By Matt Neumann
You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead … your next stop … the Twilight Zone!
We got an unexpected guest today. That of the ghost of none other than Rod Serling! The opening to the show Twilight Zone pretty well sums up today’s activities because we certainly went to the Twilight Zone.
Friday, July 22, is the day that all contestants fly two flights in front of two different sets of judges—one flight in front of one set and the other flight in front of the other set of judges. The two scores are added together to determine the top 5 for the Open class which will move on to the finals on Saturday, July 23, and the winner of the Advanced class. There are no throwaway flights, no second chances. You either do or you don’t.
The day started out normal enough. Little did we know that we were going to be in for some strange events. Contestants were greeted with very light wind and cool temperatures. I got there at 6:30 and still was not the first person there. I did get to be second in line, however.
While I was putting in my early morning practice flight, I heard a really weird noise of what sounding like wood getting chewed up and then a lot of commotion for a short time. We all know the sound when a plane hits the pavement—that certain quick crack of wood. However, this sound was really different. After I got down, I had to ask what happened. It turned out that one of the other guys was going up at the same time as I was. He has an electric and had a helper with him. They put the plane on the circle and the helper held the plane as the pilot put the arming plug in. The pilot flipped the switch and then headed out to the handle.
As he got there, he noticed that one of the strands of cable that make up his lines was frayed. Not good. So, he asked his helper to flip the switch to off and bring the plane back to the pits. The helper did but forgot to pull the arming plug. When they got to the pits, the motor inexplicably started! The plane then moved forward with prop spinning and chewed up the plane in front of him. At that point, the motor stopped but the damage had been done. The damaged plane turned out to be the plane of the handler and nobody was hurt. So, the handler has nobody but himself to blame for the destruction of his plane. And to top it off, his day job is a safety advisor. Fortunately for him, he did have a backup and was able to compete later on.
That was just the start of things.
One of the contestants was again flying an electric. And for some reason, it just quit at the top of the four-leaf clover. This is an area of no recovery. And it went in. No warning as to why it just suddenly stopped, but it did.
Another contestant, flying electric, had his motor “burp” in the middle of the square eight which forced him to bail out of the maneuver. He kept his plane, but he lost the flight. This means he was out of the running to try and get into the top 5 for the day to move on to Saturday. He normally is a shoo-in to get into the top 5.
Now these three instances are not to say that there is a problem with electric setups. On the contrary, they are quite reliable. Quite reliable! But as with anything, there can be some hiccups now and again. So, this is not a dig against electrics. I fly them and love them. But as with any system, electric or otherwise, there can be problems.
The thing is, this is not the end of the story. We had not one but two wings fold during a flight. One wing came off on the bottom right-hand corner of the inside square. The wing that came off floated off into the cornfield next to the site. The fuselage and the other half of the wing pancaked into the asphalt. To top it off, the IC engine did not shut off. It buzz-sawed the prop down to about a 7-inch diameter and kept on running, moving what was left of the wing and fuselage around on the ground. Fortunately, the pilot still had the handle, and what was left of the plane made a circle on the ground. The pilot was then able to coax the remnants of the plane into the grass, shutting off the motor. This is the first time that I saw a “land shark” from a model airplane.
And the story still is not done. We had another contestant lose the outboard wing of his plane while in flight. In this case, the plane kept flying with half a wing. The pilot flew out the remainder of the flight level. When the motor quit, the pilot expertly landed the plane and saved his prop. They are hard to replace these days.
And we are still not done. We did have one pilot, due to pilot error, scrape the asphalt while in the middle of his outside loops. This caused the loss of his plane. This was the only case of pilot error.
So, despite having a good week of not losing planes, we lost four on Friday—three due to some weird accidents.
For the rest of the competition, it went fairly smoothly. Pilots got on and off the circle with good efficiency, which meant we were done by about 11:30 a.m.
When all was said and done, the winner of the Advanced class was Tom Luciano. Congratulations to Tom!
The Rookie of the Year award is an award given to the highest-placing rookie in the top 20. This year it goes to Michael Schmitt for his 16th-place finish.
The top 5 that get to move on to the finials for Friday are Matt Colan, Howard Rush, David Fitzgerald, Orestes Hernandez, and Brett Buck. Good job to the finalists!
Saturday’s activities include three flights each from each of the contestants. The best two out of three scores are then added together to determine the winner. We will also have the flyoff for the Junior and Senior pilots.
As with any Nats, anything can happen. And today proved it. What will the outcome be Saturday? Time will tell.