A Nats Story-2002

I recently updated my PAMPA membership and Shareen sent me all of the 2002 issues at once.  I was very interested to check out the Nats 2002 issue and was a little disappointed to see that there was no Nats coverage for this year (or my picture).  Well, that was just not going to do!  So here’s my little Nats story.  Keep in mind, with my memory I am making no attempt to cover all of the events of the Nationals.  I am only attempting to entertain, and clue you in to the Nationals experience through the eyes of “yours truly”.

Let me first say, that my Nats adventure really began three weeks before, when my 2002 season airplane decided it was going to split in two on the second inside loop.  This was the result of Dallas “dare flying” (a result of comments like “it’s not windy” and “your up, you goin’?” never mind that there are 6 other guys who are not going up at all) invented by Bob Gieseke.

I remember it like it was yesterday.  The big Saito was doing a perfect uphill to downhill transition in the inside loops, absolutely perfect in the high winds, there was no sign of windup at all.  Then there was a loud BOOM and my shiny “Zone” was folded up like a closing a briefcase.  The whole thing went (obviously) crashing to Earth.

Of course, my best EVER Saito 72 leading the way.  The wreckage made it abundantly clear that saving weight by omitting the fillet in the INSIDE of the wing joint is “really not a good idea”.  The wing had been sheared off at the inboard fuselage side, as if by a huge machete.   My best propeller was a pile of splinters, but I managed to find one blade that had all of the pitch data written on the back.  Even my lines were ruined (I hate solids, but I use them anyway).

I packed up my broken machine, most of the parts (the big ones), and headed home.  I was in shock…most of the Dallas crew looked pretty darn shocked as well.  I had spent most of the last six months preparing for the big event which was now only three weeks away.  “The Zone” was definitely the shiniest airplane I had ever built (which was sure to prove deadly in Appearance Judging) and was a solid flyer, as it showed no real bugs and I was really getting into the groove with that plane.  But now, all was lost…

I think on the drive home, most specifically at somewhere about Highway 75 and Arapaho, I just snapped.  Seriously, I snapped.  I think I was actually twitching at that point.  My mind began to form an elaborate logistical plot to resurrect my shattered Nationals dreams.  It couldn’t be that bad, really!  All I had to do was the following:

1.       Build an airplane and finish it to a Nats level.

2.       Get it trimmed, or hope the airplane required no trim.

3.       Make an exact reproduction of my best prop. 

4.       Rebuild the shattered top end to my best Saito and bench-test it.

5.       Practice a few days.

6.       Drive to Muncie and hope I don’t embarrass myself in front of the whole CL Stunt community. 

Simple!  It was a short list really, and it was really the only prescription for my shattered dreams and broken heart.  What choice did I have? 

I did, however, have a few “Aces in the Hole”: my friends.  Most specifically, Doug Moon.  The Dallas crew is a pretty tight knit group and we tend to try to take care of one another.  We loan each other props, fuel, tools, and pretty much take the responsibility for coaching one another.  I had a PA 65 that Doug liked a lot, and I was in desperate need of some expert building help, so I hoped a deal could be struck.  I think Doug would have helped no matter what, because it seemed no one wanted to leave anyone in Dallas this year.

I had an Ultra Hobby Products Impact wing about 90% complete.  It was sitting in my front dining room still suspended from Rabe wing jig that Al had made for me.  In short work the wing could be completed. I asked Doug to finish the wing and bend up some gears.  Now all I needed was the rest of the airplane.  Lucky for me Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and some other really smart guy invented the LASER.  Because if him, we have LASER CUT MODELS.  I made pretty short work of the Impact tail feathers and fuselage.  To cut a few corners, I installed my own design motor crutch (which is also laser cut) and salvaged a molded top block and rudder from construction of the “Zone”.  I decided on a look and ran with it.

I came home from work every night at about 6:30, changed clothes and worked diligently until about 1:00 am every night.  Doug did likewise (it is normal for him).  My wife and I barely spoke for the next ten days, but she completely supported me and hoped I would be successful.  I had the airplane framed and covered in silkspan and filled (ready for color) in 13 days.  On the 14th day, Doug came over to my house, where we proceeded to mask, paint color and clear the airplane in 4 ½ hours.  I buffed the airplane the next day, and assembled the now repaired Saito 72 (with the same clunk tank from the crash) and new hand carved replica of the destroyed propeller and headed to the field for a test flight.

