful airplanes. On open practice days there’s usually a large number of pilots waiting for a flight, with their airplanes put in a long line. A perfect opportunity for the photographer to shoot a picture of each of these beautiful machines. Alas - a lot of these looked pretty much the same. In one instance 8 out of about 25 models were actually the same design, with as much as 6 in a row !
It didn’t catch MY eye only. After all we’re used to see almost exactly the same model in every team racer’s, speed flyer’s, or combat flyer’s hand ( I wonder how they detect their own model in the lot, maybe the licence number on the wing helps ). In stunt circles this is a new image. Some people seemed to be concerned, to put it mildly. And some comments were not very favourable.
At this point in time it appears to me that we have a topic to talk about. The viewpoints are well known, those debating over BOM in the USA have almost beaten them to death already. While some ideas may have merit, I feel some arguments have simply been forgotten - and these are among the most important ones. Before any inconsiderate cries for rule changes might arise we should carefully sort the arguments and check them for their meaning, value, and honesty. Let’s begin with the arguments of the proponents.
1) most often heard argument is lack of time to build an airplane, and I have no doubt that in some cases this is true.
2) Many people who grow up in this modern world see that things can be bought. For them it’s natural to buy things. Many don’t even get the idea to produce something by themselves. This can be understood when looking into the average model shop’s shelves. And there are those who even don’t KNOW that things can be made !
3) In this world of “doability” it is quite logical to use what modern technology and risen standard of living has to offer. After all we use cars for transportation instead of putting a horse before the coach.
4) ARFs or even ready built and painted ( and test flown !) airplanes were simply not available in the past. What had we done if they were ?!
5) There’s the well known argument in comparing our activity with other sports: “Michael Schumacher doesn’t build his Ferrari race car” ( he does not win the Formula One constructor’s trophy either ). While there’s a hitch in this argument we still have to think about what Control Line Aerobatics is and what we want it to be.
6) In this world of “instant gratification” the idea of having to work hard and long for any success which may possibly show up in a distant future will scare away many people. Now this may not be exactly a “pro” argument, but we shouldn’t fully ignore thoughts about the future of our event. Maybe some subtle modifications may help or are necessary.
7) The last argument is the topic “rule”. While I do not consider this an essential topic concerning the contents of our event and the values it can offer, in real world we simply have to have rules. The problem with rules is: a) a majority must be ready to accept them; b) there must be a clear definition; c) it must be possible to enforce them and to prevent violation. I can see no chance to establish, formulate, and enforce a “bullet proof” BOM rule.
Having arrived here it appears that this writer is a convinced enemy of BOM or any associated ideas. Wait a minute, there are other arguments, too, and so far we’ve only touched the surface. Other things have to be considered as well. Let’s not forget an American specialty: APPEARANCE POINTS !
For those not familiar with this peculiarity I’ll have to explain: before official flying begins, all stunt models are judged for appearance. Two competent individuals judge the quality of workmanship and the beauty of shape and colour by an extensively detailed check list. A maximum of 20 points is added to the flight score. I don’t know when and how these appearance points originated. Let me dream a little: maybe in the distant past stunt models were ugly crates. One clever guy tried to not impress the judges with flying only, but also with a beautiful airplane. Being successful he had followers, of course. Naturally this lead to some kind of competition, unofficially at first ( everybody is proud of having done something very well; even if he doesn’t get any award ! ). Sooner or later this developed into an official contest ( please correct me if I am wrong ). Since at that time ready made products were not available, everybody had to design, build, and paint his airplane himself. Thus the appearance points came as a natural consequence.
Now somebody might reply that appearance points are not necessary and that we have a flying event where there’s no place for a beauty contest. While this sounds quite rational I dare to oppose slightly. Is it mere accident that many within our ranks are musicians, painters, artists? After all aerobatics HAS to do with beauty and harmony: why should we want to draw beautiful shapes in the sky if we had no eye for beauty ?! I’m convinced the majority of stunt flyers agree with the idea that a stunt model should look “pretty” ( at least !). That doesn’t mean that I favour those appearance points, especially when added to the flight score - for each flight !! This is a topic which can be discussed separately. There are other solutions already practised, like the “pilot’s choice” method ( pilots select “their” model of choice ). If you have ever seen that breathtaking collection of most beautiful stunt models at appearance points judging in a big hall at the American Nationals , you’ll be spoiled forever and will have a weak spot in your heart for appearanve points. Of course they only make sense when the airplane is built by the competitor himself. While I cannot see any chance to add any kind of similar procedure to existing FAI rules, I have to admit that I wouldn’t oppose such a step.
