World record – RC Glider Closed Course Distance


A 100’ high bluff on upper Newport Bay, CA was a popular RC glider slope soaring site during the 1960’s, until it was developed into apartment housing. America’s, and perhaps the world’s, first organization devoted to soaring radio controlled model gliders began there around 1962 after several years of the site’s growing popularity among RC glider modelers. The club was the Harbor Slope Soaring Society (HSSS). It is still in existence but most of the flying is now thermal flying and the word “slope” has been dropped from the name (HSS).

By the mid-sixties, with the growing popularity of RC gliding around the world, the international organization: Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) decided it was time to establish world record categories for radio controlled model gliders. One of the new categories created was “Closed Course Distance” where the total distance of a model flown repeatedly back and forth between pylons would be the record.

In early 1965 a member of the HSSS named Dale Willoughby announced, at a meeting, that he was going to set up a CCD record trials day on the Newport Back Bay bluff. A number of us in attendance at the meeting said we would join in and each one would attempt to set the record for himself. There would be an official judge there from the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and all necessary paperwork would be completed to make it an official record attempt. I think the AMA judge in attendance was John Worth, the director of the AMA at the time, but I can’t be sure of that from memory. John later became a bigger part of history when he built models of the Rogallo flex wing for Dr Francis Rogallo. The Rogallo type design would become the basis for the birth of the worldwide sport of hang gliding.

The day was May 8, 1965 and it dawned with the usual coastal low clouds which started clearing in mid-morning. There was very little wind against the cliff in the early morning but it gradually increased as the morning passed. I do not remember what time I launched my glider, which was a modified “Imperial 100” without the Wolf tips of the standard model. I also had added glide path spoilers and the directional control was by use of wing tip spoilers. Turbulator strips along the wing leading edge had mellowed out what had been a sharp stall characteristic of this model. I had built my own radio control with proportional 2 axis control and the transistorized transmitter (27 MHz) was using a vacuum tube as the final power stage. The size of the transmitter necessitated carrying the transmitter on my back with the control stick box hanging from my neck in front of my chest.

If I remember correctly, the pylons were set up 500 feet apart and a pylon judge at each end would press a buzzer button each time the model passed the pylon. The buzzer, connected by wires, would sound near the pilot. I also do not remember how many pilots were attempting the record that day but we managed to avoid collisions flying this tight course, however, all of us had experience flying together along this short bluff every weekend.

Most of the day was characterized by weak lift conditions and I would find myself flying my glider below the bluff at times and then gradually work my way back up above. One by one the other record contestants would not be able to sustain altitude and would land at the bottom, thus ending their record attempt, because a relaunch would not enable them to catch up to the time a glider still in the air had already accumulated. Eventually my glider was the only one left still flying the course. I think most everyone else’s strategy was to use one of their faster flying gliders so they could cover the course quickly. However, that limited their ability to soar in weak lift conditions. My big Imperial 100 just kept chugging along.

The interesting thing about this particular record attempt was that there was no existing record to beat. This would be the first one in the “book” so the first pass between the pylons would set the record. However, every one of us wanted to set the first record as high as we could.

In the late afternoon the wind started increasing and instead of scratching for lift, as I had to do many times during the day, I was finally flying comfortably well above the cliff top. In May the days are long, so I was thinking that I could get the first record well up there as long as my dry cell batteries held out. Then about 5PM I heard the official judge announce that he needed to pack up and leave because he needed to be somewhere else. Disappointed, I circled my glider back over the field and had to use my spoilers in order to get the glider down into the landing area, the lift was so good by then.

The world record I set that day was 70.1 km, about 43 ½ miles. The record stood for two years until another HSSS member, John Donelson, broke it using the same site. I was the right side pylon judge, pushing a buzzer button, as John worked to break my record.

I have not looked to see what the closed course distance record is now but I’ll bet it is way up there. With improvements in model building materials, electronics, and batteries the record is probably quite high now. But as a friend recently said: “There can only be one first time”.

Posing with my modified Imperial 100
Posing with my modified Imperial 100
Some of the “crew”.
Being congratulated after the record flight.
Checking my controls before the launch.
The buzzer system.
Here’s the proof!