Articles on Soaring History

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Articles by Chuck Anderson

Soaring History
Introduction
Aug 2004

I made it to the Nats again this year. I have flown my sailplanes in every Nats since even before there was an AMA event at the Nat except when my job interfered. It all started 40 years ago when I flew in my first SOAR Nats and I have not missed a Nats since I retired in 1994. The best part of the Nats is meeting old friends and talking about the good old days. Unfortunately, there are fewer old friends every year.

Many of the newer fliers do not know how soaring became an official AMA event. I answered several questions about how AMA soaring came about and decided to write up what I remember. I do have some notes and records from the 1970's so the following is not entirely from memory. This is the first installment and tells how I became involved with thermal soaring and the rules making process. If there is any interest, I will continue the series.

Chuck Anderson

AMA Thermal Soaring - Part 1

In 1964 Kraft and Controlaire began offering transistorized receiver kits. They were small, light, and, best of all, cheap. The local hobby shop sponsored a contest for the Jasco Thermic 50 and similar gliders using the new receivers and powered by a Cox Peewee 02 reed valve engine. The complete model including receiver, engine, and escapement could be built for less that $25. You didn't even need to own a transmitter since the receivers were all on the same frequency and it was easy to borrow one. It was a thermal soaring event where the time started when the engine quit with a 10-minute max. That was how my interest in RC thermal soaring began.

By 1966, superregin receivers became unusable because of interference from the increasing popular CB radios. In 1970, I had progressed to a better radio for my pattern flying and was looking for a use for my old Microavionics radio. I remembered the fun I had with the power pod gliders before CB made them unusable so I built a larger power pod model for the giant Microavionics servos. A few other club members were also interested in reviving the power pod contest so we decided to hold a power pod contest in 1971. I had been reading about the new sport of thermal soaring being flown in other parts of the country and decided to add a pure sailplane class to the contest. That is how I became the CD for the first AMA sanctioned thermal soaring contest in the Southeast and attracted the attention of Jim McNeil, AMA District V vice president.

In 1973, AMA set up a Soaring Advisory Committee to establish soaring as an official event and I was appointed District V representative on the Soaring Advisory Committee by Jim McNeil. I attended an open Soaring Advisory Committee meeting at the 1974 SOAR Nats to hear proposals to form a Special Interest Group for soaring. The National Soaring Society was formed from proposals submitted at that meeting. I traveled to Silver Springs Maryland on November 23 and 24, 1974 to attend a meeting of the NSS to draft rules for Soaring as an official AMA event. So began my adventures in helping formulate the first set of AMA rules for our sport.

AMA Thermal Soaring - Part 2 Foundations

The availability of reliable radios combined with the solution of the launching problem led to the explosive growth of thermal soaring in the late 60's. Naturally, the first order of business was to hold a contest. Rules were necessary to hold a contest and several groups were formed to promote R/C soaring. The most influential were the League of Silent Flight (LSF), the East Cost Soaring Society (ECSS), and the Silent Order of Aeromodeling by Radio (S.O.A.R.) club. There were many other clubs and regional groups who made significant contributions to R/C soaring, however these organizations were primarily responsible for the development of thermal soaring as we know it today.

ECSS

In 1970, a group of soaring enthusiast from the Northeast began thinking about an organization to coordinate soaring activities in the region. Thus the East Coast Soaring Society (ECSS) was born in January, 1971. The founding members included such R/C pioneers as Dr. Walt Good, George Durney, Howard McEntee, and Don Clark. The stated objectives of the ECSS were to advance the art of design, construction, and flying of radio controlled soaring planes. Rules were formulated for contests and an ECSS Championship program was established. The most significant action by the founders was the recognition that an active board of directors was required in order to provide continuity of action and that a technical journal was required to keep members informed about the latest developments in soaring.

I became a member of the ECSS in 1972 and became ECSS 72-361. The main reason I joined was to receive Sailplane, the Journal of the ECSS. At that time, Sailplane was the best source of technical information about soaring.

