My First R/C


It was the Fall of 1961 when me and my two buddies, Al Saliba and Joey Richards decided to build R/C models. We had already been constructing other types, control line, free flight, rubber power and gliders when we went for the big time, R/C. Of course, none of us had ever seen an R/C model fly, just pictures in the magazines, which we were too poor to buy. Joey worked after school at Scarborough Drugs, which had a corner of the building devoted to models, mostly control line. We poured over their magazines, then set them back on the rack when we were finished, dog-eared issues to the back.

Later I discovered one of my customers on my paper route (my only source of R/C money) Ray Seay, was into R/C big time. He had a Smog Hog with a K&B 45, THE engine at the time, with Wonder of all Wonders, rudder, elevator, AND engine control, all from a single servo. This was a tinkerer's dream system, consisting of a Mighty Midget geared electric motor with a Rube Goldberg linkage to the tail feathers and the throttle. The whole mess shuddered back and forth in concert with the transmitter's signal, giving a somewhat smooth approximation of total control, most of the time. It was a battery sucker, with the Mighty Midget running crazy all the time, and there were no Nicads then, Ray had to solder together sixteen pencell batteries and stuff them into the plane for a day's flying. When he got home, it was time for another sixteen to get ready for the next flying session. There was no possible way me or Al or Joey could afford something like this, even if we could understand it, so it was time to go for something simpler. This is what we came up with after looking thru the ads.

This is it, the 'Easy-1' published in Flying ModelsJune-July 1961, by Ted Strader

At that time, this was the cutting edge of R/C technology, an all-transistor (no tubes) receiver with no relay, directly connected to the escapement It took quite a bit of paper route money to buy the stuff, I think the transmitter was $29.95 and the receiver was about the same. I bought both, but Al only bought a receiver, then agreed to buy batteries for the tube-type transmitter, which he would use with my unit. It took two 67-1/2V batteries, plus two D-cells for the tubes. The big 'B' batteries cost $8.00 each, so Al's contribution was significant.

At the time, nothing came as a complete system, you had to buy the escapement from somebody else. The one me and Al selected was a Citizen-Ship PSN-2 selfneutralizing escapement of lesser quality. It required quite a bit of filing, sanding and cussin' to get it to work properly, but once working, it was reliable. It had a fatal flaw however, you had to remember what was coming up next. As you can see, the only control on the transmitter was a push button. One push of the button gave you right rudder, next was left, when you let go, the rudder returned to neutral. And so it went, you had to remember what was coming up next. Powered by a rubber band running down the fuselage, you always worried about it winding down, but I never had that problem because a Cox 049 only ran 2-1/2 minutes on its tank. Also, we found the escapement worked a lot smoother if the rubber band was longer than needed, a hatch near the tail allowed access to the rubber motor. Later we changed to what was called a Compound Escapement, which had a ratchet wheel to slow the action down, then you pushed the button once for right and twice for left, and right was always up first. Some models even had three blips for up elevator, really a nice thing to have for landing.

C&S single channel system

Did it fly, you ask? Yes, sort of. Me and Al finished our models, ready to fly, in the Spring of '62. Above the high school football field, there was a high bank, where we test-glided our models to get a feel for how they would fly before firing up the engine. They would glide about halfway across the field and we could get in a couple of quick button-pushes before they landed. Both planes worked fine during glide testing, which everybody did with a rudder-only model. Al built a Sterling Mambo from the kit, 48in wingspan with a Fox 09 for power, while mine was smaller, 36in with a Cox 049. We flew Al's first, and after my excellent hand launch, it dove straight into the ground. Twice. We needed help.

Ray Seay knew what was wrong, which 'everybody' knew, the Mambo plans and the kit were wrong. It was tail heavy and the incidence was all wrong, causing it to glide perfectly but dive into the ground under power. Al cut the stabilizer off and gave it some more up elevator, then added weight to the nose and it was cured. It flew well after that, however the poor Fox just wasn't enough to get it over ten feet in altitude, so it was replaced with a Fox 15 and all was well. Back to my turn. Al gave it a good launch, Cox running a little rich and the prop on backwards for less power. Yes it did fly but not well, it nosed up under power and I had to continually blip in some rudder to get the nose down out of a stall. We found that Ted had screwed up the design and it had too much up elevator when balanced for a good glide. Extra speed under power caused the nose to rise into a stall, which repeated itself until it hit the ground unless turned out of the nose-up attitude with rudder. When rudder is the only control you have, everything else has to be RIGHT. Lots of downthrust in the Cox tamed it down and we had a successful airplane. After that, other problems cropped up.

