2016 Classic F3A Pattern ‘Back to the future’

Since the early 1960’s, F3A aerobatics has been seen as the pinnacle of radio control disciplines. From control using reed sets, through proportional radio, rate switches and finally to computer sets and 2.4GHz, the models have evolved into the high quality, factory produced items that retail for many hundreds, nay, thousands of pounds.

In the early days, pilots looking for the perfect aerobatic airframe, rolled their sleeves up, took up paper and pen and set to designing their own. After each World Championships, it was the winning design that saw itself as a plans introduction so that us mere mortals could try and emulate the performance of the Masters of the art of aerobatics. Foam wing and tail were available from a number of sources, and, armed with a load of balsa from the local model shop, we would enter the model workshop over the winter to produce next years competitive model (or two if you were really keen!).

Radio’s and engines were available to be purchased locally and so a year’s competitive flying could be obtained for a reasonable amount of investment. These days, airframes are produced by a few specialist manufacturers, predominantly in the Far East, with designs changing every two years or so to match the ever increasing complexities of the new schedules.  Added to that the cost of equipping these models with the latest servos, motors and battery packs (F3A is almost wholly electric these days), then the cost is ever mounting.

Over the past two seasons, Paul Bardoe has tried to resurrect the interest in vintage aerobatic models by the re-introduction of the Bullet and Tornado models from the ‘70’s. In addition, the Chevron has appeared as well. To reinforce this resurrection, three fly-in’s have been held, two at Sleap Airfield in Shropshire and one at Stow Maries in Essex. The popularity of these events has prompted the suggestion that the flying of this type of model should be put on a more formal platform as some have suggested some low-key competitions/fly-in in the near future.

What is the age of the designs?

Whilst discussing this on the Model Flying.co.uk forum, my proposals were for 1960’s, 1970’s and up to 1986. Although the later takes us into the realms of the early turnaround years, models at this stage were still (predominantly) powered by 60 size two strokes and models were own designs or built from plans.

For example, we have Steve Burgess’ Challenger design, destined for 61 two-stroke power, simple to build and not requiring a large estate car to transport it around. Steve’s example used a Super Tigre 61, an excellent example of the period in that a potential competition modeller could obtain one of these from their local model shop. The choice of servos allowed an equally economic choice. This is among a group of plans still available from the RCM&E plans range.

So there you have it, a highly competitive model that could be put together for a few hundred pounds and provide everything that a pilot needed to be successful providing that they had the skill.

Moving back into the seventies, some classic designs emerged during this period. Needing no introduction we have the Atlas and Arrow from the Wolfgang Matt stable, Super Sicroly and Curare from multiple World Champion, Hanno Prettner. All four of these again can be obtained in plan form from RCM&E.

The Curare must be the model that has been built the most from all the F3A models put together. The early eighties provided the potential builder the chance to put one together from a glass fus and foam wing package that was available from several modelling outlets at that time.

Bringing the design bang up to date we now have an artf version in original colour scheme that can be powered by both I.C. and electric. In fact, provision has been made to be able to swop over from one propulsion method to another due to the fact that the same mounting dimensions are used.

These are produced by Modellsport Schweighofer (www.der-schweighofer.at) and are available from SMC in the UK with a price tag of £281 plus carriage.

Other ARTF’s that are available are the Hangar 9 Pheonix 7 and the Great Planes Dirty Birdy, two more excellent models from the period.

Moving further back in time, we have the Kwik Fli series of designs from Phil Kraft, parallel chord wings and ‘box’ styled fuselage. The Slick Fli from the same designer offers a bit more of a building challenge but a more pleasing fuselage shape results. The Kwik Fli III is a another model available in an ARTF offering from Graupner this time. This era seems to offer the greatest variation in model design and visiting the site, www.trentonrcflyers.com will reveal a vast range of designs.

Roll your own?

The only problem with the ARTF approach is that builders would be denied the added advantage of producing their own airframe and having the pleasure and achievement of performing aerobatic manoeuvres with a model built with their own skills.

As with the Challenger, the F3A models of that period were of a fairly simple construction, particularly if constructed using foam wing and tail, which reduces a lot of the build. The main criteria with any model, not just an F3A type is to build it straight and, a common comment, add lightness.