Long story short, the newly christened “Shear Panic” flew more satisfyingly than any other airplane I had ever built.  It was dead straight and tracked like a truck.  It flew a reasonably good corner and did excellent rounds.  Oh, and it was REAL YELLOW so it looked HUGE!  I was stoked!  I practiced as much as I could the rest of the week.  Everyone was very pleased with the new creation, and the airplane got very good reviews considering the timeframe.  All was right in the world once again so I began packing for Muncie.

Steve Moon had purchased a 90’s something Chevy Suburban that appeared to be still “like new”.  His reasoning being that Jake, Doug, and he would require a lot of space for the drive to Muncie every year.

All in all, it was a good investment.  I loaded up the old reliable Pathfinder with the Shear Panic, 7 books on tape and enough high nitro fuel to blow up a small village.  Even though the Moons insisted that they ride the entire way together, forcing me to ride BY MYSELF the entire way, I persevered. I kept a steady diet of Diet Cokes and Harry Potter books on tape, and kept the cruise set on about 80 MPH.

The first night we made it to Joplin in about 4 hours and we settled into the local Motel 6 for a little shuteye.  I was so hopped up on caffeine that I knew sleeping was going to be, at best, difficult.  To make matters much worse, apparently some high school jackass was having a dispute with his ex-girlfriend who just happened to be staying in the room next door to mine.  This fella’s idea of conflict resolution was to pull his poopbox Chevy out front, wind up his anemic post-pollution control V8 and dump the clutch.  The idea being that he would burn off the tires and raise a lot of noise.  Instead all he could manage was a mere “chirp” and then his engine would die.  This doofus literally tried to smoke off his tires for an hour, as apparently what he lacked in brains and horsepower he was more than adequate in resolve.  Imagine it.  I had 4 hours to hope for sleep before I drove ALL THE NEXT DAY, and I gave one hour of sleep up to

VRRRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOMMMMM                <chirp>     (die) (pause) crankcrankcrankcrankcrankcrankcrank (start)

 VRRRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOMMMMM               <chirp>       (die) (pause) crankcrankcrankcrankcrankcrankcrank  


You get the idea…

I lay there in a dizzy fog knowing that if I got up out of that bed I was going to be sleeping the Joplin City Jail because someone was getting a severe beating.  It was at this moment that a sighed, covered my head with the pillow, and thanked God that I had left my .45 at home.

I was up at 5:00 am (three hours after I went to bed) and woke up the sleeping Moons (man, that is not a pretty sight).  The second day of driving it was becoming increasingly obvious that keeping an eye on the Big Blue Moonmobile was becoming more difficult.  It was quickly becoming apparent that every human being on the planet had recently purchased a Chevy Suburban, and was now test-driving it through the Ozarks.  No kidding…  We stopped in Missouri on the second day and I commented on the “Suburban factor” to Doug as we stood and pumped gas into our thirsty SUV’s.  We watched the adjacent overpass, and we figured that 7 out of 10 vehicles that we saw pass were the exact same truck as Steve’s.  Just in the short time it took to fill the tanks.  We Americans really are SUV happy, aren’t we?

I was living my Nats dream, but I couldn’t help but realize that I was feeling progressively worse physically.  You see, I had been struggling with what I thought was “asthma” for several months.  That is, I was frequented with a burning sensation in my lungs, that at times was painful to the point of distraction.   Making it impossible for me to workout or do anything strenuous.  None of the medications for asthma seemed to help much and the trip seemed to be exacerbating the situation.  It felt as though someone was hitting me in the back with a baseball bat while simultaneously forcing me to inhale CA fumes.  I did not feel good at all.  This feeling peaked when I arrived at Muncie, so if I talked to you at all that first night and I seemed a little distracted, sorry…  When Steve said, “let’s get in a few practice flights before dark”, I nearly fainted.

Note:  Incidentally, the pain in my lungs was so horrible in Muncie that when I got home I got a second opinion about the condition.  It turns out that my previous six-month unemployment and the new pressure cooker job had actually extracted their toll after all.  What I had was severe acid reflux.  I was actually inhaling acid from my stomach into my lungs, especially when I got nervous, anxious, or drank Diet Coke…  Ouch…it hurts to think about it to this day.

