My first international event, the Criterium of Aces (Criterium Des As) in Brussels, in 1959, carried some responsibility as I was the only stunt flyer in the team. However, some help was forthcoming as the numerous supporters included Ian Russell, who obtained a Top-Flite 'Flitestreak' kit from Henri Stouffs shop and proceeded to build it on the spot to produce a second entry.
Ian said at the time that he purchased the kit and did most of the building. Only recently, I discovered that the model was given to Ian and Dave Finch by Henri (whose idea it was) and that Dave did most of the building!
I met many other modellers whose names were well-known to me, British and continental, and some who were to become well-known in the future. Such people as Battlo of Spain, Egevary of Hungary and Compostella of Italy (still active) were already well established, while Louis Grondal of Belgium won the meeting and went on to establish himself as a top stunt flyer. Grondals models were two Top-Flite kit Noblers, with Fox 35s, weighing 996 and 997 grammes. His flying was the slowest that I have ever seen with the motors almost eight-stroking in level flight and breaking into a four-stroke in the manoeuvres. If only I had a watch on his lap times.
Brian Horrocks, who had won the Gold Trophy, was also present. Memory tells me that Brian originally intended to be part of the British team but was denied this by the organisers and entered for Australia. Brian finished in eighth place, yours truly in eleventh, and Ian Russell sixteenth. That really sounds quite good, but there were only twenty entries!
I was drawn to fly fourth, but the first three all called attempts (chicken!) and I actually flew first in my first International.
All of the British speed team were experiencing problems with their Carter motors. They spent much of the time trying to produce a good motor from the parts of several. I have a graphic memory of Pete Wright's delta model circulating at 108 mph with the motor in a full four-stroke.
Another feature of this meeting was the presence of several examples of Bob Palmer's Thunderbird' design. Although the design was now some 4 years old, it was still a rarity in the UK. I decided that I had to have one! All of which meant that the aging 'Cherokee' (Calamity Jane) was redundant and definitely not worth the trouble of carting home. It was pulled apart on the site (to the considerable amusement of all the continentals) and cannibalized for reusable parts. At least the trip home was more comfortable!
In December 1959 I passed my driving test. Life was never the same again. I had been saving up every penny that I could for the purchase of a car and settled on a 100E 'Anglia'. It really is a reflection on my state of finance at that time that I was able to buy a 2 year old car for cash. Apart from one future transaction following an insurance write-off, this never happened again!
Dispite the dizzy heights acheived in 1959(?), I had only attended two contests (the Gold Trophy and the Criterium). With my own transport I now embarked on entering every stunt contest that I could find. For this I needed two new models and produced a 'Chief' and 'Thunderbird'. The kits for both of these were bought from a model shop in Spon End, Coventry. Not until 1998 was I to discover that this was actually Kan Doo Model Products. Each kit cost £5.5.0 (£5-25)!
They were built in tandem, covered with silk (a delight to work with), and finished in the same colour scheme of black with blue and white trim. The 'Chief' was finished first and powered by my old faithful OS 35 Max-1. It became a very successful machine by my standards at that time and eventually competed in 9 contests, winning two of them including the first.
The 'Thunderbird' was powered by a Merco 35. This was actually a pre-production example, hand built by Ron Checksfield. Ron and Bill Morley created the Merco company. Bill offered the motor to me after the 1959 Gold Trophy. I believe that just four of these motors were built and the whereabouts of the other three are unknown. Mine is still in regular use and still feels almost new.
Chief and Thunderbird.
Unfortunately, the 'Thunderbird' was nowhere near as durable as the 'Chief'. The very light structure rapidly began to break up, particularly the fuselage decking. The wing covering became a mass of stress cracks, like crazy paving. It was only flown in two contests, placing third in the team trials and fourth in the Gold Trophy.
The complete entry for the 1960 team trials at Wigsley. Left to right,
Standing; Barry Corden (O/D and Thunderbird), Pete Ridgway (Eifflaender O/D), Brian Brown (O/D), Frank Warburton (Nobler), Dave Day (Thunderbird and Chief),
Kneeling; Ray Brown (two Coy Lady's), Gig Eifflaender (O/D) and Tom Jolley (two Noblers).
