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Club History

HIGH WYCOMBE MODEL AIRCRAFT CLUB HISTORY

PART ONE (1947 -  19xx)    

 

By Dick Edmonds

 

I thought I would start with a few details about myself. Many members will not know who I am, as these days I seldom fly at the weekend at either of the club's fields; I creep up to Flackwell in the week and fly with the other retired gentlemen. I joined way back in 1947 just two years after WW2 and have been a member ever since ; that's over 60 years, they do say time flies when you are enjoying yourself.

 

In those days the model aircraft club was a part of the High Wycombe Model Engineering Society and I was put in the aircraft section when I joined. Some of the club meetings were a little tedious to say the least when the subject was how to rivet your steam engine boiler. The membership was in the 40s, the aero modelers tended to be younger but not exclusively so.

 

The actual date the engineering club started is unknown, but I understand model flying took place in the H/W area during the 1930s. By the beginning of the 1950s the aircraft flyers outnumbered the engineers so the name was changed to High Wycombe Model Aircraft Club - this would be 1951 or 52. At that time I was the Hon Sec, and over the years I have served on the Committee in one post or the other for about 30 years.

 

In those far off days there was virtually no R/C, we flew Free Flight or Control Line. R/C was sometimes mentioned in the magazines, some people were flying it in the USA and a few were experimenting in this country. F/F of course requires a large site, as the models drift with the wind. We were very fortunate to have the use of RAF Booker as it was then. We could use it from 12.00 on a Saturday and all day Sunday. C/L models were often flown on the Rye in High Wycombe. On Sunday mornings there would be 5 or 6 whizzing round. I would strap my model on my back and pedal my bicycle down to the Rye on a Sunday morning - fly my C/L model then rush home, gobble my Sunday dinner, somehow strap a huge cardboard box with two or three F/F models inside on my back, then cycle to Booker.

 

However I am moving a little quickly. Before the engineers all disappeared, the Club came to an agreement with Wycombe Council about a model rail track built on the Rye. The council made the concrete base, the club supplied and fitted the track. In fact it was not the club who supplied the track - it was a member (Stan Wade) who did so at his own expense. The agreement with the council was that our members could run their steam locomotives round this track but the club had to give rides to children for a few hours each week. (can you imagine that happening today). As the engineers drifted away it only left Stan Wade and Bob Dimock to give rides to the children and eventually they gave up and the track was dismantled.

 

About this time many of the younger members were taking part in F/F and C/L competitions, traveling all over the South and the London area. Fairelop airfield near Barking was often used for these events, Members would travel by rail then underground to get there. They got very strange looks from other passengers because of the size of the F/F models cardboard boxes.

 

C/L Team Race events were very popular amongst our members. They were regularly winning large national contests as well as club events. Two of our members went on to represent the country in European and World Championships events and one became FIA World Champion at T/R in 1958. C/L activity came to an end in about 1964.

 

I am getting out of order again. As mentioned, the Rye was popular for our members to fly C/L models. However by the early 1950s noise complaints started coming from the residents living near the Rye. Eventually Wycombe Council passed a Bylaw banning the flying of power driven model aircraft from most of its open spaces under its control. At two sites it was still permitted ; one was the eastern end of Kingsmead, the other was Ferniefields recreation ground. Ferniefields is about half a mile from Booker airfield right under the approach of the main runway, so C/L models only. This law was passed in about 1955.

 

Whilst this C/L activity was going on F/F was gradually giving way to R/C on RAF Booker. Stan Wade was the first to fly R/C in about 1949. There were very few if any commercial sets on the market at this time, but articles and circuits were published in Aero Modeler magazine; this is how most got started. It was of course a single channel, just sequence control for rudder. There was just one button to press and it went Left, Neutral, Right Neutral, Left etc, interrupted F/F was about the best you could hope for.

 

After the loss of the Rye some C/L took place on the tarmac in front of the hangers at Booker. One member Peter Johnson flew a Pulse jet C/L model. A Pulse jet powered the VI flying bombs the Germans used against London during WW2. It is very simple device with only one moving part ; a reed valve which opens and closes at the front of the combustion chamber. The model version was a fearsome beast, starting was unreliable, and when it did run the noise was enormous, just like the horn on the QE2. It glowed red hot in a few seconds and had to be airborne quickly before it burned out.