S.O.A.R

Many clubs have contributed to the advancement of R/C soaring, but none have done more than the Silent Order of Aeromodeling by Radio (S.O.A.R.). In particular, they established a truly national championship soaring contest that set the standards for all soaring contests. It all began when Dan Pruss, Dave Burt, and the S.O.A.R. club offered to help organize an unofficial R/C soaring event to be held in conjunction with the 1970 AMA Nats held at Chicago. The contest grew rapidly and became known as the SOAR Nats even though the S.O.A.R. club preferred the title "R/C Soaring Nationals". Dan Pruss and the S.O.A.R. club did such a good job that the SOAR Nats remained the acknowledged national championship soaring event even after soaring became an official AMA event included AMA Nats. By 1976, the SOAR Nats had become so large that the S.O.A.R. club felt that they could no longer sponsor the event. The 7th and final R/C Soaring Championships held in 1976 drew 190 contestants competing in 2 classes and scale. As far as I know, no AMA Nats has ever attracted as many contestants.

I was fortunate enough to fly in the last three SOAR Nats.

LSF.

The League of Silent Flight was founded in 1970 by a group of west coast modelers led by Le Gray. The Primary goal of the LSF is to promote R/C soaring and to recognize individual proficiency and accomplishment. The LSF began holding an annual R/C soaring tournament in 1970 with 85 members competing. Since entry in the LSF tournament was restricted to LSF members, it became the largest Class B contest in the United States. Tournament growth was limited by the number of available frequencies and by the fact that all contests were held in California until 1977. In 1977 the tournament was divided into 10 regional contests held at sites throughout the country. As a result, the 1977 tournament drew 487 contestants from almost every state in the union and several foreign countries. In 1978, The LSF tournament was held at Lockport, Illinois and entry was restricted to LSF members who had qualified in one of the 1977 regional contests. The LSF ran into hard times in the 1980's and the tournament was suspended until it resumed in 1992 at Vincennes, Indiana under new leadership. This time, the contest was open to anyone with an AMA license. In 1995, the Nats stopped rotating around the country and moved to the new AMA site in Muncie. At this time, LSF took over running the Soaring events at the AMA Nats.

I joined LSF in 1972 and became LSF 583 for no particular reason other than it seemed a fun thing to do and didn't cost anything. I eventually achieved Level IV in 1976 and completed all the contest requirements for Level V in 1996. At the present time, I have no interest in standing on a slope for 8 hours so I will probably never achieve Level V.

SAC

AMA establish a Soaring Advisory Committed (SAC) 1973 to advise AMA and the R/C Contest Board on Soaring Rules and problems. Each District VP appointed a representative for his district. By 1974, the SAC decided that a Special Interest Group should be formed to represent Soaring and a call for proposals on forming a SIG was issued . A open meeting of SAC was held at Lewis College in Lockport, Illinois the day after the 1974 SOAR Nats to review the proposals. Many SOAR Nats contestants stayed for the meeting and offered many suggestions about the new SIG.

It was hoped that the LSF would submit a plan, however the only proposal offered was by the ECSS. The ECSS proposal was accepted and the National Soaring Society was formed to be the SIG for soaring.

A joint meeting of the SAC and the new NSS was held in Silver Springs Maryland on Thanksgiving weekend, 1974 to work out proposed AMA rules for Soaring. Most of the rules in the current AMA Rules book were set up at that time. Neither the NSS or the SAC had the authority to set rules so the proposals from the Silver Springs meeting was submitted to the RC Contest board for approval. I attended the Silver Springs meeting as the District V NSS vice president and the District V SAC member.

The SAC was disbanded after AMA approved NSS as the SIG for soaring.

AMA Thermal Soaring - Part 3

Silver Springs NSS Meeting

A meeting of the NSS Board of Directors was held at Silver Springs Maryland on November 23 and 24, 1974. All but two of the 12 members of the board were present or represented by proxies, a very good turnout considering everybody had to pay their own expenses. Major items of business involved changes to the NSS Constitution resulting from the open meeting of the 1974 Soaring Symposium at the SOAR Nats, establishing rules for radio control soaring, and conduct of the Nats.

AMA president Johnny Clemens and AMA Executive Director John Worth attended the afternoon session on November 23. After much discussion with John Worth, it was agreed that the NSS would run soaring events at the 1975 Nats to be held at Lake Charles, Louisiana with the AMA providing site, facilities, winches, and administrative assistance. The S.O.A.R. club would again host a 1975 SOAR Nationals at McNeese University, however AMA would provide no funds or assistance. As it turned out, the Lake Charles soaring events received very little assistance either. Soaring was to remain a neglected stepchild to other AMA events for many years.