We arrived at about 5:00 pm on Saturday, and Doug and Steve couldn’t wait to start flying.  I gazed bleary eyed at Doug as he crawled yawning and stretching out of the Moonmobile, obviously just waking from a nap on the road.  Needless to say, I was content to watch that first day, as the world was spinning all though I was sitting still.  After short time, I made a beeline for the motel.  Ah,sleep…  So, really, MY NATS started on Sunday at about noon.  I actually got out of bed sometime before noon, lest anyone think I was not committed to practice that morning, I wasn’t. I slept in on Sunday as you can imagine, missing morning practice.

I took some time to drop in on the Intermediate Nats that was being held down on the grass circles, north of the combat folks.  Rich Peabody and Allen Brickhaus were steady at the helm of the event, and should be absolutely COMMENDED at their efforts and success.  This is becoming a HUGE event and could even be more well attended if it were officially sanctioned (I think).  Either way, I helped Doug and Steve appearance judge Intermediate (I nodded in agreement and pointed a lot) as some of the models were certainly well constructed and finished (the front row finisher was nearly flawless, and we looked it over pretty darn good too).  Then we watched Jake Moon (Jake is the coolest little kid) and the other juniors put in their patterns, and lent a helping hand to Ultra Hobby Products’ own John Grigsby put in his officials in Intermediate. I made a point to take a little time to rap a little with Rich, as we have corresponded several times over the Internet (it is not every day that you get to speak to the self-proclaimed “Stunt antichrist”).  I remember making a comment about how the Intermediate event is the only stunt event at the Nationals where you will one see one contestant do an entire pattern with five foot bottoms, and the next contestant will be lucky to survive the entire pattern.  One flyer could do the entire pattern backwards and inverted—-at the same time-with a huge Saito 91 4-stroke powered Fokker Triplane!  Wow!  You don’t see that every day, especially from an Intermediate!  That Triplane was hard to miss, especially from the L-pad.  Bob G. made one of the best comments of the week when he said, “if that guy does a 5 foot bottom inverted, the top wing is coming off”.

Upon my arrival at the L-pad it became apparent from a few flights that the excessive nitro we had been forced to use in Dallas would not be necessary in the cool Muncie air.  It was very interesting for me needless to say, as for the first time IN MY LIFE I heard Bob Geiseke say we had “too much power”.  I guess the 30% nitro fuel I had brought was going to spend the week in the truck.  After a few flights, I had switched back to my “standard setup” of YS 20/20 and my carved 14” wood propeller.  All was right in 4-stroke land and the big Saito .72 was stunting big and fat.  Doug had dropped from nearly 20% nitro at home to a steady diet of 15% Sig, and the “rock tumbler” PA 65 was cranking out crawling slow runs with the airplane turning lightning corners.  Steve’s 40 VF in his Impact sounded, well, like a 40 VF, kind of “full tilt boogie” and Steve was smiling every flight.  (Note:  the West Coast guys actually go UP in nitro when they come to Muncie while we go down, our conditions are that different).  It became apparent that the L-pad facility could spoil us, as the air is crisp and predictable with little to no “funnies”.  We were perplexed as to how to fly with the air coming straight at us with no turbulence.

The only negative about the L-pad was the fact that it was full to capacity and we were only getting a flight every few hours.  It was to be expected though, as the WHOLE GANG WAS HERE.  Richard Oliver was a practice machine, and was getting in his final trim, he was definitely going to be factor this week.  Rich Giacabonne had this beautiful dope finished monster Stuka that flew backwards and absolutely looked a freight train in a 4 cycle (I voted for Rich for the Concours-sorry Paul, he had a machine gun in his canopy).  Matt Nuemann was practicing hard under the watchful eye of his Dad and coach Len.  Len and I discussed what we were seeing and a few last minute tune-ups for Matt.  Randy Smith and Curt Contrada were busily cranking out solid patterns, and I think I saw Randy smile once while he was flying, his nose could have been itching though…  Bob G. and Mike Scott were, of course, practicing and trimming for the optimum setup, Bob’s engine runs were particularly strong even though it seemed as though a bearing in his #1 PA 65 was starting to whine.  It did not seem to effect the power so we told him to ignore it.  Windy had his newly finished carbon wing Miss Ashley (the red wing made it look so good in the air) but sadly, for the FIRST TIME EVER that I can remember Windy was having some technical difficulties and his motor just never decided to come online.  Dale Berry was also there making his first Open class bid.  Obviously there were a lot of others, I could go on for quite a while…  One point of interest is that it appears that Texas had the largest contingency at the Nationals.  That would include Doug Moon, Steve Moon, Jake Moon, John Grigsby, Bob Geiseke, Mike Scott, Dale Gleason, Don Hutchinson, Jim Young, Phillip Nichols, Richard Oliver, Frank Williams, Frank McMillan, and myself.  That makes fourteen in all, with eleven from Dallas alone!  If we could have had Bill Wilson, Bill Rutherford, Dee Rice, and Al Rabe (yes, Al I said YOU!) we would have totally dominated for attendance.