But back to the main topic: the discussion whether or not some kind of BOM requirement should be included in the rules, whether or not it will have an influence on our event, and which one.
So far only the NoBOM arguments have been mentioned. What about the arguments which favour BOM - or I’d better say : the arguments which recommend building? Because there are no short and clear statements to be used in defense. The problem is: the supporters of the ( let’s call it ) building philosophy base their arguments on a certain way of thinking which has to be understood and accepted in order to recognize the arguments. As always there’s the other side of the coin. There are quite a number of valid arguments which support BOM. And quite strongly, at that. But let’s first mention those arguments which in my eyes SEEM to support the idea, but in reality do more harm than help. One of those arguments is “tradition”.
It has been said that “Control Line Aerobatics” has never been a flying event ONLY. That all Walker Cup winners should stand in the tradition of those whose names have been engraved on this precious trophy. And that this tradition is a value in itself and should be continued. Sorry, people, I have to tell you that I don’t care a hoot about tradition. While I do not despise tradition, I feel that we should take over what makes sense, what is practical, what fits our modern world, what helps us to survive, and what can lead us into the future. Tradition for it’s own sake doesn’t make sense for me and doesn’t justify it ( as an example: vendetta ! ). Sticking to obsolete thinking can even lead to negative results afterwards. May I suggest to take the best and to leave the obsolete. So in my eyes “tradition” is a bad argument. You’ll soon have a lot of good arguments against yours, quickly leaving you without defense.
There’s the argument that without appearance points people will build simple, rational, and ultimately ugly airplanes. What a nonsense. Reality has proved that all stunt flyers in the world want to have beautiful airplanes. And most of these pilots fly under FAI rules where they cannot gain additional points for the appearance of their airplane. Stunt flyers LIKE beautiful airplanes, and very often they like an individual approach, an individual design, shape, and colour. And this requires building one’s own airplane. BOM is not an unpleasant restriction to stunt flyers - BOM is the consequence of their ideas and their mentality. True, an “appearance points rule” is superfluous. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not against such ideas. It separates our fantastic creations from those uniform mass products being used in other classes.
There’s also the popular argument “ if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. I wonder why this argument is popular in America, of all countries. A country which I admire so much for its pragmatism. With practical solutions for new problems. Why must something be “broke” in order to be changed? Everything can be improved, so let’s see where improvement is possible, or even necessary.
Having said all this, please don’t get me wrong. I DO NOT defend BOM at all costs; I don’t even cry for a rule. As I’ve mentioned before I somehow doubt that we can have a rule which really works. My concern lies on another route and goes much deeper. I’ll not mention cost here. There are other hobbies/ sports which require MUCH deeper pockets than those we need. But - still this can lead to a two part society in our little world, and because it’s so small we should avoid to have it divided into different groups ( who’s different viewpoints I’ve already heard at Landres ).
What concerns me more is the “consumer’s mentality” which begins to creep in. A visit to the local RC club flying field will easily show the situation. An increasing number of people drop into an activity without any knowledge and skills ( but sometimes with deep pockets ). Automatically the level of quality decreases. But yes, quantity rises ( book shops will confirm that many more people read books today than in the past. But what do people read ?! ).
Again - this is not my main concern. My main concern is the willingness - respectively the lack of - to accept work, effort, labour, trouble, trial and error, and even failure. The desire to learn, to develop and improve skills, to accept a challenge, to master a task, to overcome problems - even if the outcome is not the silver trophy, but just joy and pride about one’s own performance. Most people don’t know that “learning” is not a pain, an unpleasant roundabout, wasted time. They don’t know that learning is an interesting occupation, exciting process, and a time well spent. It is fantastic entertainment and joy. And when certain skills are acquired, products are well made, a certain level of success is reached, the result is pure satisfaction, REAL satisfaction. A contest success may be the result of all this, a nice by-product. The real win is the respect and the esteem we get from our peers.
Of course we have to pay the price. But what’s so wrong about using the difficult route? To accept working, trying, learning, improving, in order to finally succeed? That’s a truly valuable education for life.