 

With a strong contest minded group within the Club we ran our own C/L rally from the mid 1950s to 1962. At first on the Kingsmead, then at RAF Booker, these rallies were very popular and at their peak attracted a large entry up to 250 entries in five classes, people coming from as far away as Newcastle. Some of them came the day before and camped on Booker common overnight.

 

About 1960 the RAF had a Tarmac runway built, up to then it was grass only. This was great for the R/C flyers as we could now take off and land without turning the model over in the rough grass. However this happy situation soon came to an end as the RAF moved out and the airfield was put up for sale. It was bought by Wycombe Council and the day to day running of the airfield was given to British Airways light aircraft club. We approached them and asked if we could continue model flying. They were not helpful ; very restrictive conditions were imposed which made it unrealistic to fly there. So there we were a club of 50 to 60 members who by this time mainly flew R/C without a flying field. We could have used Kingsmead, but as it was a site with public access, the committee did not want to go down that route.

 

A big effort was made to find a suitable field. The chairman at that time was John Way, he lived at Flackwell Heath and he spotted the fields of Hard To Find farm. He approached the farmer ; a Mr Secker, the father of Colin the present Farmer, and we have now been there for over 40 years. Peter O'Neill. who lived at Chinnor spotted the fields of the Towersey site. Peter went and spoke to the farmer - a Mr Tom Hutt, again the father of the Hutt brothers who now run the farm. We have been at this site about two or three years less than Flackwell. At the time neither farmer would take any rent, and for many years it was just a bottle of whisky at Christmas.

 

By this time as I mentioned R/C was now flown by most members. Single channel was still popular but proportional control as we use today was starting to appear. The sets were not as reliable as todays, also the frequency of the Tx was 27meg, as was Citizen band. This caused interference and was responsible for many crashes.

 

At this time quite a few members flew slope soaring at sites such as Coombe Hill, Ivinghoe, and Wind Mill hill near Turvill. Others were trying bungee launch thermal soaring. The hamper contest was first flown in 1970 - same rules as today, however the glider flyers had a hamper of their own, same rules but a bungee launch. A few years later several members flew in thermal soaring contests. One member won the first international thermal contest held in this country, and a couple of years later two members were in the British team for the first World championship held in South Africa, withTony O'Shay as team member and Jim Andrews as team manager. The club also ran thermal soaring contests at the Towersey field from about 1975 and the last one was in 2003 although they were not run every year.

 

In the mid 1970s the Club was asked to put on flying displays at School open days Village Fetes and fund raising events, etc. and some sites were not always as suitable as they could have been; this was before the BMFA had a code of practice for such events. The Committee could see that one day there could be a problem so it was decided to put on our own show at Kingsmead. The council thought it a good idea but the area had to be roped off. There were 4 or 5 shows held and they were a great success. Large crowds were attracted each year, but it was a public site so we could not charge. Although we did collect for charities, and one year collected £400, this was a lot of money in the 1970s. Also around this time the club helped to run a large rally put on by the south midland area of the BMFA, held at Cranfield. At first we ran the C/L events and later the R/C scale ; we even had the World Champion enter one year. Also about this time four club members flew for the MacGregor demonstration team, at Trade Shows such as Sandown, Sywell, Cranfield etc. They flew identical high speed acrobatic models in formation. They were Dick Gerard , Tim Angel, lan Mcphearson and myself.

 

About 1979 or 80 the club was approached by the National Trust and asked to take charge of model flying at Coomb Hill. This was thought not to be a good idea, as there were members of other Clubs regularly using the site and this would have caused resentment. So the Coombe Hill Soaring Association was formed and they took charge.

 

In I think 1984, the Club formed itself into a Limited Company, mainly to protect its members from any financial liabilities. From about this time my direct involvement with the Club's affairs was reduced, and for about 10 years I hardly visited Flackwell, or regularly attended Club Meetings. My knowledge of Club activities from then on is limited, I am sure there must be many members who can recall these relatively recent times and fill in up to the present day.

 

HIGH WYCOMBE MODEL AIRCRAFT CLUB HISTORY

PART TWO - (1943 - 1951)

 

or "Things  Ain’t  Wot  They  Used   To  Be ".

