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The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mississippi Valley Soaring Association Holds Gateway Soaring Open

By Mark Nankivil
Mississippi Valley Soaring Association
2013 Gateway Soaring Open
Emerald View Turf Farm, O’Fallon, MO

For a little bit of a change of pace from full size aircraft features, there’s a whole other world of model aircraft that many participate in and enjoy with the same type of passion.  From free flight to control line and radio control model aircraft, many people enjoy aviation without ever climbing into a cockpit and taking to the skies, yet they can enjoy it every bit as much as those who go flying.

This past weekend, the Mississippi Valley Soaring Association (MVSA) hosted the 2013 Gateway Soaring Open.  The club has been hosting this event for well over twenty years, drawing fliers in from across the Midwest to compete in a thermal soaring contest over the two day weekend.  So you ask, what is thermal soaring?  Thermals are columns of rising, warmer air that develop s from uneven solar heating of the ground.  As the air above the ground is heated, it develops into bubbles which eventually break away from the ground and rise into the air.  Cumulus clouds are usually the visual cue of thermals as they form from the warmer, moist air rising to a height where it cools and matches the surrounding air temperature.  The moisture vapor carried aloft forms the cloud.  When you see hawks, eagles and turkey buzzards circling in the air, they are riding the column of rising air and climb to great heights before leaving the thermal to travel further on or go off to look for the next thermal.  When you see swallows buzzing around a field and circling in a small area, they are usually feeding on insects that are being pulled aloft by a bubble of warm air, making them easy prey for the swallows.  And sometimes you see “dust devils” which are small, powerful thermals well marked by the dust and debris that they pull off of the ground.  Free flight and radio controlled model sailplanes (no motors/props) make use of the same air that the birds use to prolong the time of the model’s flight. 

This year’s event had separate contests set for each day along with a trophy recognizing the best overall score for the full weekend.  Saturday’s contest had a target time of ten minutes (Sunday’s target time was twelve minutes) with a graduated landing tape (0 to 100 points), scoring being one point per second up to the target time and losing a point a second for going over ten minutes.  Groups of up to 5 fliers launched within seconds of each other so that they all flew in the same conditions with the best time/score being normalized to a 1000 points (plus landing points) and the other flier’s time/score being a percentage of the best time.     

Most sailplane models flown had wingspans anywhere from 3 to 4 meter (118-158”) and typically weighting in the range of 50 to 80 ounces.  Models come in two varieties – “RES” which is rudder, elevator and spoilers and “full house” which usually is rudder, elevator, ailerons and flaps.  Launching is done with a 12 volt battery operated winch which launches the model up to 500-600 feet from where the model goes out and looks for thermal lift.  

I have been building and flying R/C sailplanes for close to 30 years and have thoroughly enjoyed the journey.  To build then fly the model sailplane, finding the lift and then seeing the model sailplane climb in that lift is a truly satisfying accomplishment.    Whether sport flying or flying competitively, there is something for just about everyone to enjoy.
For more information on R/C Soaring, go to:
Mississippi Valley Soaring Association -
R/C Soaring Digest -
League of Silent Flight -
Getting Start in R/C Soaring -

Rich Rennecamp (St. Louis, MO) launches his Ava Pro RES model at the start of a round
Johnny Berlin (Effingham, IL) readying his Egida full house sailplane.  A fully molded composite model, the Egida represents the cutting edge in strength and flying efficiency of many of today’s R/C sailplanes 
Mike Johnson launching his molded Pike Perfect sailplane for another contest flight    
Gil Gauger of Vincennes, IN with his new Eagle 4 meter RES saiplane.  This model weighs less than 50 ounces ready to fly!

To fly the R/C sailplane, the flier uses a transmitter much like this one to signal and control the radio equipment in the model itself.  The two sticks move the various flying surfaces on the model and the various other switches on the transmitter are used to set up those flying surfaces and various ways of mixing them together to optimize the model for flying and landing.

A molded “full house” sailplane just seconds before reaching the landing tape
An Aspire milliseconds before reaching he landing tape
An Aspire sailplane silently coasting over the field prior to landing
An Aspire at altitude with a building thunderstorm as a backdrop 
Steve Goulet’s V-tailed Aspire at the moment of spearing the landing zone while his timer watches intently.  Note the flaps are down to slow the aircraft to a crawl for the final approach
Father & Son duo of Mark & Brendan Miller are both members of MVSA and are frequently sport and contest flying at the field
Marc Gellart of Lima, OH flies this beautiful 4 meter span Pike Perfection
Steve Goulet launching his Xplorer.  Note the winch at his feet, controlled by a foot pedal the flier uses to adjust the speed of the tow line being pulled onto the winch drum
An Aspire flown by Robert Samuels (St. Louis, MO) on finals
Karl Miller (Chicago, IL area) & Chris Lee from St. Louis share a few words on the way out to the flight line for a contest round.
An Ava Pro RES model silently flies over the field

A typical winch set up with a winch drum, 12 volt car start motor and 12 volt battery, along with a battery charger for keeping the battery topped off for the contest.  Just out of the photo is the foot pedal which the flier uses to control the motor which in turn controls the rate the winch line is pulled in.
Jim McCarthy (Chicago, IL area) intently guides his Aspire towards the 100 point end of the landing tape.  Jim won Sunday’s contest. 
A Supra passes overhead during a test flight prior to the start of the contest
Chris Lee (St. Louis, MO) used this multi-copter to take a group photo of the contestants for use on the weekend’s trophies
A V-tailed Explorer 4 meter model waiting for the day’s first flight
Marc Gellart (Lima, OH) making sure his model gets maximum landing points
Gil Gauger (Vincennes, IN) guides his Eagle 4M RES towards the landing tape
Chris Lee (St. Louis, MO) fully focused on achieving a high landing score.  Chris won the Saturday contest.
A Eagle RES floats over the field during the contest working to make the most of the light lift
A Soprano RES flown by Bob Gill (St. Louis, MO) circling low in lift over the field
Two sailplanes working the same thermal during a contest flight
Brendan Miller (St. Louis, MO) launching his full house Zenith
A Soprano RES in sunshine…

(Editor's Note: The Aero Experience thanks contributor Mark Nankivil for this primer on model sailplanes and coverage of the Gateway Soaring Open).

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