By Cliff Goldstein, EAA Chapter 43 President, EAA 495528
EAA Chapter 43 has had an active Young Aviator program since 2011 when the group started building a full-size replica of the front third of the B-25 fuselage. This was an all-consuming project for the club from initial inception through completion. The project was built from the original plans and included a full duplicate of the instrument panel with gauges that would respond to the movement of controls. The finished project has been a constant at KidVenture for the last five years. There were several major updates and modifications to the project to optimize the replica ability to provide a simulation of what it must have been like to sit in the cockpit, nose gunner/bombardier, or turret gunner position during WWII attacks.
At the end of AirVenture Oshkosh 2021, the B-25 was left at Oshkosh and the annual effort to update/fit/repair the simulator was put to rest. With a stable simulation platform staying in Wisconsin, it was time for EAA Chapter 43’s Young Aviator club to redefine its goals and objectives. We spent considerable time looking at other projects we could take on, but determined our middle school and junior high Young Aviators, who were all fascinated with flight and loved a wide variety of airplanes, would be best served with a club focused on the wonders of flight by helping them make their own projects. We also determined that to be true to our experimental aircraft roots we would need to provide our senior high school and adults (18-plus) with the opportunity to build a full-size RV-12iS. Orders were placed for the empennage kit from Van’s.
With the kit on order and long-term plans in place for the senior students, we turned our attention to how to best develop a program where we could explore the wonders of flight, and at the same time allow mentors to see which students would be ready to help build the RV-12iS. We decided to start with the simplest rubber band-powered balsa wood models and introduce Microsoft Flight Simulator X as a tool to learn about flying. As the fall of 2021 progressed, the models got more challenging, and the flight simulator challenges more realistic. We encouraged each kid to get a copy of the simulation program at home and a joystick controller to fly the simulator. Then for the club meetings, we would set up a virtual reality (VR) headset and the new Microsoft Flight simulator. The VR headset gave each kid an opportunity to fly to destinations anywhere in the world. We had meetings where we flew over New York City or the pyramids of Egypt, just for the fun of it. In addition, we used the flight simulator training programs to create challenges for each member to see how well they could take off from an airport, fly the pattern, and execute a smooth landing. The program would give a “non-bias” score of each participant’s flight. This allowed an open competition where everyone could compare scores and discuss why one flight was better than another.
This mix of building and flying simulators made some of the meetings a challenge for each member to decide where they wanted to focus their time. While we never had any fights develop over usage of the simulator, there were individuals who had to be told clearly that their VR flight time was up. We tried to spend some time at each meeting talking about flight. The discussions were never simply lectures because we always found that someone in the group, either a student or a mentor, had a question that pushed the knowledge of the group and often did not have a simple answer. Because we were building balsa wood models, weight and center of gravity discussions were commonplace. But we also tackled flight rules, safety, flight training, decision making, and flight planning.
While overall the activity of the fall semester was fulfilling, it was not free of problems. It also turned out that the challenges of building “good flying” rubber band-powered airplanes is not a casual exercise. While there is a lot if information out on the internet, it turns out that many of the parts (particularly propellers and ‘rubber motors’) could only be acquired from online internet sources with long delivery times. The basic supplies are not as easy to get from local hobby stores as they were a few years ago. And while YouTube has lots of videos that show incredible flights of rubber band-powered airplanes, they are not as easy to duplicate as one might think. As the fall semester drew to a close, we had to finalize plans for the spring semester. What to do next to explore the wonders of flight?
We quickly realized that while the rubber band-powered balsa wood flight was a tiny and shrinking part of the hobby, the RC (remote control) hobby was flourishing and growing with the addition of drones and FPV flight (first-person view, where a video camera with a transmitter is mounted on the airplane and the RC pilot wears as set of goggles that allows him/her to fly the airplane while watching the camera’s video).
The biggest drawback to learning to fly RC aircraft is the propensity of crashing and destroying airplanes. After a little research there were two solutions we found to address this challenge: 1) EPP foam and 2) dollar store foam board. It was determined that these were best exemplified by two companies, Crash Test Hobby and Flite Test. These two companies are extremely active on the internet and have a plethora of examples of how the sport is currently being enjoyed. At Crash Test Hobby you can see videos of their airplanes intentionally being flown into brick walls to demonstrate their durability, their trainers in slow flight, detailed building instructions, FPV flights to mountain tops, FPV obstacle course flights, aircraft air-to-air combat challenges, night flights, and most importantly detailed repair instructions. At Flite Test (and their YouTube channel) you can see numerous videos of their prototyping while building everything and anything that can be made to fly. Flite Test has developed more than 200 airplane designs built out of dollar store foamboard, with free plans and instructions downloadable from their site or precut foamboard kits that will reduce build time by 75 percent. They also have episodes where they build and fly the latest 3D-printed airplane kits or even show their prototyping of things like flying tanks. If you have any interest in how things fly, both of these websites are great places to start.
A pitch was made to the mentor leadership and a decision was made to buy five trainers from Crash Test Hobby and get geared up to let the club explore the wonders of flight through RC airplanes.
Our first meeting of 2022 was January 15. It was a wild meeting with the goal of getting five airplanes built and ready for avionics and motors. Tasks were split up between building the fuselage, wings, or painting completed airplane parts. You have never seen so much energy moving coherently to get a project off the ground. We meet in the basement of a church and while most of the building happened inside, all the painting had to take place outside.
We have had one more meeting so far this year with lots of flying happening. We have almost ironed out all the challenges of keeping four airplanes in the air at once with three of them run by buddy boxes. All the airplanes are electric-powered, which requires that we keep a generator and chargers running all the time to keep up with the discharging of batteries.
As we move forward through the spring of 2022, we will be exploring different airfoils on our trainer fuselages and we hope to step into FPV flight if we can get enough club members flying airplanes without buddy boxes and ready for the challenges of FPV flight. In addition, we have encouraged individuals to build the airplane of their dreams. We have one member who is retrofitting an old Cub with modern equipment to see if he can get it flying. Another member has started a Flite Test kit and we have several airplanes under design to build by other members. We will have builds going with foam, 3D-printed plastic, foam board, and balsa wood. It promises to be a fun and exciting spring. If any of the members of EAA Chapter 43 would like to attend a meeting, we would love to have you. Just be forewarned, it is easy to be seduced by the building, flying of RCs, and the fun of testing your skills on a simulator — your view of the wonders of flight may never be the same.