9/5/08

When the going gets weird...

By Dave Wingate

I was riding my motorcycle through the Presidio and something unusual caught my eye: a small radio controlled plane flying around Crissy Field. It seemed strange because I’ve never seen an R/C plane there before. Crissy Field was an important air base many years ago, but kites are the only thing flown there now. Adding to my curiosity was the model itself. It didn’t look like anything I’ve seen before, so I decided to investigate.


Crissy Field, Golden Gate Bridge, and Marin Headlands

If you’re not familiar with San Francisco, you should know it has always been a haven for free spirits, from Emperor Norton to Jerry Garcia. The city prides itself on being ahead of the curve, which is to say innovative or weird depending on your point of view. Personally, I am grateful for the free spirits: artists and inventors, adventurers and eccentrics, activists and entrepreneurs. But getting back to the story, the guy with the weird model airplane seemed right at home in a place like this.


What is it?

I went over and talked to the R/C guy. Sorry, I forgot his name. After a few minutes he landed and showed me his plane. He said it was his own design, one of a kind, inspired by the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II (commonly known as the Warthog, of course) and also Star Trek’s Klingon Bird of Prey. The airframe is mostly balsa with fully sheeted fuselage and wings. A brushless pusher, Li-Po power, and 4-channel control (throttle, rudders, elevon mixing) makes this a hot little ship. I wish I had noted more of the specs, but you get the idea.


Klingon A-10

The R/C guy’s mode of transportation was almost as interesting as his plane. He rides a bicycle from his home near Russian Hill (about two miles away) with racks to carry his plane and gear. A motorcycle battery hanging from the top tube of the bicycle frame powers both his battery charger and a very loud car horn installed on the bike. I wish my motorcycle had such a loud horn.


Crissy Field is Willie's favorite place for a walk

After talking for a while, I learned that you aren’t really supposed to fly model airplanes at Crissy Field. This guy is careful to fly under the radar, figuratively if not literally, and only flies there mid-week when not many people are in the park. I also learned that we have one or two mutual acquaintances in the model airplane world. It’s a small world.

I’d like to acknowledge Hunter S. Thompson, who authored the slogan “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

1 comment:

Dave W. said...

When I originally posted this item, I said incorrectly that this model has 3-channel control. I edited the posting to say 4-channels after receiving an email from Kermit - here are his comments on this unique airplane:

"Interesting model! The swept-forward wing layout has long held the promise of great maneuverability, but it is "challenging" in the extreme, structurally and stability-wise. Due to the aerodynamic forces generated by that layout, aircraft built with it tend to be VERY maneuverable, often bordering on the uncontrollable, AND the twisting forces it can generate can distort the outer portions of the wings to the point of structural destruction. Are you sure the model is just a 3-function model? It appears in the photos to have functional rudders, which would make it a 4-function configuration - elevator, ailerons (both via elevons), rudder and throttle."