Gaggle in the Sands

The10th Annual White Sands Cross Country Gaggle

White Sands Missile Range near Alamogordo, New Mexico was home to the 10th annual Cross Country “Gaggle” on Sunday, June 15, 2003. A “gaggle” as defined by Webster is a flock or cluster of geese when not in flight. Well, 11 teams and 40 some people from around the state competed in a 150-mile cross country RC airplane race and this group of modelers certainly resembled that definition of a gaggle.

The road rally type, AMA sanctioned, RC Aircraft cross country race was made up of 3 long-distance legs, and was attempted by each of the 11 skilled pilots and their teams. This race is a test of man/woman, machine and the sometimes hostile, desert environment. The aircrafts ranged from entry-level high wing ARF’s to “flying fuel tanks or Delta’s.” No timing devices were allowed including watches, sundials and minute timers, no fuel transfer by pump from one bottle to another, no battery chargers that give digital information, no music, etc. The only things allowed were speed and distance traveled mixed with some “one Mississippi, two Mississippi’s…” to keep track of time. Some teams even sang songs that were a known length of time, singing it over and over, counting the times sung.

Our team made up of: Pilot-Jim Maddox (myself); Co-Pilot-Callie Johnson; Land Speed Specialist/Driver-Henry Crocket; Math Guru/Navigator- my son James Maddox II; and our Spotter/”Spy”-Bridey Kemeny. According to the rules, Bridey would voluntarily work for another team and we would get another spotter/spy in return. The rules changed at the last minute and she was able to stay with us, where she really wanted to be as she had had an instrumental role in the construction process.

Our Delta Vortex, flying fuel tanker, was built as a team effort. Each of us focused on different tasks, and then brought the completed parts to the building table for assembly. The Delta Vortex kit, from Bruce “Tharpe Engineering” (800) 557-4470) was modified for extra strength to carry lots of fuel and batteries and to be able to make hard heavy landings. We met once a month or so to build our Delta, for a total of roughly 9, 6 hour days. Those building sessions covered all activity from “on the drawing board to flying.” I spent many hours in-between the building days, just “pondering.” While I forced myself not to build; the excitement was tremendous at times.

Two previous Delta test platforms are still flying as a result of their remarkable durability. I tested them myself and I am amazed at what they have survived! This year’s entry, Delta II Tanker is a serious Hybrid aircraft. Callie, Stan and Helen at “Hobbies-N-Stuff” (293-1217) were great at delivering my unusual supply requests. Thanks to you especially Callie! Our modifications were a reflection of lots of experience and information collected from very reliable sources like my good friends, Matt Mathews and Stan Johnson. Your countless years in the aeronautical field and the RC hobby were a tremendous help, Thanks Guys! All of the mods proved to work out as we hoped they would!

The Delta II Tanker is a really cool, unusual aircraft that is medium priced! With a 55″ wing, Four stroke OS .91 pumped engine and six fuel tanks. It has enough fuel and batteries on board to fly for 3.5 hours non-stop at over 80mph! All 3 Delta Vortex’s were balanced with equipment only. They can land like the shuttle, stall flat, and fly best when they are lighter in weight. Add 124 oz. of fuel and it transforms into a controllable brick! But is very stable in high winds and can penetrate small dust devils like a lawn dart. However; that seriously increases the “pucker power” needed by the pilot to stay in control. It needs more rudder effect, for heavy cross winds, maybe gyros. I am going to keep improving it, because I love this aircraft!

At 8 am, just seconds prior to the 5 minute interval “timed take-offs”, each team received an envelope at the starting line, not to be opened until underway. In the envelope was the “time and actual distance” to the LZ (landing zone). The night before, the teams received maps; definitely not to scale, but nice maps, with lots of “undefined lines/roads, around and through the course with very few landmarks or identification signs! (Lots of “airplane magnet signs” though, like the “Dip” sign that got one poor little Cub as it was landing dead stick.)

The teams had to calculate travel speed to arrive at each LZ and check point in an allotted amount of time and then add in down time for a pit stop for maintenance prior to the next leg. This is where the 1Mississippi’s or songs come in handy. Ours were ten minute predetermined stops. We had to wait to find out what the desired total time for the race “start to finish” was until “near the end” at a check point stop, in an envelope. This added more dead time for calculations and confusion. Points were given for successful takeoffs and landings and penalties assessed for anything along the way like un-scheduled landings, airplane in vehicle etc.

At the first LZ, nicknamed “Jim’s Fence LZ1,” (from a 1995 mishap with our airplane and a fence) Mark Johnston’s co-pilot clipped a power line. With enough 100 mph tape and CA and you can fix almost anything, and they tried, except the engine seized on restart. At the end of the race I passed the torch on that LZ. It is now “Mark & Brian’s power line LZ.” At one check point, we had a traffic jam of vehicles and pilots, caused by a dead stick landing. Remember the 5 minute take off intervals? There were problems. Not everyone made it. Casualty causes ranged from power lines, sign posts, telephone poles to out of fuels and the dreaded DT’s or “Dumb Thumbs.”

The final landing was worth lots of extra points with a bull’s eye spot landing. The center was maybe a little larger than 6 feet. Both First and Second Place pilots hit it. Out of the 11 teams only 7 actually made the course’s total distance. I believe only First and Second Place teams flew the entire 98 mile, 2.25 hr long leg, non-stop. There was an optional midway refuel stop if needed but it had to be declared in advance without penalty.

There was much confusion in the judge’s area: They forgot to factor in time for the 2 mandatory pit stops. This meant we were all going to be late by their standards. We would all be late by at least the pit stop times. For us this meant approx. 22 minutes, we would have needed to do the last leg at 100mph to catch up. Chuck Andraka caught the error immediately at the check point, and was early enough at that point, that his team could make it up. Chuck ended up with the closest time……again. For the umpteenth time now. Well deserved 1st place Chuck! Chuck pointed the error out to the CD before final calculations, to their own disbelief.

The Target time was 3:27 minutes for 150 miles.
First Place: Albuquerque team; Chuck Andraka; time 3:34 with a score of: 217.96/225
Second Place: Albuquerque “Area” team; Jim Maddox; time 4:01 with a score of: 181.99/225
Third Place: El Paso Team; time unknown with a score of: 164.95/225

Our team performed extremely well. Other than not keeping good time, the only real problem we had was with a chronic toothache which troubled our spotter Bridey. At the end of the race she ended up with heat exhaustion and came back to an emergency root canal. Other than that we had a great time and are already scheming on the next one! Gaggle, Gaggle, Gaggle! Next year, same time, same place. Hope to see YOU there.

Jim Maddox


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