Soaring rules occupied most of the weekend, both at the meeting and at meals. A set of rules had been submitted by LSF and accepted as provisional rules while several other groups had submitted also proposals for various soaring tasks. LSF had established five tasks for conducting contests in 1970. These included ten minute duration, three for 15, two minute precision, distance, and speed. These tasks evolved into the T1, T4, T5, T7, and T8 task in the current rules book. Other groups has submitted similar rules, however the LSF were the most used. Two events added from other proposals were Simple Duration (T2) and Precision Duration (T3). Triathalon (T6) was not added until 1976.

In 1972, LSF tasks were used for the SOAR Nats. West coast contests were often multitask contests often including speed and distance while the ECSS contests were more often a simple duration event. Some groups preferred to fly only duration with a 3 minute grace period in which to try for a landing while others tried to discourage hard landings by using a landing judge to give penalties for "non scale landings". The general opinion was that soaring should not use judges. If it can't be measured with a stop watch or tape measure, then it doesn't belong in the rules book.

Provisional FAI rules had been released in 1970 and there was a suggestion that AMA rules be tied to FAI and any changes be automatically incorporated into AMA soaring tasks. Opposition to this proposal was almost unanimous. As a result, the title of the basic 10-minute duration event was changed from FAI Duration to International Duration.

There was much discussion about adding proficiency classes as used in Aerobatic contests, however there was little support for including them in the official rules book. In the end, NSS voted against proficiency classes.

About the only thing arousing much controversy was the definition of Standard class. Standard class was defined as having a 100-inch span with no other restrictions by the short lived National Radio Control Soaring Society in 1970. This definition was picked up by the LSF and carried over to the SOAR Nats in 1972. In 1973, the ECSS decided that they wanted a low cost class for beginner and restricted standard class to rudder and elevator only. Nobody noticed that there were no two channel radios on the market so every radio used for their standard class had at least three channels. After much haggling, the NSS decided to support the LSF definition of Standard class since that was what was used in most of the country.

In 1974, the Radio Control Contest Board (RCCB) voted on all AMA contest rules for every RC event. Separate contest boards for RC Aerobatics, RC Pylon Racing, and RC Soaring were not established until about 10 years later. None of the Contest Board members were sailplane fliers so they depended on the Soaring Advisory Committee and later the NSS for advice on sailplane matters but didn't always follow their recommendations.

A rules change proposal to split Standard Class into two groups with one being restricted to rudder and elevator only was submitted to the RCCB by some members of the old ECSS. The RCCB went against the NSS recommendation and accepted the proposal to split standard class. Ironically, the new class was defined as Standard Class while the original standard class became Modified Standard Class.

Except for Triathalon and RES, sailplane rules in the current rules book have not changed significantly from what was recommended in the 1974 Silver Springs meeting.

Most of what I have written so far was based on a report on soaring that I wrote in 1977 for Jim McNeil, AMA District V VP. I concluded that report with: "The sport of R/C soaring had overcome most of the political problems and will continued to expand as more modelers discover the joys of chasing the elusive thermal" Little did I suspect what was ahead for LSF and NSS

AMA Thermal Soaring - Part 4
The Decline and Fall of the National Soaring Society

This was supposed to be the final part of Soaring History but it turned out to be longer than planned even though a lot of information about the NSS was deleted. Part 5 will be the decline and resurrection on the LSF and will cover the period from 1975 to 1995.

Chuck Anderson

By 1976, the NSS seemed to be in good shape. AMA had recognized NSS as the Soaring SIG and the NSS ran the first F3B team selection program as well as running the first two soaring events at the Nats. Yet, the first hints of the problems that would eventually result in the demise of the NSS were already appearing.

NSS was given the responsibility for running the soaring events at the Nats but the promised AMA support often failed to appear. The 1981 Nats is a good example of the problems encountered by the NSS. I use this as an example because I flew in the Nats that year and saw many of the problems first hand.

Before 1995, the Nats rotated around the country and the AMA tried to use local clubs to provide the manpower required for the grunt work. The 1981 Nats was scheduled to be held in San Antonio, Texas with everything except free flight and sailplane events being flown at Brooks AFB. Free flight and sailplane events were to be flown at a Randolph AFB auxiliary field in Seguin. There were no sailplane clubs in San Antonio area, however the Dallas sailplane fliers agreed to run the soaring events with Don Chancy as CD.