At this point I’d like to include a comment Brett Buck has made in one of these control line forums. Addressing the group of No-BOM supporters Brett wrote:
“my interests in modelling don’t necessarily lead me to find the cheapest and/or least effort path to any end. I find actually doing ‘all the steps’ to be a far more worthwhile and rewarding endeavour. Getting a trophy the quickest way possible is not why I am involved in modelling . This is the missing factor in the BOM debate. I ( and many others ) think the events where you do it yourself are superior and are more appealing to those that are easier and more accessible”. In closing he said “ Excellence is a journey, not a destination”. Just great, Brett !
It couldn’t have been said better! These words explain it all. However there’s still one aspect left which I think is very strong, maybe the most important one: creativity. If you compare all modelling events, including free flight and RC, you’ll discover that the aerobatic events are the creative ones. And until now Control Line Aerobatics was the most creative. Where else can you see such a wide variety of ( own !) designs, shapes, and colour designs. We really have a “colourful” event. In fact - very often you can draw conclusions from the design, shape, and paintwork of the airplane to the personality of the designer/ builder. We have a wide choice to express our very own personality. We need not have the ultimate design which everybody else already has. We can create and realize our own ideas. Where else can we have this? Very seldom in other events, and hardly in our workaday job. People who renounce on being creative are only cheating themselves and don’t know what they are missing. Being creative is the highest level man can ever reach. Creativity can be found in designing the next world beater airplane, in carving, shaping and assembling balsa wood parts, in composing an exciting paint scheme.
While the opportunity to be creative surely is the strongest motivation to build one’s own airplane, there’s also another reason. Some may say they don’t have a creative talent. No fear! Creativity doesn’t mean we have to invent a better wheel. Just trying to transfer our ideas and images into a product ( = airplane ) with our own hands is a creative process. No need to beat the World Champion. Also, the mere proceeding of seeing raw balsa wood turning into a sophisticated framework is a creative process. Why would builders take photos of the just finished framework and sigh “ what a pity it has to be covered !” - if this was not a moment of honestly felt pride about a piece well done, the conviction to be on the right track, and the expectation of still better things to come. Seeing one’s own work grow, take shape, and finally end in a goal well done is a great experience well worth the effort which nobody can buy.
I’m somehow afraid of the situation when skills are no longer required ( just because RTF, ARF, and contest-ready fully trimmed airplanes etc. are available ). First the skills disappear. Then the desire to acquire these skills and the value of the effort is lost. Then the value of the skills will disappear. At last even the values will disappear. I do not believe in those simple arguments ( no time, availability, flying event only etc. ). They do not hit the point. Very often they can be refuted easily. In many cases it’s only an excuse for laziness, lack of willingness to accept a challenge and the effort to reach a goal.
The problem is: we seem to have two opposing camps with different kinds of arguments - and different ways of thinking. On one side we have the simple, rational, pragmatic, sometimes superficial and short-sighted arguments. On the other side we have the philosophical considerations about what is good for mankind, what are the contents and values of our sport, and which values we should further and cherish. These considerations are difficult to formulate, hard to prove, and require a certain mindset to understand and accept. Nevertheless their evidence is true and cannot be denied. However it’s difficult to cast this knowledge into rules. To me this is not only a discord within our own community, it seems to be a problem of our modern society. While a solution is not easily found , BOM related suggestions have been made already:
1) two separate classes, one for builders, one for buyers. This is not a good solution; we should not divide our already small group into subdivisions.
2) Penalize the buyers by subtraction of points. That’s psychologically unwise and counterproductive.
3) Reward the builder with some extra points, benefit, or privilege. This might motivate some individuals to get back to the workbench and pay some more attention to construction.
Because there are undoubtedly people who really depend on the possibility to buy an airplane, it wouldn’t be wise to ban RTF or ARF airplanes. After all they are here - and they will stay here. There’s also a small possibility that in a roundabout way they will bring some new blood to our circles. In FAI we should try to find a method which can include the RTF/ARFs without loosing the builders’ philosophy and its values out of sight. In my eyes it is important to keep those values which we have known since the invention of the bellcrank ( or since existence of man, if you like ). It’s important to keep and further the interest in learning, trying, improving. And to keep the desire for creativity in thinking and doing. Seen from a distance building our own airplanes is one perfect route, and we should try to find a way to keep and cherish those values. Now since the AMA problems have caught up with FAI, it’s time to start a discussion worldwide.

Perhaps the FAI control line stunt community would like to use Igor Burger’s F2B dedicated forum on the Internet ( http://www.rcmodely.sk/Controlline/diskusia.php ) as platform for to initiate an international discussion on BOM in FAI.