Free Flight, once the original form of model flying dating back to the early 1900’s, has evolved into an exhilarating celebration of open space. Models can be chosen from a bewilderingly wide range of types to match both the available field size and the interests and capabilities of the modeller.
Many flyers who have come into model flying by purchasing or building a Radio Controlled model respond to the challenge of putting together a design that relies only upon careful building and fine trimming to make it fly safely and predictably while others, representing a wide variety of ages, recognise the challenge and the satisfaction of creating a model that flies without external control.
Gliders may be launched carefully with the use of a simple “Hi-Start” (a short length of rubber strip joined to a longer length of towline) or one may choose to hold the end of a 50 metre towline and guide the model aloft by conventional towing. Some will even use their strength and fitness to circle tow the glider in search of a patch of lift before energetically catapulting it off the line for even greater height.
Powering models with a motor made up of several strands of rubber strip is still very popular, in fact probably the most popular motive power currently in use. From small scale and Vintage-style tissue and balsa designs costing around £20 to £40 (there are many very good, cheap kits available) to professionally made contest jobs which will climb almost vertically, there are models to suit all tastes.
A small diesel motor, a can of fuel and an old rag is all you would need to spend an idyllic afternoon with a simple cabin model such as can be found in huge numbers in the various lists of plans. At the other extreme, a contest job with a highly tuned racing engine will scream vertically into the sky with only 5 seconds of motor run! Similar comments apply to electric-powered models, an area in which there is a good deal of experimentation and development to be done. A small electric job such as the recently-introduced “E 20” can be built cheaply and will outfly many small fields, while an FAI contest model is strictly for experts only.
Control of a Free Flight model comes from inbuilt aerodynamic stability, following careful assembly, patient trimming and careful, thoughtful operation. It provides physical exercise (varying according to the type of model flown) and of course the social activity that naturally comes from any group following the same interest. Even the retrieval from a lengthy flight is one of the skills that has to be developed. Inevitably, membership of a club which contains a group of active Free Flight enthusiasts is almost essential as there is much that can be learned from current practitioners of the sport.
For many, just “making it fly” in a safe pattern will be sufficient. The more adventurous may want to fly in competitions such as those run by local clubs or groups, or by the FFTC or SAM 35 (which used to specialise in Vintage designs but now incorporates contemporary materials and ideas as well.) Most contests measure flight time (duration) over a given number of flights to a predetermined duration (the “Max”) with an unlimited flyoff at the end of the day for those (if any) who have accumulated a full score during the day. For a more detailed description of the various classes, see the “Free Flight Rulebook” book obtainable from the BMFA office or downloadable from the main BMFA website. “SAM 35” also has its own website, where rules and the annual calendar can be found. As a general rule, the SAM contests tend to be simpler and less demanding than those run by the FFTC.
What you do and how you do it depends very much on what you want to get back. You could spend very little money and just fly with friends locally, or you might have ambitions to be World Champion – there’s room for every level of interest. Find out more at the other sections of this site, or visit an event at BMFA Buckminster, Old Warden, the National Championships, your local Area Venue and checking the Contest Calendar, to see what goes on and meet those who are already hooked on this absorbing sport.
Enjoy it all, there’s something here for every level of interest.