By Steve Manganelli
The term OOS or “Out Of Sight” is a Free Flight Model Aviation term referring to a model catching a thermal that carries it up and out of sight, generally never to be seen again. I can’t imagine the melancholy feeling of watching the product of your hard work disappear before your eyes. On one hand, you have validation of your model building skills; on the other, sadness at the loss of your creation. I’ve heard stories of models turning up in a cornfield some miles downwind of the field years later or what not, but that is nothing like my OOS experience!
For my story, turn the clock back to about 1971/2, before I could afford the luxury of Radio Control. As a geeky 11/12 year old, with friends of similar ilk, if it flew, floated or ran, we had to play with it…or destroy it. My friend Jeff and I had a motto : “cure it or kill it”. All of our experimental unguided air vehicles either had to fly successfully or be demolished in some spectacular fashion.
One day, a foam wind-up rubber band powered airplane with a span of maybe a foot and a half had reached that point of no return. It was doggy as a rubber powered model and by then I was experienced with balsa, dope and tissue and knew how to do better. This foamy was called “Major Roscoe Hawks Amazing Flying Machine” (MRHAFM). Actually I remembered the name a little differently but with the miracle of Google I actually found one under vintage toys, circa 1971 and no, I didn’t buy it so I could relive the soon to be described stupidity!
MRHAFM has roughly the proportions of a high wing Cessna. Clearly if a rubber motor was enough to fly it, a Cox .049 should be oh so much better! At least we had enough sense to chop off most of the nose and epoxy on a scrap of 1/8 plywood for a firewall; surely it would need some up thrust so we did that too! Next, we bolted on a cantankerous Cox “Golden Bee” 049, the kind with the larger gas tank for a 6 or 7 minute run. In control line models, this particular engine never did more than couple laps before it quit, but for MRHAFM, we figured 10 or 15 seconds would be more than long enough to pile drive this wannabe ice chest into the ground in some spectacular fashion! In retrospect, the fuel pickup of the engine was probably on the bottom instead of the outside as needed for control line, but no matter. A final check out of the flying machine suggested it might still be a little nose heavy (ya think?) so a couple of cox glow plug wrenches were taped to the tail. Perfect, off to the nearest vacant lot we went. No need to ride our bikes to one of our control line fields (aka the nearest school field), no landing was expected on this flight!
The tank was fully fueled, the engine started and the needle valve was peaked to screaming pitch. MRHAFM was released gingerly into the wind. A steep climb ensued as the unreinforced foam wing bowed to foretell anticipated disaster, but instead she arched over on her back, we figured heading for a glorious “figure 9”. Our anticipation of a full power, straight in crash was quickly dashed. Instead, the 100 foot loop was completed missing the bushes by mere inches and another giant loop was begun, still tracking straight into the wind! This time, the bottom of the loop was maybe 20 feet off the ground and another loop started. By the third loop, Jeff and I looked at each other in unstated disbelief : “why is this thing still running?” . But run she did. Successive loops gaining more and more altitude and for some reason, continuing to track straight into the wind. She climbed higher and higher until after about 3 minutes or so, we lost both sight and sound of her; MRHAFM was gone, out of sight!
Our ecstasy quickly turned into consternation as the thought of what will happen when she ran out of gas began to go through our heads. Unlike a lightweight well-trimmed free flight model which will lazily glide down to a soft landing when it’s OOS thermal lost it’s hold on it, we knew MRHAFM would come down like a rock when our now best-engine-ever ran out of fuel. A car windshield or hood? Someone’s roof? Our chosen event venue was a vacant lot in the middle of a populated area. When last seen it was more or less over a cemetery, but we decided not to chase after it to find out where it came down, instead left the scene smartly with mischievous grins on our faces and in at least my case, a grand model airplane story to remember and recount nearly 50 years later.