After the Gold Trophy I pulled the 'Thunderbird' apart and used the recovered wing and tail structure with a new own-design fuselage with an inverted cowled motor. It was painted blue, hence 'Bluebird'. This too won its first contest, but went downhill from there on! It was flown in the first two of three flights at the 1960 world championships in Hungary and suffered from dire engine/tank problems. The third flight with the 'Chief' was fine but too late to recover the situation. I finished in 28th place.
In retrospect, flying the 'Bluebird' was a major mistake. I felt, probably wrongly, that I was under some obligation to use the Merco powered model because I should be promoting the motor. Bill Morley later told me that he never thought I had any need to do this. As I was far more comfortable flying the 'Chief' and its upright motor was certainly easier to start, I should have used it from the start.
Of the other British stunt team members, Frank Warburton placed eighth and Ray Brown fourteenth. Brian Horrocks placed thirteenth and was the sole Aussie representative. Louis Grondal won again and was followed by the three US team members, Don Still, Bob Palmer and Steve Wooley. The flyer who made the biggest impression on me actually placed seventeenth. This was Josef Gabris, who was to become world champion in 1964 and 1966. We met many times in later years and became good friends.
Steve Wooley's model, the 'Argus', also impressed me a lot. When plans appeared in 'American Modeler' a year later I vowed that one day I would build one. It only took me 41 years, but that's another story. The plan article mentioned that the model could be powered by a Fox 29. I don't believe it has ever been established whether he used this or a Fox 35 in Hungary.
Don Still was flying his original 'Stuka', Fox 25 powered, with the German markings covered over with decal material. Don made many display flights and performed his party trick of rolling his wheels on the ground between manoeuvres. I've seen it written that he did wingovers with a pull-out onto the ground. This is not true! He would pull out of the wingover and land within a quarter of a lap. Not quite the same thing.
Bob Palmer was flying two kit prototypes of what was to become the 'Thunderbird II', powered by Veco 35s. I was eagerly anticipating the slow flying with two-speed motor run described in 'Aeromodeller'. What a disappointment? The model steamed round like a team racer!
Bob used a unique control handle which became necessary after he lost the fingers on his right hand in a work related accident in 1948. The basis was a glassfibre glove which strapped around his wrist. This had two bolts moulded in with wingnuts. The handle had slots which located on the bolts, it then being secured with the wingnuts. He even had a standard handle with identical line fittings so that others could fly his models. Bob flew/flies with the handle upside down compared to us mortals, because that's the way he learned. His party trick was performing manoeuvres behind his back.
From 'Aeromodeller' November 1960.
The British team joined the Belgian team in Liege and travelled to the event with them in a Mercedes coach. Wondering just why it was taking so long, we discovered that the coach was running-in a new engine! Relations between the two teams became more and more strained. On the return journey it transpired that the Belgians were treating this as a holiday and we embarked on a sight seeing trip through Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, France and Luxemburg. On numerous occasions we drove straight through customs with the Belgians waving our English passports!
This could have been enjoyable, except that we never left the coach other than to eat and sleep. Belgium seemed like home! It is worth mentioning here that none of this cost us a penny. The whole trip was paid for by the SMAE, via our team manager, Dick Edmonds. To this day, there is a remarkable cammeraderie between the various people who made the trip.
Other memories of the trip include the battle-scarred buildings of Budapest (this was just 4 years after the revolution) and a ruined bridge over the Danube which the locals said was damaged 'during the war'. To us that meant the second world war. We never really discovered what it meant to them. Seeing women shopping in bare feet made us realise that this was a different world.
Attempts to photograph the Austro-Hungarian border on the way in resulted in waved rifles. I took the photo nonetheless! We took a more picturesque way out of the country than the usual main road to Vienna and were again stopped - this time by a guard with a machine-gun. The first Austrian town we entered, Graz, looked like fairyland.