Sunbird Classic Report

February 4, 2000

Queen Creek, Arizona

Old Buzzard logo

The Old Buzzard Flys Again!

Oh What A Day It Was, Flying Hand Launch R/C Sailplanes With Dave Thornburg, The Old Legendary Buzzard Himself.

Could he still throw? Could he still fly? Yes he can and very well

This event was dedicated to Dave's huge part in the early development of Hand Launch R/C Sailplanes and to commemorate his initiative to hold the World's First R/C Hand Launch Contest.


Old Buzzard's Sunbird Classic

R/C Hand Launch Contest

By Ray Hayes

Oh what a day it was, February 4, 2000, in Phoenix, AZ. The weather was perfect, blue skies, seventy-five degrees with a very slight breeze. What more could a R/C hand launch enthusiast ask for? Well, how about sharing this perfect flying day with other HL flyers from all four corners of the USA? Or let's really go all out and ask for all of the above plus, add in Dave Thornburg. Dave who? Dave Thornburg, the guy that held the very first hand launch contest in California back in the seventies and is considered the creator of R/C hand launch sailplanes. Dave Thornburg, the author of "OLD BUZZARD'S SOARING BOOK", a soaring bible of "how to fly R/C sailplanes" read by thousands of r/c pilots. Dave Thornburg, the designer of the SUNBIRD and BIRD OF TIME and many other great models, both powered and gliders. Dave Thornburg, the man, probably the most revered, respected and loved R/C flyer in the world. Yes, that Dave Thornburg. Well you know the old saying, "ask and you shall receive", and this time it actually worked.

I have been a fan of Dave Thornburg since the seventies, he was a prolific designer, a model airplane kit manufacturer, wrote the R/C Soaring column for Model Builder Magazine where he gave guidance and insight to thousands of readers just getting into this sport, he was heavily involved with F3-B events, and most of all, he is one great person. When the idea of this event occurred to me, I thought I had really gone off my rocker. First, Dave hasn't been flying r/c for a long time and secondly, he lives in New Mexico and I'm in Dave's birthplace, Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Also, there was the issue of where and when and who will I find to help put this event on. A big thanks goes to the Central Arizona Soaring League for allowing this event to take place on the eve of their very successful "Southwest Classic" contest, to my friends Bob Massman of Ohio who scored the contest, Dick Hoover of Michigan was the rounds master and helped present the trophies.

Forty-seven pilots signed up for the Old Buzzard's Sunbird Classic contest, thirty-eight were able to compete with and against the man, Dave Thornburg, one more time. Oh what a day it was. It was a perfect weather day to commemorate Dave Thornburg's many contributions to R/C Soaring. The memories of the day will last a lifetime and my heart goes out to all that couldn't make the trip to Phoenix, especially to Larry Jolly and Chris Adams, both of whom flew in Dave's first contest and wanted to fly with Dave again.

The day started as usual with a pilots meeting, but this may have been one of the most unusual pilots meeting ever. Besides the usual stuff about rounds and tasks and field boundaries, questions and answers that was shared by Bob Massman and Dick Hoover . Mark Miller, presented a plaque to Dave and Joe Wurts presented Dave an enlarged photo of Dave's first hand launched contest. Dave quickly pointed out a young Joe Wurts in the photo taken by Taylor Collins and it was regrettable that Taylor was unable to attend. Best of all, Dave gave us a run down of his early days in R/C and how as an author, was in the right place at the right time, to write those wonderful R/C Soaring articles.

Mark presented the commemorative plaque I created to Dave, it read, "Old Buzzard's Sunbird Classic, February 4, 2000. Presented to Dave Thornburg to commemorate your out standing contributions to the development of R/C Soaring. In behalf of R/C Soaring pilots around the world."

The contest was actually two contests, we had a SUNBIRD only event and a DAVE'S ORIGINAL, using the original tasks of Dave's first HL contest in 1979. We started the day with the Sunbird contestants flying various versions including Dick Barker's Sunbird, slightly modified for launching by the wing tip. Three rounds of each event were flown. Joe Wurts's Sunbird was mid aired in two of the three rounds by Lex Mierop, once on each outer wing panel, this thrust Joe into some very quick field repair. I witnessed one of the repairs and was amazed at his skills. The early morning air was very light and sparse, but the top guys were getting their times. We flew three rounds of each event. A one of a kind contest has a special appeal; it defines who is the best pilot without regard to "what sailplane did the winner fly". It also defines who had their glider trimmed to the max for the conditions of the day, again, without being caught up in the "what sailplane" hoopla. A gaggle of Dave's SUNBIRDS in a thermal probably and regrettably will never be seen again, but it was a site to behold as they circled down wind, going ever higher and higher.

Dave's Original contest rules did not have a wing span limit and most sailplanes entered in his first HL contest were considerably larger than the 1.5m limit we have today. Dave said, if you can throw it you can fly it. No one took advantage of this rule and we saw the usual mix of modern day gliders. Our current modern day hero, Joe Wurts, won both events and was a contestant in Dave's 1979 contest. The afternoon event was a bit more breezy and the flight groups worked the air down wind and to the edge of the field boundary where they would then rush to the upwind field boundary to re-launch looking for the next air to come through. The field boundaries were set up to establish a relatively small field size, this helps level the playing field for the older guys that can't compete in a track and field type HL event. No mid airs occurred in the afternoon event. The air was really sparse and no one won all three of their rounds, Joe Wurts and Arthur Markiewicz did win two rounds. Arthur suffered a disastrous first round score of 461 points. Paul Anderson, George Joy, Brendan Lugo, Mark Howard, and Dusty Miller each won a round.

