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
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
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
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
“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
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.