The earliest examples of electronically guided model aircraft were hydrogen-filled model airships of the late 19th century. They were flown as a music hall act around theater auditoriums using a basic form of spark-emitted radio signal.

There are many types of radio-controlled aircraft. For beginning hobbyists, there are park flyers and trainers. For more experienced pilots there are glow plug engine, electric powered and sailplane aircraft. For expert flyers, jets, pylon racers, helicopters, autogyros, 3D aircraft, and other high-end competition aircraft provide adequate challenge. Some models are made to look and operate like a bird instead. Replicating historic and little known types and makes of full-size aircraft as “flying scale” models, which are also possible with control line and free flight types of model aircraft, actually reach their maximum realism and behavior when built for radio-control flying.

This is just a brief description of the beginnings of RC aircraft. Read more in Wikipedia to learn more about the history of radio controlled aircraft.

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Good Brothers Pioneers in Radio Controlled Model Aviation

A little background on the film:

The video on YouTube is one of several AMA films produced by Jay Gerber. This one’s official title is The Pioneers. The description from Model Aviation magazine (June 1987 issue) on p.110 states, “AMA’s latest film (1985) in which the Good brothers – Walt and Bill- tell of their efforts in the 1930s and 1940s to develop a successful Radio Control system. Their own spectacular movies from those days are included, with footage from before World War II and afterward. This is a significant and entertaining part of model aviation history. About 27 min long (AMA film by Jay Gerber)”

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The Runaway Auster

This is a true story borrowed from “The Flight of the Pelican – a History of the Schofields Aerodrome and HMAS NIRIMBA at Quakers Hill, NSW”. I must confess to more than a passing interest as I spent 2½ years at HMAS NIRIMBA, firstly as a Naval Apprentice and returned there a number of times as an Instructor. Humorous versions of this story abound on the web (try googling “runaway auster”). My colleague at WPMAC Dave Middleton recently published one of the humorous versions in our club newsletter. The story rang a bell and it soon had me digging through my library – I knew I’d heard it before. The true story follows……….

Commander John Groves (right in the picture) and the NIRIMBA Auster

“We can now laugh at the incident which became known as the “Runaway Auster Saga”, but it was not amusing to hundreds of thousands of Sydney residents one terrifying day in 1955 – the 30th August. Early that morning, Mr Anthony Thrower, 30, had rented an aircraft from the Kingsford Smith Flying School that was exactly the same model as NIRIMBA’s Staff Aircraft (an Auster ‘Autocar’). This particular aircraft did not have a self starter and required propeller hand swinging to start. On this occasion, for some inexplicable reason the brakes did not hold. The throttle was well set, the controls ‘trimmed’ and the aircraft pointed exactly into a gentle South-East breeze. So, when the engine roared into life Mr Thrower was horrified to find that he had to leap clear as his aircraft began taxiing forward, picked up speed smartly and gently took off.

The Auster missed the Bankstown Control Tower by a whisker, began lazily circling the airfield, slowly gaining height, its circular motion aided by the South-East breeze giving it a gradual drift towards the main Sydney District. Enter now Commander John Groves RN, who was flying NIRIMBA’s Auster, returning to NIRIMBA with three other passengers from staff duties elsewhere. Mascot Tower alerted him to the drama and asked if he could get close enough to see how the situation looked since it was rumoured that a schoolboy was at the controls. John Groves was able to get close enough to get a clear view of the cockpit and confirm that it was in fact empty. He offered to stay airborne nearby for the present and this offer was accepted by the ground authorities who by now were extremely worried. Schools and businesses all over the city were alerted and the city was gripped by a chill waiting to see what the aircraft would finally do.

By about 10:00hrs, the rogue aircraft was lazily climbing to 5,000ft over the Eastern Suburbs (Mascot Airport in complete shutdown!) and it was realised that the aircraft may soon begin some of its circling over the sea. By now the RAAF from Richmond was airborne but it is a day the RAAF would rather forget since the first run to attempt shooting down the Auster during one of its circles over the open sea was by a Wirraway and SQNLDR Jane’s (the rear gunner) hands were so cold he could not operate the Bren gun. Next, one of the RAAF’s spanking new ‘Meteor’ fighters from the Williamtown base, piloted by SQNLDR Holdsworth had a go but both his cannons jammed and he had to depart the drama, though he did at personal risk try what was a good idea and attempted to fly close to the Auster to upset it with his jet’s considerable wake turbulence in the hope of forcing it into a dive. Commander Groves had now been airborne for over three hours and was getting low on fuel so had to break off and return to NIRIMBA. The civil authorities were frantic – the end must come soon and its possible results over a populated area were too terrible to contemplate. By this time the Auster was at a height of 10,000ft and the time was approaching midday.

At around 11.35am, two Sea Furies from 805 Squadron arrived on the scene and Lieutenants John Bluett, RN, and Peter McNay, RN, duly opened fire sending the ‘little plane that could’ hurtling into the Tasman Sea off Palm Beach, NSW. (The insurance claim must have been interesting reading…!)

Bluett eventually became an Admiral in the RN and Peter McNey ultimately finished up working for the Public Service in Canberra, in, of all places, Air Force Office”.

Nirimba Auster

About Aeromodellers

Aeromodellers are all who are interested in the experimentation, innovation, design, construction, maintenance and flight of all or any model aircraft. Fixed Wing, Rotary Wing (Helicopters), Multirotors (drones), Gliders, Seaplanes, actually any airborne creation that takes to the sky and pushes the envelope of possibility. 

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