Monday was golf day, and adherence to the “Moon schedule” was mandatory.  Steve, John G. and I played the local municipal course a few miles from the field.  There was some cursing, truuuuuuue… no one is denying that.  But the course was actually quite nice, certainly a bargain and it made for an enjoyable day.  Somehow I managed to shoot 82.  Good karma I guess…

It was after Golf Day that we discovered the grass circles.  It was obvious earlier in the week that we were not seeing anyone from the West Coast practicing on the L-pad.  This included Paul Walker, Ted Fancher, and Brett Buck.  They were doing all of their flying on the grass circles next to the combat site.  We figured if it was good enough for them we would give it a try, and we NEVER fly on grass.  To prove it, I have asphalt permanently imbedded in my skin.  The grass turned out to be a real winner though, and we experienced no problems as the ground was relatively hard and the grass shortly cropped. Our level of practice sure elevated, and it was just like being at home, we were into a standard rotation and had a circle all to ourselves.  We could fly as much or little as we wanted to.  It was also cool because we were right next to Ted Fancher-and-friend’s circle, so we got to watch some good flyers there.  Brett Buck looked super sharp and crisp and Ted was flying very quick and sharp.

I noticed one of their crew had brought what looked like a Trivial Pursuit and it was obvious that he was flying some sort of 4-stroke, although it was certainly not acting very happy.  I made a point to head over after were done practicing for the day and check out his setup.  There were so far only four 4–stroke setups that I could see, Paul Walker and Jim Aaron (flying in Ted’s group) (Saito .56 with Pat Johnston manifold), Paul Winter (Saito .72 on carburetor), and myself (Saito .72 with Ultra Hobby Products Pat Johnston manifold).  I did not like to see anyone suffer at the hands of our fledging technology, and luckily Ted and Brett were eager to ask me questions on Jim’s behalf rather than me having to interject my unsolicited opinions.  I went through the checklist of the components in Jim’s Saito setup and determined that “it would not work”.  This was undoubtedly a harsh pill to swallow for Jim (understandably) and he seemed rather frustrated (understandably) but Ted finally convinced him to try my suggestions, because, he reasoned, Jim had nothing to lose.  I agreed.  We made a trip to the Muncie Hobby Shop located just offsite where we bent up a Sullivan 6-oz clunk fuel tank on the counter.  The new tank in hand, we headed back to the grass circles.  Jim installed the tank and set the shim per my instructions, filled the tank with some complimentary Powermaster YS 20/20 (thank you Powermaster), and set the needle with my method.  To say the changes were successful, I think, would be accurate.  Jim seemed very happy the rest of the week and I felt pretty good about myself.

Appearance judging was on Tuesday as usual and the models were stunning to say the least.  Paul Walker’s Mustang was the highest quality fit and finish, as were several others.  Several others mind you.  Bob Lampione had a deep shine as well as Kenny Stevens, but as I said my favorite was the great big Stuka.  All the flyers retired to the gym while the judging was taking place to have the traditional Pilot’s Meeting.  Frank McMillan kept everything moving along crisply and made a few announcements.  Sadly one of these announcements being that Jim Hunt had been killed.  Everyone could tell that was a very emotional moment for Frank, but he managed through it.  At the end of the meeting, the floor was opened for discussion.  Frank started us off by bringing up the ruckus over the elimination BOM that Doug, Steve and I had debated with Ted, Brett and others on the Internet.  With Dallas being pro elimination and West Coast anti-elimination.  We bantered about for a while finally agreeing to disagree. There was one pinnacle moment for me however, which was my response to a “painting the airplane constitutes 50% of the building” comment.  I responded by telling the story of the Shear Panic and how Doug and I painted that dude in less than 5 hours.  Gordon Delaney did not believe me, and insisted on looking at the airplane.  I took him to my car where he stood in disbelief and amazement.  We got a good chuckle out of that.