Plans are available from a number of sources and in the form of PDF files of some designs on the internet. Take a look, see which design takes your fancy and lets start building again. Let’s face it, those of a certain age will be re-living times gone by and those new to building will experience what many of us love the whole hobby for. Most clubs have traditional builders who would be more than happy to help others develop their skills.

Powering up!

The advent of classic F3A flying has brought modellers delving into cupboards and drawers to bring back to life the engines of yesteryear in order to add even more realism to their classic models. This has lead to some inflated prices being seen in classified ads and the various auction sites around.

Although this may seem the way to go, the whole idea is to experience the models that flew, the way they are powered is flexible and offers economical approaches.

Many of the so-called ‘sport’ engines available today are more powerful than some of those that were available at the time. At one of the Sleap fly-ins I saw Jamie Cuff flying a Chevron, designed as a 61-powered model, performing a very impressive range of manoeuvres. On landing, I asked Jamie what engine he was using and it turned out to be one of the very popular OS 55 AX engines! More than enough power and just as in the period we are talking about, available in any model shop you would care to walk into. Full circle!

Those later models that utilised tuned pipe equipped engines can call on the use of engines that use ‘61’ size crankcases but have been bored out to ‘91’ size. This means that adequate performance can obtained, without re-course to a tuned pipe, using a standard exhaust and yet, by propping the engine correctly, achieve low noise levels. This has been proved very effectively by Eddy Scott, using an OS 91 FX, with standard silencer, in one of my Aztec designs. The design is capable of performing all normal manoeuvres within the F3A schedules without high noise levels. Those that have seen the model flying have been suitably impressed.

It seems funny to think back to when the OS 61 Hanno Special was the ‘to have’ engine and how we thought that the 16% nitro content fuel needed to bring the engine to life was ‘exotic’. It wasn’t long before four strokes came to the fore and 20 and 30% fuels were the norm.

In the early days, the cross flow heads were well down on power compared to even the cheapest ‘sport’ engines available today. That means that even the cost conscious modeller can enjoy taking part and have more than enough power to perform the schedules of the day.

Control system.

It would be idealistic to assume that radio sets from that era would be resurrected and used in these times of 2.4gHz and 35mHz. However, Stuart Foster came to the Festival of Flight event in 2012 with several models equipped with radio from the era but with one twist, they had been converted to 2.4gHz.

Slightly digressing from the topic of radio, I must make the point that Stuart had three models with him, an Astro Hog, a Mike Birch Moonglow and an American design called the Nimbus II (Tom Brett design). The finish on all three models was tissue, with the quality being top drawer.

With today’s models using servos costing over £100, it is refreshing to know that the models we are considering here are quite happy with the simplest of servos with ball bearing outputs. Indeed, it would be easy to kit out one of the models being considered here for the cost of just one servo in a modern day model!

Back to the future?

So where do we go from here? Over in the States, the Classic Pattern movement has grown steadily over the last few years and now enjoy several events each year. Through the Model Flying forum, interest has been shown from a number of flyers and with further exposure could grow into a very active group.

As such, the name of United Kingdom Classic Aerobatic Association has come about and a domain name has been sourced and donated by Martyn Kinder. Martyn has also produced a website (www.ukcaa.co.uk ).

It can be seen from the above that interesting times are ahead and can lead to a number of pilots, perhaps never considering flying away from their own field, partaking in enjoyable, low key competition or just demonstrating their aircraft from aerobatic days gone by. Give it some thought, get building and come and join in the fun!

Photo captions



Ex Nationals Champion and team member has come back to join in the fun of the classic aerobatic scene. Terry has produced this Upset II powered by a Merco 61, albeit, with a tuned pipe. Model is guided by his trusty JR 35 meg radio gear.





Scene of the pits area at the Bardney event held in August. Great group of blokes who gave us a very warm welcome. Models seen belong to Bob Cotsford, namely Marabu (Geizendanner), Tornado (Crescent) and King Altair. The latter being a very large model from the 60’s.




Models at the opposite end of the Bardney pits. From the left, Aztec (eighties theme model from EMP), Adagio and Pacemaker. The latter two were designed by multiple Nationals winner and team member, Ken Binks.




Line up of some of the models at Festival of flight. From the left, Aztec, Adagio, Pacemaker, Dirty Birdie, Bullet, Blue Angel and Curare.




Pilots with the models at Festival of Flight. In the middle, with the blue overalls on is Martin McIntosh, team member from the 1977 and 1979 World Championships.