Model Helicopter days


Some pictures from my early days of model helicopters.

I was just out of college when a friend showed me a hobby magazine that had some radio controlled model helicopters. To me it was the coolest thing... After reading a few articles and looking at a bunch of ads, I decided to buy one.  Thinking I'd be flying in no time, I couldn't have been more wrong!! It took nearly two years to get the thing to hover safely...

I attribute my lack of success to my first model helicopter. The Dubro Tristar. Dubro, a long respected name in the hobby business, sold mostly model airplane kits and a complete assortment of hardware. At the time, there were only a few manufacturers and the products offered were crude experimental pieces of junk. The Tristar fell into this category. People were buying kits but few could actually fly the things. In addition to the expense, they required enormous amounts of time to maintain. Depending on the model, you could expect a 1 to 4 ratio. For every 1 hour of flying, you might spend 4 hours of cleaning and adjusting. Crashes due to parts failures was considered normal. Advice was everywhere, unfortunately, good advice was scarce, often nonexistent. This made the hobby extremely frustrating. There were just a handful of guys struggling just to keep their machines in working order. 

The flying field was an old airstrip next to a college campus. Lots of room and a few guys who gave their weekends in search of a little fun. It was there I saw a demonstration of the German made, Kavan Jet Ranger. The Model helicopter that changed my life. This was no ordinary model, unlike the Tristar, the Jet Ranger was fabricated from a fuselage of fiberglass. It was a real kit, not a box of aluminum parts in numbered bags and hand written photocopied instruction sheets. Mr. Franz Kavan had his act together. There were full size plans, exploded views of parts assemblies and a stapled instruction booklet with pictures, specifications and catalog numbers. WOW! I knew this project was going to take a while and the Tristar wasn't going to last that long. It was beginning to shake itself to death.

I bought the Jet Ranger. Figuring it was going to take several weeks to complete, I purchased a 'Rev-o-lution'. The Revolution, was an improved design to the German made, Schluter helibaby. American made, it had no metric parts and spares were easily obtainable. A simple machine, the revolution went together in just a few nights. This gave me something to fly without rushing the Jet Ranger project.

I spent many a weekend flying my revolution, often I would keep it in my car so I could catch a flight in the work parking lot during lunch. 


I was just past my second year of flying when I was asked to give a model helicopter demonstration on a weekend trip to the Dominican Republic. (b&w photos above and below) The owner of a shop in the capitol city, Santo Domingo was getting complaints from his customers. Sales were good, but no one on the island had ever seen a model helicopter successfully fly. As a favor to the distributor, I flew down to fly my models. You should have seen the looks I got from the customs inspectors at the airport when I opened the crates...

The first day was mostly questions and answers. They had run ads in the paper and my models were on display at the local mall. They had an interpreter as most of the people only spoke Spanish. The pictures were taken by a photographer from the newspaper, where he ran home and developed them at his homemade photo lab. The contrast is poor but there are REALLY HIGH mountains in the background... 


The only flying field in Santo Domingo is a polo field surrounded by mountains, It was windy that day... VERY windy. The tail fin (stabilizer) on my Jet Ranger cracked in shipping, so I was forced to fly without it. The winds coming over the mountains created turbulence but, the demonstration had to go on... I remember the kids there had no 'sense of fear' (the little bastards)... they would walk right up to the helicopter wanting to touch it. I had to keep chasing them back to the herd...I mean crowd...

Overall, the trip was a success. I had a really good time. Although this was my first experience helicopter flying to an audience, I felt very much at home, having been a musician through high school and college I was not fearful of an audience.


As the years rolled on, I continued to fly as much as possible, depending on the weather, I flew as much as 10 hours a week. I finally recalled my Kavan Jet ranger, having logged more than 400 hours flight time in six years. I moved on to other brands of model helicopters. I had two Revolution II machines trimmed and ready for competition. But, suffered a major setback when they were stolen from the garage of a new house my wife and I had moved to. With this and other changes in my life I left model helicopters in the 80's. I was forced to accept 'wannabe' status for many years to come.


I made a comeback 8 years ago where the enthusiasm was even stronger than the first few years. I had just started writing magazine articles, product reviews, and had produced prototypes for plastic moulded canopies and was setting up a business of customized parts when I was involved in a car accident. Although seemed like minor whiplash and head trauma, I began to experience headaches, dizzyness, and numbness in my hands. Unable to fly, I became completely withdrawn from the sport. I alienated all my friends and business associates, I became perplexed with my future in model helicopters.