Not to ignore the “Moon Nats Schedule” Tuesday was hand launch glider night.  Since I had my right biceps separated and surgically re-attached only the previous October, I opted to simply coach in the throwing portion of the event.  Doug Moon, although a talented stunt flyer, throws like a little girl <snicker>.  Steve easily pounded his younger brother into the dirt in regards to distance and duration, although their models were of similar design and construction.  Steve simply did not throw like a big sissy girl (like Doug) <snicker>.  I couldn’t believe how eagerly the Moons would charge off into the hack-burr laden high weeds to chase their planes.  Never mind that it was nearly pitch black by that point.  Also, Dan Banjock had his little free flight model puttering in big lazy circles.  I figured one more long tank and that sucker was going to be gone into the night sky, never to return.  Luckily, Dan keeps the engine pretty rich most of the time.

Qualifiers started on Wednesday, and the usual favorites seemed to be scoring very well in Open.  Ted and Paul Walker especially, even though they were flying polar opposite styles.  Ted was flying quick and tight as usual.  Paul was flying very large and soft, especially in the hourglass, but both were scoring equally well.  I think Paul was leading his circle by 30 points at one stage.  Doug Moon was flying the best I have ever seen him fly, and he was eating up all that clean, thick air like a fat chick on Hagen Daas.  Doug gets a lot of coaching and he is very capable trimmer, but mostly he is a tremendous PERFORMER.  In that, he flies BETTER in competition, the more people around the better, it just seems to elevate him even further.  That is a very rare quality.  Richard Oliver was also burning up sky and posting some well deserved high scores.  In fact, I believe he was high score on his circle first day of qualifiers, a stunning victory for a true Rookie.  All that Al Rabe coaching is sure working.  Bill Rich was solid as a rock, as were Randy and Curt.  Brett Buck was one of my favorites for Top 5, I don’t know what happened, it just never panned out for Brett this year, but this is certainly no indication of his flying ability.  His snappy style is very clean and impressive and his airplane was one of the best flying models of the week.

Advanced was a WAR for second place.  In my mind Kenny Stevens was destined to be National Champion from the first pattern.  His flying was clearly a notch above the rest of us and his little Fox .35 powered Tom Morris “Quick Build” Cavalier seemed to suit his nimble style very well.  It also didn’t hurt that he started off the week with 19 appearance points, a result of one of the shiniest Sig dope paint jobs I have ever seen.  Sometimes you just can’t beat that shine!  Kenny is one of my personal favorites, and if I had to get my guts stomped in I certainly don’t mind it being Kenny.  Kent Tysor flew solid all week, as well as Steve Millet, Steve Moon, Jose Modesto, Kevin Stewart, and several others.  If it weren’t for a few overruns and mishaps the finishing order might have been radically different (after Kenny at least).  All in all, I was happy with my flying, considering I refused to trim the airplane any further.  My flying on Friday just simply wasn’t good enough to do better than 6th.  Considering the circumstances I was pretty happy.

On Friday, the impossible was achieved, Doug Moon qualified 5th and was going to be named Rookie of the Year.  To think, I was sorely outvoted when I insisted that Doug was wasting an entire year if he stayed in Advanced.  Oh, yea of little faith… I don’t think I could have felt any better about that moment, even if it had been me.  I do regret that I missed the

Doug water cooler dunking while munching a hot dog in the picnic tent (if I would have been in on it, I would not have missed).  It is too bad I never got to see the Walker Cup fly-off, as I had to return home and had to hear about the placing on the cell phone, but then that is why God invented Windy Videos, right?  Interestingly, I would have won a significant amount of money if I were betting on the outcome of the Walker Cup Flyoff, because I started telling everyone Paul Walker would win in February.

My wife had arrived on Wednesday along with one of my best friends from Columbus, and that made the last part of the week more enjoyable, and certainly the ride home was a LOT shorter.  My friend Dan had brought his son Jeremy along, and much to my surprise Jeremy announced that he would be returning the next year to fly in Junior against Jake.  We even sealed the deal by stopping by John Brodak’s booth and purchasing a Flight Streak trainer for the boy.  That was the same airplane I started on, by the way.  Please, feel free to forward any kits or engines that you are not planning on using, I am sure Jeremy will need lots of fodder for the mill.

Well, that’s one down…  GZ

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