When the AMA Nats Committee went to Texas to examine the proposed sites, the sight of all the runways and open areas without buildings or obstructions at the Seguin auxiliary field was too much for the committee dominated by other interests so the entire Nats except for the soaring events were moved there. NSS president Dick Crowley and Don Chancy were part of the AMA Nats Committee that went to Texas to examine the sites but were unable to locate a suitable field for the soaring events. AMA executive director John Worth and AMA employee Vince Mankowski (a control line flier) eventually secured a soaring site near Seguin.

When Don Chancy arrived to set up for the Nats, the site selected by John Worth turned out to be a freshly mowed hay field with 6-inch tall dead stubble that would shred sailplane wings and was unusable. A frantic search finally found a very marginal site behind the New Braunfels High School. It was a long narrow field sandwiched between a football stadium on the west, the high school building on the north, and a line of tree along the east side. Fortunately the wind was out of the South for the entire contest. No AMA retrieval equipment or assistance was provided so it turned out to be a time one, retrieve one, fly one contest as the contestants walked to retrieve the towlines in the near 100-degree temperatures.

In 1983, the NSS had organized a man-on-man event at a sod farm near Lincoln, Nebraska. Then the AMA executive committee appointed another CD and killed all the planning and organization that the NSS had done.

One of the problems facing the NSS was worker burnout. In my case, by 1977, I had spent two years on the AMA Soaring Advisory Committee and four years as NSS District V vice-president and was ready to get out. Most of the original ECSS organizers were already gone and the NSS was having trouble getting someone to take over the heavy work offices. Stan Pfost agreed to accept the office of President in 1978 but nobody wanted to be treasurer. Stan finally talked me into becoming treasurer but I agreed to serve for only one year. As the years went by, it became more and more difficult to fill the offices and do the work.

Ironically, one of the things that took up most of the discussion at the 1974 open Soaring Advisory meeting was how to remove officers not performing their duties. Little did they know that the real problem would be getting people to take the job and do the work.

The biggest problem facing the NSS was the old bugaboo, money. I always find it amazing that modelers will spend thousands on models and traveling to contests but will not spend a very few dollars to support the organizations that make our hobbies possible. NSS dues were $10 a year including Sailplane, the only publication devoted exclusively to R/C soaring. Sailplane was the most important source of information about soaring before R/C Soaring Digest and the Internet. It was also the biggest drain on the NSS treasury. In the early years, Sailplane came out almost every month. As the years went by, more and more issues were skipped because money was not available to pay printing and mailing costs. In 1984, Jim Grey began publishing R/C Soaring Digest providing another source of technical information about R/C soaring and sailplane design. By 1994, Internet model forums were taking away most of the benefits of Sailplane.

In summary, the decline and fall of the NSS was caused by finances and burnout of the officers made more rapid by the frustration of running the sailplane events at the Nats and F3B team selections without any real authority to accomplish the tasks. Increased cost of publishing Sailplane combined with declining membership and advertising revenue made it impossible to continue the NSS's most valuable benefit for most modelers. The most frequent complaint at the time was why should they have to pay for membership in the NSS when the LSF was free. They neglected to mention that the only benefit that the LSF provided was administration of the Achievement program and hosting an annual Soaring tournament. It wasn't until later that the LSF evolved into the organization we know today.

The NSS survived 20 years through the hard work of a few dedicated individuals, however the decline in membership and the resurrection of the LSF proved to be too much.

AMA Thermal Soaring - Part 5
The Decline and Resurrection of the LSF

This concludes my series on the history of thermal soaring in the United States. There was a lot of material left out to keep the series a reasonable length. I hope this brief history will be useful to those who were not there to participate and enjoy the adventure.

The LSF started out as a local group in the San Francisco bay area and expanded into a world wide origination. The LSF also sponsored an annual soaring contest that became one of the largest in the world in the early 70's, however entry was restricted to LSF members and was always held in California. There was a general consensus among the founders that LSF officers should be in reasonably close proximity to one another to facilitate communication and interaction so it was preferable to find groups of fliers willing to commit to voluntarily serving as officers. When the original LSF officers burned out, in 1974, control moved from California to the Midwest with Dan Pruss as President.

