Memoirs of an obsessive aeroplane hater. Part 4

By 'Tubby' Day

In September 1956 I finished my 5 year draughtsmans apprenticeship and waited for my call-up for National Service. This, like many things in life, was an anticlimax. By this time, the forces were quite fussy about who they accepted and a combination of short-sightedness, overweight and - horrors - hammer toes, meant that I was unacceptable. Well, now I could get on with my life.

The return of interest in aeromodelling was almost instantaneous. I joined the West Bromwich club who, at that time, were renowned for their combat flying with Mac Grimmett's 'Black Ghost' design. They also performed many displays at fetes and school open days.

Always one to plough my own furrow, I refused to join the 'Black Ghost' set and proceeded to produce my own combat model, based on the wing of the 'Kombat Kapers'. With staggering originality, I called this 'T Square'. This was not ready for the first fete that I attended, so I used my surviving 'Ambassador'. At around 12 ounces, this flew rings (literally) around the 'Ghosts' and made me somewhat unpopular. Needless to say, it didn't last long!

The club had around twelve regular flyers, with an inner 'clique' of 4 or 5 based around Mac Grimmett and Mike Kendrick (is this the Mike Kendrick who is now Richard Branson's balloon manager, I keep asking myself?). This hard core could be recognised by the fact that they had the words 'Black Ghost' on the wings of their models in a stylised form which was produced by spraying through a special mask. The rank and file had to use stick-on number plate letters obtained from Halfords.

Halfords played a large part in many modelling activities in those days. They sold 'Brushing Belco' cellulose, which was used to finish the models. They also sold gold lettering (in waterslide transfers) which was very popular for decorating models. Apart from being a major supplier of pushbikes (another modelling necessity), they also sold 2 volt accumulators, which were essential for those venturing forth into the heady world of glowplug motors.

The club attended all of the major C/L rallies by means of that 50's institution, the club coach. I can remember the coach being loaded up with 30 plus identical 'Black Ghosts', all with Copeman tuned Oliver Tigers. Years later, George Copeman (an excellent boogie-woogie pianist) told me that the 'tuning' consisted of reaming out the main bearing so that it was concentric with the ball races. Apparently, this was discovered from the fact that a good Oliver was one that had already had 2 or 3 replacement liners and pistons fitted. This meant that the main bearing was now run-in.

In my case, catching the coach entailed a cycle trip from Aston to West Bromwich early on Sunday morning (usually with a stunter strapped to my back), before the trip itself. After visiting every available pub on the return journey (to West Bromwich), I was faced with a cycle trip home (to Aston) in the early hours of Monday morning.

On one such occasion, a policeman shone his lamp at me and enquired, "Where the 'ell 'ave yo' bin?". "Manchester", I replied, and cycled on into the night. Actually, Woodford would have been more accurate, but he wouldn't have known where that was.

There is a small mystery here. The club attended the Woburn Rally in 1957 which featured the appearance of Bob Palmer with his famous (I nearly said 'infamous', but that's another story) radial cowled 'Thunderbird'. For some reason which totally escapes me I didn't go. Memory says that I didn't know about his attending. However, the fact was published in Aeromodeller, well in advance, and I must have seen it. I can remember my disappointment when I discovered what I had missed.

My first trip to the Nationals was in 1957 via the aforementioned coach. I flew in the Gold Trophy (with a new 'Ambassador', my seventh!), but managed to omit the inverted flight. The judge, Eddie Cosh, was apologetic but said that my score for the flight was zero. To this day, I don't believe he was right.

I met Gig Eifflaender for the first time and thanked him for the excellent rebores he had done on several of my motors. I also met the late Harry Gilkes who was to encourage me to obtain my first '35' glow motor. Harry was a good flyer, but his lack of success in stunt contests led him to move on to other things and we eventually lost touch.

I had obtained a Frog '160' some years earlier to try a glow motor. This was a difficult motor to keep running in the air. Even the use of a balloon tank produced a flame-out on the launch. Some later experience with an Albon 'Arrow' did little to change my opinion.

Harry had a Fox 35, which were difficult to obtain at the time. However, I was impressed enough to decide that this was the way to go. The answer was to obtain an OS 35 from the Radar Company in Kowloon (Hong Kong). This was possible because they could accept British postal orders.