It's been a few years now since I've flown. After a few hundred hours of physical therapy including neuromuscular massage therapy I'm glad to say the numbness often goes away. I want to get back to the sport. Presently, I own a Kyosho Concept 60 model Helicopter. It's high performance in 3D flight (aerobatic maneuvers, loops, rolls, inverted flight) and a top speed of 80 mph.

Complete list of Helicopters own and flown:

Mfg., Model, Engine, Radio, Comments

Dubro, Tristar, K&B 40, World engines 4 channel, I was the only kid on the block with a Tristar. This helicopter was always in self destruct mode, I bought a plastic fuselage but the machine 'died' before I could use it. My Tristar had a habit of shedding parts while in flight. One day I was so annoyed with the tail boom coming off, I grabbed the helicopter and swung it over my head (like Jimi Hendrix and his guitar) and smashed it to the ground, forever putting it out of it's misery.

Kavan, Jet Ranger, Kraft 60, Futaba 4 channel, Hundreds of hours on this machine, my all time favorite, more than 20 mods, I changed engines several times (Webra 61, O.S.60) ended up with a Rossi 60 as the most powerful setup. Experimented w/ a flybarless head, retired while still in flying condition.

American R/C, Revolution, K&B 40, Futaba 4 channel, lots of good learning on a fixed pitch, hiller head, no gyro, machine. A stable machine perfect for learning. once modified w/ collective pitch head. Sold to a friend.

Kavan, Jet Ranger, Rossi 60, Futaba 4 channel, This being my 2nd Ranger was parts back-up for my first Ranger. I always had parts assemblies ready to fit to my main machine. Fuselage intact, missing parts

American R/C, Revolution II, K&B 60, Futaba 4 channel, Fixed pitch 60 version of the Revolution, another rock solid low maintenance machine. Later sold.

Kavan, Alouette, Webra 40, Futaba 4 channel, A failure in my mind, the fixed pitch Alouette was geared for LOW RPM, that wasn't a problem for me, but it had a problem where steep approaches caused the flybar to knock the canopy off, usually resulting in a crash. Traded for parts.

Schlulter, Heliboy, O.S.60, Futaba 6 channel, Collective pitch,flew fast, much faster than I had experienced prior. Shortage of parts at the time, Machine sold.

American R/C, Commander, O.S.60, Futaba, Powerful and stable cyclic control, collective pitch, lacked in tail rotor response. I had a machinist friend cut new tail rotor pulley from aluminum, this helped in weight and RPM. I was planning to compete w/ this machine. Stolen from new house just after move-in.

American R/C, Commander, K&B 60, Futaba, This was my back-up machine to the above, I had modified the tail boom to custom fit a Hughes 500 fuselage I bought from Walt Schoonard. This machine was also stolen with the other.

Schluter, Heli-star, O.S.60, Futaba 6 channel FM, purchased with the insurance money received from my stolen machines, my Heli-star died an early death when I looped it on an extremely windy day, and the loop became a 'figure nine". gave parts to a friend.
(approximately 8 years had passed)

Hirobo, Shuttle ZX, Enya 35, Futaba Conquest, This was my first model helicopter to use a gyro. Numerous parts upgrades, new engine and upgraded radio to Futaba FP-T7. Eventually sold.

Hirobo, Shuttle ZX, Enya 35, Futaba FP-T7, back-up to my first Shuttle, this one had many after market parts. Set-up for inverted flight. Later stripped for parts. (see below)

Kyosho, Concept 30SR, Webra 30 RedHead, Futaba FP-T7, Wonderful machine, many upgraded parts (fiberglass blades, pipe drive, Pegae fan/starter), loved doing outside loops and rolls, solid performance. Sold

Hirobo, Tsurugi, Eyna 60, Futaba FP-T7, Although I LOVED it's ground work, this machine totally lost control when I rolled it inverted. Promptly sold.

Century, Ninja Pro/Shuttle, Enya 32, Futaba FP-T7, Built from fiberglas side frame conversion kit, existing Shuttle and several aftermarket parts. Flawless ground work (hovering, side and backward flight) I flew 4 flights practice, and couldn't believe how nice it flew. The next day before a audience of 20, I took off into a long smooth pass across the field when the machine threw a main blade, and self destructed.  

Kyosho, Concept 30SR, Webra 30 RedHead, Futaba FP-T7, back-up to machine above, less mods and upgraded parts.

Kyosho, Concept 60, O.S.60, Futaba FP-T7, Other than ball bearing upgrade, this machine is stock.

My Concept 30SR in 3D flight on a cool spring morning...
More pictures and model helicopter history in my next update
Including the Skylark helicopter simulator.... 



This page originally created April/98 and modified May 30th, 1999
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