I believe a good time was had by all and I know that Dave Thornburg enjoyed the day immensely. We passed out the trophies, the top placers were enthusiastically applauded for their skills, Dave was besieged for his autograph on contestant's Sunbird's and Taylor's Old Buzzard's Sunbird Classic t-shirts, he posed for photos, and the memorable day came to an end. Notes of interest are: Lex Mierop has reported he may have a video available and Dave Wenzlick said next years SOUTHWEST CLASSIC will include a HL contest.

                    Possible perfect score...3000 points.

        Sunbird                                    Dave's Original

1.  Joe Wurts       CA.  3000             1.   Joe Wurts          CA.   2989
2.  Al DeRenzis     MD.  2818             2.   Skip Miller        CO.   2783
3.  Paul Siegel     OH.  2708             3.   George Joy         CA.   2699
4.  Tom Gresssman   CO.  2621             4.   Paul Anderson      CA.   2682
5.  Dave Thornburg  NM.  2540             5.   Brendan Lugo       CA.   2673
6.  Lex Mierop      CA.  2447             6.   Arend Borst        B.C.  2669
7.  Lenny Keer      CO.  2211             7.   Charlie Miller     CO.   2644
8.  Derek Boyer     CA.  2081             8.   Paul Schulte       CA.   2578
9.  Buzz Averill    NM.  2047             9.   Mark Howard        CO.   2505
10. Dick Barker     WA.  1997            10.   Jerry Robertson    AZ.   2496
11. Garland Hanson  AZ.  1825            11.   Arthur Markiewicz  CA.   2461
12. Ray Hayes       IN.  1768            12.   Dick Barker        WA.   2436
13. Bob Massman     OH.  1625            13.   Dusty Miller       CO.   2425
14. Al Nephew       MN.  1588            14.   Gordon Jennings    CA.   2385  
15. Mark Miller     WI.  1175            15.   Paul Siegel        OH.   2352
16. Larry Jolly     CA.     0            16.   Al DeRenzis        MD.   2297
17. Chris Jolly     CA.     0            17.   Derek Boyer        CA.   2277
18. John Roe        CA.     0            18.   Shannon Bingham    CO.   2212
19. Taylor Collins  NM.     0            19.   Scott Marshall     UT.   2209
                                         20.   Brian Buaas        CA.   2189
                                         21.   Mike Ziaskas       CA.   2118
Sky Bench Aerotech                       22.   Ray Hayes          IN.   2041
Manufacturer of the SUNBIRD kit          23.   Blake Nielsen      UT.   1982
Tel.  1 (219)  xxx-xxxx                  24.   Dave Thornburg     NM.   1883                         25.   Tom Hoopes         UT.   1860
                                         26.   Mike Kresser       UT.   1757
Soaring Stuff                            27.   Garland Hanson     AZ.   1733
Producer of the contest T-shirts         28.   Guy Russo          ID.   1703
Tel.  1 (505)  898-8281                  29.   Ray Kostuk         AZ.   1679
                                         30.   Tom Gressman       CO.   1576
                                         31.   Al Nephew          MN.   1528
                                         32.   David Komberg      CA.   1149
                                         33.   Mario Scolar       CA.    860      
                                         34.   John Roe           CA.    827
                                         35.   Larry Jolly        CA.      0
                                         36.   Chris  Jolly       CA.      0
                                         37.   Bob Massman        OH.      0
                                         38.   Lex Mierop         CA.      0
                                         39.   Joe Rodriquez      CA.      0
                                         40.   Buzz Averill       NM.      0
                                         41.   Mark Miller        WI.      0
                                         42.   Jim Sneed          CA.      0
                                         43.   Tim Onofryton      AZ.      0
                                         44.   Taylor Collins     NM.      0

Old Buzzard's Sunbird Classic Photo Album

Dave Thornburg, 2000

Dave Thornburg
February 4, 2000

Dave's Sunbird

Dave's Sunbird working air.

Al DeRenzis

Al DeRenzis came from the east coast to pay tribute to Dave.


Missing from group are Buzz Averill and Ray Hayes.

Lex Mierop

Lex Mierop may have had the heaviest Sunbird, but it was beautiful.

Buzz Averill

Buzz Averill, long time friend of Dave.

Al Nephew traded a snowy MN. for a day of flying his Sunbird with Dave.

Dave and Garland Hanson.

Top Five Contestants

Top Five, L-R: Al DeRenzis, Joe Wurts, Paul Siegel, Tom Gressman and Dave.

Joe Wurts wins

Dick Hoover of Michigan presents the first place Old Buzzard's Sunbird Classic Trophy to Joe Wurts.

Dave points

Dave is pointing to Joe in the pic of Dave's first hand launch glider contest in 1979.

Dave and plaque

Dave with the Old Buzzard's Sunbird Classic Plaque commemorating Dave's creativity that gave us rc hand launch sailplanes and so much more. We can't thank you enough Dave.

I know many of you share the same found memories of this day that I do. There will never be another day like this day and another guy like Dave Thornburg.

Thanks to those that sent in photos, most of the photos were taken by my trusty 35mm.
Ray Hayes



Sky Bench Aerotech 

Ft. Wayne, Indiana 46804