 

By Dick Edmonds

 

When I started  aeromodeling  the second world war was still raging  [1939  to  1945]. Model aircraft  kits and parts were very hard  to find .  Balsa wood coming all the way from South America all went to the war effort and full size  aircraft such as the Mosquito. When the war ended it did not take too long for modelling goods  to appear in toy shops. As there were not any model shops as we know them today, Keil Kraft were the main supplier of kits such as the Ajax and Achilles rubber powered and the Soarer Major  glider.  Engines were not yet being made. The only ones available were pre-war American spark ignition size .19  to  .60 cu ins [Glow plug had not yet been invented ]  Importing most goods at this time was banned which included motors. However after about a year small Diesel engines started to be made in this country, such as Mills 1.3cc, ED 2cc, and Frog 1cc. The Mills 1.3cc = .07 cu ins. The next thing to appear was Control Line -  C/L. This was invented by  American  Jim Walker.

For those not familiar with C/L, two wires were attached to the L/H wing tip and then to a Bell Crank within the fuselage. A push rod went from the B/C to the  elevator, the other end of the wires were fixed to a handle that was used as a Joy Stick for the elevator. The model of course  just went round in circles and the pilot often became giddy to start with.  The Keil  Kraft  Phantom powered by a Mills  1.3 diesel was a very popular  C/L trainer. Now you will have noted there is no mention of R/C. At this time R/C was not available. I can only remember one member of the H/W club Stan Wade attempting to make his own made from articles in the model press.  [1947]  The development  of R/C took until 1963 to reach the stage that is the same as is used today. One thing that is most noticeable is the age of the members in those days - teenagers and twenty plus were in the majority. Also members regularly entered contests both Free flight (Rubber powered Gliders), Motor powered and control line. C/L was divided  into three classes ; Speed,  Stunt, and  Team Racing. T/R was the most entertaining  for the spectators.  Four models were flown in the same circle at the same time ;  they all had small fuel tanks  of the same size which meant they could not complete the 100 laps without refuelling,  some models requiring  three pit stops - great fun. As mentioned above competition flying was very popular with many of our members. They would travel all over the country as far as Yorkshire to take part in the popular events. This was before any Motorways,  so a trip to Yorkshire was a two day drag. I have the feeling that model aircraft flying as perceived  by the general public was far higher in their opinion than it is today. How many times do the media refer to models as toys. Boys with toys.

Some of the large well established  clubs ran what was termed as rallies. Contests were held for all the popular events both free flight and control line. Many hundreds of contestants and spectators would attend. One of the largest if not the very largest was the  Northern  Heights Gala. The Northern  Heights club had lots of contacts in high places. I think they were  well established before W.W.2 and came from a very different world.  To start the Gala was held on Hawker Aircraft flying field  Langley just outside Slough with lots of Hawkers top brass in attendance. Can you see that happening today ?  They had a very impressive display of trophies. One for example was the  Coronation  cup, The Coronation must have been that of King George the V1 ?. Also there was a new one to be presented  for the first time this year - the Queen’s cup [1951] I think it was for extra large rubber power models. There was a large marquee which had tables set out for lunch for the club officials and contest organisers with waiters taking orders - all very civilised. If I am correct it was a lovely day for flying with low winds, lots of thermals and record  flights being made by the free flight models. As the day came to an end lots of trophies were on display, some of them were magnificent and must have been very costly. Everyone was waiting for prize-giving to start. The QUEEN together with PRINCSESS MARGRET presented  the Queen’s cup. Can you see that happening today ? The remainder of the trophies were presented by Mrs Neville Duke. Neville Duke was Hawker Aircraft chief test pilot and holder of the world airspeed record in a Hunter. With the presentation of the prizes the event came to a close, but not  quite. All of a sudden there was great roar as a Sea Fury came straight over the airfield at 50ft and 400mph plus and then put on a terrific low level aerobatic display. There happened to be some balloons flying from a tent perhaps 15/20ft high ,you guessed  it -  he had a go at bursting them, very close but they survived. This kind of display would not be allowed today. I think I must stop rambling on and go back to the beginning and say :  "Things  Ain’t  Wot  they  used  to  Be".