In 1978, the LSF Tournament was split into 10 regional contests. Contestants finishing high enough in any of the regional contests were eligible to enter the 1979 LSF Tournament held at Lockport, Illinois. The 1979 LSF Tournament was held at the Lewis College Airport, site of the last four SOAR Nats and was the first Tournament attended by a large number of members from east of the Rocky Mountains. Tasks flown were Duration, Speed, and Distance as flown in earlier Tournaments in California. The Tournaments died out in the 1980's, primarily because of difficulty in finding anyone to run them.

By 1985, the LSF was in decline for the same reasons that killed the NSS, money and worker burnout. Things came to a head after the death of Dan Pruss in 1986 and, for a while, it appeared that the LSF was doomed. Then Bob Steel took it upon himself to rescue the records and recruited workers to resume processing of LSF vouchers.

Bob became president of LSF in 1988, however the problem of financing remained. LSF did not charge annual dues so the only source of income was contributions from manufacturers, sale of merchandise, and the LSF Tournament. Mike Stump became LSF president in 1991 and was determined to resume the LSF tournament.

In 1990, AMA held the Nats at the Lawrenceville Illinois airport with the Soaring events being flown at the Vincennes High School. The Nats returned to Lawrenceville in 1991, however it moved to Springfield Mass. in 1992 leaving Vincennes open for the LSF tournament. The 1992 Tournament was so successful that the LSF decided to return to the Vincennes area for another Tournament in 1993 even though the Nats were back in Lawrenceville that year. AMA Nats Soaring had about 35 entries while the LSF Tournament held two weeks later drew almost 100 entries. In 1994, the LSF tournament was moved to the new AMA site at Muncie while the AMA Nats were in Texas. Again the LSF Tournament outdrew the Nats soaring event by a considerable amount showing that the LSF was capable of running a Nats level contest without AMA.

1995 was a turning point in the way the AMA ran the Nats. AMA had always intended to run at least some of the Nats at Muncie but facilities to run a complete Nats were not yet finished. LSF had reserved Muncie for the Tournament again in 1995 while the Nats were scheduled to be held in Washington state. There were no clubs available to run the sailplane events so Steve Kaluf, AMA's new Competition Director, approached Mike Stump about combining the LSF Tournament and the Nats Soaring event. After some discussion and the writing up of a formal agreement, they agreed that the LSF, and AMA Nats soaring events would be combined for 1995, and would be flown on the dates that LSF had already had set for the Tournament. Mike and Steve worked out a revenue sharing agreement that allowed the LSF to receive some of the Nats entry fees to cover their expenses. The agreement was so successful that it became the pattern for all AMA/SIG Nats operations when the entire Nats were moved to Muncie in 1996.

In 1996, AMA appointed the LSF as the Soaring SIG replacing the NSS. In 1974, LSF had declined an invitation to become the Soaring SIG. Things changed a lot in 22 years.

The NSS lasted 20 years and the LSF almost died after 17 years. It has been 15 years since Bob Steel rescued the LSF and 12 years since Mike Stump and Cal Posthuma put the LSF back on a secure financial base so what does the next few years hold for the LSF? The agreement with AMA to share revenue from the Nats has solved the financial problems while the Internet has made communication between officers and members easy. That leaves worker burnout as the major obstacle facing LSF in the near future. I have seen some indications at recent Nats that this could become a problem again. The current Nats soaring format is very labor intensive and I know a few people who are reluctant to attend the Nats because they do not want to be pressured into working again. I also noticed that there are fewer helpers in the transmitter impound every year and who will replace Myrna when she decides to give up running the transmitter impound? Something to think about.

Chuck Anderson

  • AMA 371
  • NSS 72-361
  • LSF 583
  • AMA Soaring Advisory Committee 1973-1975
  • NSS District V VP 1974-1977
  • NSS Treasurer 1978
  • AMA District V Soaring Contest Board member 1987-present

ECSS Wing Loading Chart
wingloading chart

The East Coast Soaring Society was founded by some of the great pioneers of RC Soaring and their circuit of contests attracted contestants from Maine to Florida and New York to Illinois. Their wing loading chart is very accurate and very handy. Start with the wing area on the left and draw a line through the middle graph at the weight of the plane and it will tell you what your oz/sq ft wing loading is. Enjoy. REH


 


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