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boss! da plane! da plan!

This weekend, the Santa Clara County Model Airplane Society (SCCMAS) held a big two-day airshow at the model airplane skypark a few miles north of Morgan Hill. Nancy and I, along with Eric, Michelle, and Lexi went on Sunday morning to check it out.

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The bike trail I use when I bike to work goes right past the skypark, and a few times on my ride I’ve seen one or two people flying their planes there. But I’d never seen anything like this — there must have been more than 100 planes, along with a large crowd of spectators filling the bleachers and overflowing into lawn chairs, and a Boy Scout troop manning the concession stand.

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Most of the planes were scale models of real planes, but some were novelty designs, like the “flying stop sign” in the picture below (yes, it really flies! :-) The planes came in all sizes, from small ones perhaps two feet across…

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… to large models with what I guessed were nearly 8 foot wingspans!

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One very interesting plane was a rocket-propelled glider. It had a model rocket engine, and was launched from a pad very like the ones my brothers and I used for our model rockets when we were kids. The rocket boosted it straight up _very_ high, and then it glided down under radio control, doing all kinds of acrobatic tricks. The glider was probably the smallest, certainly the lightest, aircraft in the whole show.

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The morning started off cloudy, but cleared off. I forgot sunscreen and ended up with a slight sunburn on my neck. Here, Lexi, Michelle, and Nancy watch the show (Eric’s hidden behind Michelle). Lexi was fascinated by the planes, especially the ones on the ground she could really see :-)

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Some of the models were designed to look like jets, but with gas-powered propeller engines hidden inside, in a design called “vented fans”. But this model F-18 was unique — it had a real jet engine inside! The jet whine was unmistakable, and the roar when the pilot turned the throttle full on in order to fly straight up was incredible.

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The pilot had a problem with the forward landing gear not retracting after takeoff, and so had to make a low-altitude pass over the runway to check that it had actually gone up after a couple attempts. Then at the end of the flight, the nose gear didn’t come down right away, which wouldn’t be good, considering this plane cost its owner $10,000! With only a few minute’s fuel left, the pilot finally got the gear down and made a safe landing to an enthusiastic ovation. (This picture above is the crew checking out the nose gear after the flight.)

Another crown-pleaser was regular propeller plane in which the pilot had installed an extremely over-powered engine, and practiced flying it without using the wings, like a helicopter. In the middle of the picture you can see the pilot standing on the runway near his plane, with it hovering just a foot or two off the ground. The announcer explained just how difficult this is to do, since unlike a helicopter the plane doesn’t have a tail rotor to counteract the torque of the engine. So the pilot had to learn to handle this manually with the tail’s control surfaces. Talk about having too much time on your hands! :-)

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There were several scale models of WWII aircraft, and they all flew together in a exhibition. Unfortunately, without a zoom lens I couldn’t take aerial pictures worth looking at, but here are two of the planes being positioned by the taxiway after their flight.

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The hightlight of the morning was the Snoopy dogfight. Believe it or not, the doghouse in the picture below really does fly! In fact, the announcer said that it’s extremely maneuverable, and usually easily wins the dogfights.

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Snoopy’s competition were three scale model WWI aircraft, one of which is pictured below. The dogfight was “scored” by counting how many times, and for how long, Snoopy got into one of the other aircraft’s “six o’clock” (below and behind — prime firing position) or any of them into his.

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It was quite a sight, all four planes twisting and turning around each other, jockeying for position. Snoopy’s flying doghouse was amazing to see — it seemed to be able to turn on a dime, loop the loop, or whatever it took to get into one of the “enemy’s” six o’clock. By the announcer’s count (and audience acclamation :-) Snoopy was the winner, though not by as big a margin of victory as in the previous day’s dogfight. It seems the other pilots were learning a thing or two from Snoopy!

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When the show took a lunch break, we took our leave since the clouds were gone and the day was heating up. Next time, we’ll remember our hats and sunscreen!

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