It was back in August 1977 that my friend Tim Martin let me try and fly his Veron Impala – a kind offer which, as things turned out, was a sad error of judgement on his part. Although I offered to repair the damage, Tim never repeated his offer of flying instruction, which was rather disappointing. I'd begun to grow tired of the two-dimensional world of model powerboats, you see, and that one short flight had given me a glimpse of the whole new R/C challenge that is afforded by flying's three dimensions. I was hooked, and spent two week's wages on a two-channel 27 meg' Sanwa set and an Impala of my own.
TEACHING MYSELF SOARING
With Dave Hughes' teach yourself slope-soaring book to guide me, I took myself to our local slope, Bosley Cloud, and set about doing exactly that. I learned how to get my glider into the sky, then how to keep it there by S-turning, and finally how to land it more or less safely and, sometimes, in the same county.
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Over the years, my fascination with soaring has continued to grow along with my experience, and with the advances in the models' materials, manufacturing, and aerodynamic qualities. Although I've delved into many of the other facets of R/C flying, slope-soaring has always been my first love: above all else, I enjoy the purity and simplicity of riding the free energy supplied by the elements.
The ultimate slope-soaring experience, I've decided, depends upon being in the right place, at the right time, with the right model. And when man, model and nature come together in this way, there's no R/C experience quite like it: it's slope-soaring nirvana.
For this reason, I've made a point of owning a variety of soarers, so that I can chose the airframe that'll give me the best performance from any given slope in any set of weather conditions. What I haven't found in all this time, however, is the perfect slope hack – the one model that answers the demands of all the seasons and reasons for flying; the one model that's capable of providing excitement or relaxation as my mood requires.
There have been models that have come close, mind. For many years, a Stuart Blanchard Calypso motor glider did it for me, and the Mega R4 motor on the front of her got me out of many a tight corner. I then built-up a relationship with the Multiplex Condor, which is a bigger, heavier, stronger version of the famous Alpina.
Launching the Blade into a light breeze is easy as the model is incredibly stable and inspires great confidence.
THAT CONDOR MOMENT
Against all my expectations, the Condor became my all-time favourite companion. With its 4.7kg and 5-metre span, I really thought that it would be too cumbersome to lug to remote sites, too heavy to fly in light winds, and too big to land on small hills. As I came to know the model, however, I found that it was capable of sniffing out the weakest pockets of lift; of soaring on even the smallest slopes; and, with its crow-braking, of making very accurate spot landings.
In strong winds, the model's weight made for excellent penetration, while its size proved no obstacle to aerobatics: the huge control surfaces and powerful Multiplex Profi servos made the Condor remarkably agile: Cuban Eights and four-point rolls looked tidy and graceful, yet so benign were the handling qualities that low inverted passes were perfectly comfortable.
I've owned two Condors and, in truth, I regret selling them both. There have been some consolations, though – my Schueler-made 1/3-scale ASH-26 sailplane, for instance. This 6-metre beauty has served faultlessly over the past six years, and its only drawback is its size: it's just too big to be taken to small slopes, and at 15kg, it's just too heavy to carry up hills. And then there's the price to be considered: the ASH-26 is simply too valuable to risk on slopes with tight approaches and hidden rocks.
Rather more practical is the Valenta-manufactured ASW-20 that I bought from John Marsh of www.go-gliding.net . This model combines the elegance of a scale model with the strength of carbon moulding and the greater practicality of a 4-metre span to produce an outstanding all-round performer.
The wing's HQ 1.5/12 airfoil is very efficient and, in combination with the flapped surfaces, has an amazing speed range. The ASW-20 will handle almost all conditions, scream around the slope like a dedicated sports machine, and take any amount of aerobatic abuse.
Me and my Multiplex Condor which has seen more flyingthan most of my airframes put together.
THE ULTIMATE HACK?
My ultimate sloper, however – for the time being, at least – is a carbon version of the 2.5-metre span Blade XL, manufactured by the well-known X-Models company.
The Blade comes with a two-piece wing and a detachable V-tail for ease of transport, which means that the model can be packed into a neat carrying bag that fits easily into the car. Once up on the slope, I can have the Blade unpacked, rigged, checked and flying before my buddies have finished assembling their machines.
Although I'm used to 'going large' with my ASH-26 and ASW-20 to achieve excellent soaring potential, I've been truly amazed by the performance of the Blade's more modest span: it's more capable and versatile than any other model I've flown, including the Condor.
IN ITS ELEMENT
My local hill is the magnificent NW facing Bosley Cloud, which rises 1000' above the Cheshire plain in a classically shaped soaring slope that enjoys huge amounts of smooth lift; on occasions the air mass is warm enough to add some thermal energy to the lift, too. And it's in this playground that I can really give the Blade its head.
The soarer's fuselage has a ballast tube that allows you to increase the model's weight by up to 1kg, and this makes a remarkable difference to performance on strong wind days: slippery as the model is in its unballasted state, the Blade becomes a ballistic missile when fully loaded!
If I climb her to 350ft above the slope before slipping the model's leash, the vertical acceleration is instantaneous. As the potential energy stored in that height is converted into kinetic energy, it's accompanied by an eerie howl that builds with the rising speed. I'll let the model plummet towards the plain below until it reaches the 150' height marker, when I'll pull back hard on the elevator and slingshot her directly towards the slope. The speed is tremendous now, and the Blade will hug the contours of slope as it races upwards.
At the top of the slope, I'll pull the Blade into the vertical so that it explodes past me with impressive force, and continues to climb. Near the zenith of this manoeuvre, which is known as The Angel, I'll again pull back on the stick so that the model carves out a half loop followed by a half roll to bring it diving back down the face of Bosley Cloud and out over the plain again.
Although the Blade's capacity for high-G manoeuvres makes this sort of adrenaline-charged showboating easy, the model's aerodynamic efficiency can be demonstrated just as well by diving from the top of the slope to the valley floor and climbing back to the top of the slope in a single one swoop. It sounds simple enough, but I have no other aircraft that is as capable as the Blade in this regard.
SHE'LL GO SLOW, TOO
When you want to slow things down, the Blade's RG-15 aerofoil will happily soar on a breeze of only eight miles an hour. The first few times this happened I suspected that the model was getting a lift from a thermal, but no – it really is that efficient. On the other hand, when thermals are present the Blade is more than capable of exploiting them: on many occasions I've slowed her down with 10 degrees of flap and been surprised at the model's ability to ride small pockets of lift and work her way to the top of the stack.
And when the flying's done, spot landings are a doddle owing to the substantial ailerons and flap surfaces, and powerful butterfly braking effect.
STILL GOING STRONG
I've been flying the Blade for two years now, and clocked up around 120 hours on her. In that time, she's worked through two sets of wing servos and two receiver packs, but although the carbon's looking a little frayed around the edges, the Blade still performs as well as ever. My admiration for this model has stood the test of time just as well: our partnership is still going strong and, now I have the right model, I imagine it will continue to do so just as long as we both keep getting to the right place at the right time…
If you're looking to step up a notch and get yourself a thoroughbred moulded slope-soarer, I can heartily recommend the Blade XL. Prices start at £385 for the glass / carbon model, while the mainly carbon version costs £495. If you want something a little larger, check out the new £480 Blade XXL, which has a wing span of 3.15 metres. Give Dave at South Coast Sailplanes a call – he'll be more than happy to talk Blades with you. www.south-coast-sailplanes.co.uk
- This article was first published in 2006 so please check for up to date pricing.
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