Several different brands of escapements

As you can see from the picture, the receiver is wrapped in foam for vibration protection, and we initially thought that was our problem when the escapement started to go crazy and wind itself down. Cannon had designed the receiver with germanium transistors, the only ones available at the time, that were temperature sensitive. They would work fine at home on the bench or in cool weather, but when it got warm (not even hot) they went bananas. We found the solution, just fly late in the evening when it was cool, no problem.

Of course there were other problems, the receiver was sensitive enough to where it had plenty of range and I never had a problem controlling it even when really far away, but if too close to the transmitter it went crazy as hell again. My tube-type transmitter was a flame thrower and really put out the power, so I just kept it turned off until the plane was maybe twenty feet away from a hand launch and then flipped the switch on. Yes it was a work-around but we were willing to put up with things like that to get a successful flight. The Cox reed valve engine was also a problem, it tended to suck up grass seeds into the rear intake, stopping up the reed valve and then it wouldn't run. The only cure was to take the whole engine apart and clean out the grass seeds, then it would run fine again. A transplant to a Fox 049 with external tank worked a lot better. The Fox was no beauty but it ran better than the Cox and never stopped up with grass seeds. I also updated my escapement to a 'compound' model and I never again had to remember what was coming up next.

My Easy-1 eventually died an untimely death because of the temperature sensitive receiver when I tried to fly it in weather that was a little bit too warm and it bit the big one in a death spiral. Al's Mambo didn't last all that long either when the Fox 15 proved to have a little more power than what was really needed. The Mambo had a big rudder and little dihedral, causing it to be spirally unstable. More power didn't help the situation when Al got the nose down, and it too took the big plunge. Al patched it back up and decided he needed throttle control, so he installed a compound escapement, which triggered a second two-position escapement connected to the throttle. Did I mention his Fox didn't have a throttle? Al didn't care, he just hooked up a Rube Goldberg linkage to shove a rubber massage tip stolen from a toothbrush into the Fox's intake. That richened up the mixture enough to bring the engine down to a lower RPM. It actually worked. Sometimes. It wasn't really a low enough idle to land it, but it was a good cruise speed and was about equal to the power put out by the original anemic 09. He was able to take off under full power, give it three quick blips of the button, and cruise around until the engine quit.

The Easy-1 with a Bonner escapement

I don't remember ever seeing Joey get in a flight. He bought a Kraft transmitter from Ace RC with a superhet receiver that never worked right. Years later I discovered all that was wrong was metal-to-metal contact and nylon clevises would have cured the problem. Joey later went on to fly helicopters with the US Army and now he's one of the big dogs with the FAA in Atlanta. Go Figure. Now you know what it was like 'back in the day', makes it seem somehow easier now, doesn't it?

Rudder Only Smith

User comments

Hi Doug, Thanks for the write up on early RC. Brought back many memories, including the first time I ever saw a radio controlled model glider at a place called 'The Coppice' which overlooked Accrington Stanley football ground in Lancashire, about 1958, when I was 10. I lived in Hollins Lane, about 3 miles walk from the Coppice, and had gone there to see if anyone from ELMAC (East Lancs Model Aircraft Culb) would be flying their models that day. All freeflight up to then, with the Dixielander as the favourite model. Hit the jackpot with my visit. A chap called John, whose dad ran our local corner shop, was at the Coppice, home on leave from University, and had with him a massive, brown paper covered glider, which seemed to me to be about 9 ft span, but next to it was a huge metal OXO tin can with an aerial about 9 ft long sticking out of it. Must have weighed a ton, and thinking back, it says a lot for John's determination to lug that lot up to the top of the Coppice. The model was single channel, rudder only and John was learning how to fly her as a slope soarer. John's pal Hoovey (Uwie ? German mum) did the launching and all was quite successful with 2 or 3 passes along the slope before successfully landing back on the top, and not way down at the bottom. John explained how it all worked, with his home made escapement and radio gear.... hence the OXO can from his dad's shop. The batteries must have cost a fortune. John showed me his workshop, which was the loft above his dad's shop. Pure magic. Just like Aladdin's cave to me with everywhere jam packed full of models, tools, saw dust and the smell of dope. Never to be forgotten.
MalcomJ - 26/10/2016
Thanks to dfritzke, we've now got a copy of the Easy One plan here on Outerzone.
Mary - 04/11/2016
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