It's hard to realise in this day and age that there used to be currency restrictions which made it difficult to buy from abroad. There were also things like purchase tax and import duties to consider. Hong Kong, being a British protectorate at the time, made things a little easier.

That OS, a 'Max 1', cost 3-15s (3.75) - a princes ransom (actually about a third of my weekly income), but well worth it. I still have the motor, but it does not run well due to being thumped into tarmac too many times!

A suitable model was the next problem. My choice was the 'Calamity Jane' from Aeromodeller plans. This was designed for the Frog 500 and I stretched the wing by adding another rib panel each side. In the Palmer tradition, I christened this 'Cherokee'.

Cherokee Cherokee

Cherokee. Black and white photo by Ron Moulton ('59 Nats).
Colour photo taken at '59 'Criterium of Aces' (Brussels).

I flew this model in the 1958 Gold Trophy and came 12th despite numerous problems. The Gold that year was flown to the new FAI schedule, which was accepted as the SMAE schedule one year before it came into use by the FAI itself. In the light of recent events, it's worth pointing out here that the Gold Trophy is flown to SMAE/BMFA rules and has never been an FAI event.

Ron Moulton's report in Aeromodeller stated that I, "made contact in the clover", which caused some amusement. Harry Gilkes flew a two-seater 'Thunderbird', which he destroyed at the bottom of the new square bunts.

Day & Gilkes

Cherokee (Day) and two-seat Thunderbird (Gilkes). Photo by Pam Gilkes.

The next model that I built for the OS was a glorious failure.I had been impressed by the pictures of Bob Palmers 'Thunderbird (which I never saw 'till many years later) and I was very taken with the 1930's US Navy colour scheme and the type of aircraft that was adorned with it. The Revel company at that time produced a plastic kit of a US Navy pilot and I drew up a suitable model which would be able to utilise this in the cockpit.

The resulting machine, christened 'Iroquois', had a large fuselage and a wing of just 500 square inches. At the time, I had a thing about flaps being part of the wing section, rather than the usual thin sheet. This meant that the flaps were quite complex and something like 5/8" thick at the root.

Iroquois 1

Iroquois

Iroquois
Iroquois
iroquois
Iroquois

This already sounds like an unlikely combination for a good flying model and an eventual all-up weight of 54 ounces just about finished things off. However, that OS was a strong performer (no silencer either) and I always did like to fly fast, so it was fun to fly. It never made it into a flying contest, but I did enter it in the 1959 Model Engineer Exhibition, where it received a Very Highly Commended.

The name 'Iroquois' was a another follow-on from Bob Palmer's use of Indian (sorry, native american) names. Some years later, the Bell company stole the name for their 'UH-1' helicopter. Fortunately, the people who had to fly it preferred 'Huey'!

I did have plans to attend the open international C/L event associated with the 1958 Worlds Fair in Brussells. For this I drew up a smaller take-apart version of the 'Iroquois' for an AM 35. The main reason that I wanted to go was because the Benny Goodman Orchestra was appearing (American bands couldn't appear in the UK at that time). For various reasons that escape me, I didn't get to go. I never did see Benny live either.

One reason why I thought that the smaller 'Iroquois' could be good was because I used the AM 35 for my first contest win at the Leicester Rally in late 1958. The model was a Mercury 'Monarch'. This model was unfortunately written of by my friend Tony Day (no relation). The lesson has stayed with me to this day and very few of my stunt models have been flown by others.

The 'Cherokee' placed third in the 1959 Gold Trophy and qualified me to go to the Criterium of Aces in Brussells. The smaller 'Iroquois' had been built (I still have the original plan) but was disappointing. There was nothing else for it but to take the 'Cherokee'. This survived the trip as cabin baggage - I wonder if this could be done today? This trip involved the shuttle from Elmdon to Heathrow (Vickers 'Viscount') and a Sabina flight (another 'Viscount') from Heathrow to Brussells.

That model must have been strong. There followed most of a day of carrying it around Brussells on various trams to discover the location of the flying site at Etterbeek and then to actually get there!

Thus began my first international event. To save you the suspense, I placed eleventh.

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