Monday, December 04, 2006

Don't Waste Your Time Reading This Post. It's Way Too Long And There Isn't Anything Worthwhile In It Anyway.

The man regarded by many to be the greatest fighter pilot ever to roam the skies was born in Kleinburg, Germany on the 2nd of May, 1892. The son of a soldier, he was groomed from an early age in preparation for a life of military service. At the age of 11, he entered the Cadet Corps. in Wahlstatt, but soon found that he had a certain distaste for the rigorous daily routine and strict discipline of military school. He excelled at sports and all feats of balance and physical prowess that he attempted however, and soon earned himself a reputation for being quite reckless due to the constant stunts he was known for pulling.

Revered by his friends for every sort of daredevil escapade imaginable, an important quality for anyone destined to pilot one of the stick and tissue paper flying machines of his era, our future aviator entered the Armed Service in 1911, although not yet as a pilot. Serving first as a Cavalry soldier, and becoming an officer only a year later.

When World War I broke out, our subject was still busy playing horsey, but the disease had began to take hold. For every time young Manfred heard the drone of an "aeroplane" passing overhead, he was overcome with excitement. At this point however, our young friend doesn't even know how to tell the difference between a German aircraft and one possessed by the enemy, let alone how to fly one. Later he would discover that German planes were marked with a cross, and enemy planes with a circle, or Roundel. An important discovery for sure, for soon he'd need to know that information in order to not be a secret weapon for the enemy.

Eventually ending up in the trenches of France, Manfred soon became bored by the endless days of just sitting around waiting for nothing to happen. When sneaking off hunting wild boar lost its appeal, he sent a strongly worded letter to the Commanding General saying that his talents were being wasted, and that he wished to be reassigned to a post with a little more action. In May of 1915, his wish was granted.

The very next day, he'd take his first ride in one of the glorious flying machines he'd been watching as they droned overhead, and from that first terrifying and rather disorienting flight, he knew that his destiny was forevermore to be controlled by stick and rudder. Serving for a time as an observer and navigator on reconnaissance planes, and later as a gunner on one of the larger twin engine battle planes which he affectionately called "The Apple Barge". Manfred had many close encounters with death, but still no taste of what it felt like to man the controls of one of the beasts. Fearing that the war would be over by the time he'd completed his requisite 3 months of training to become a pilot, he was content to continue his current assignment of a Cavalryman observer, attached to the Flying Service.

On October 15th, of 1915, that was all to change however. Upon meeting a rather insignificant looking Lieutenant named Boelcke on a train, Manfred struck up a conversation and soon learned that the man was a fighter pilot. A fighter back then, to a German such as Manfred anyway, was a Fokker, and although primitive by modern standards it was a far cry up the performance and agility ladders from the Apple Crate who's guns he had been manning. From that moment on, he was determined to make pilot, and take command of a Fokker of his own. After only 25 training flights, was ready for his first solo venture into the wild blue yonder. As it turns out, he was indeed ready for that first solo flight, and make that flight he did . . . . . it was the landing that didn't turn out so hot. 2 days later, with passionate resolve and a different airplane, Manfred completed that solo flight and started on his way to being one of the world's most famous legends of aviation.

He managed his first kill on the 26th of April, 1916. A French Nieuport biplane fell victim to the haphazard machine gun that he'd fastened to his two seat training plane, he had not yet acquired for himself his beloved Fokker but he hadn't long to wait. Soon after the news of his prowess in shooting down the Nieuport, he and a friend were given the priveledge of sharing one of the greatest technological marvels of the time, the venerable Fokker DR I Triplane.

With a top speed of 115 MPH, and a climb rate unlike anything else of its time, it could easily outrun or outclimb any opponent likely to be encountered. By using three wings as opposed to the customary two of the era, the wingspan could be shortened thus increasing the roll rate. Aircraft of this time period were definitely not strong enough to withstand very hair raising aerobatics, but the increased roll rate translated into the ability to turn, and just as importantly, stop turning much faster than the French, American, and English planes that it was designed to pursue. This would prove to be one of Manfred's favorite maneuvers in combat. When he would get an enemy plane on his tail, he'd pull his Fokker into an ever tightening circle in which his opponent could do nothing but follow him in a two airplane dance to the death. Neither could fire at the other since there was no way to get on target while turning so tightly, but when his enemy's craft would attain too high of a G loading, it would snap stall, stumbling and falling out of the sharp turn floundering for airspeed and the precious control that it would bring. The speed at which the controls would again become effective was seldom attained by enemies of this pilot however, since as soon as the enemy craft bagan to falter, Manfred would then simply whirl his more agile Fokker around and send the unlucky chap to his maker.

When his friend, who flew the Fokker in the afternoons as opposed to Manfred's morning shift, managed to get shot down in it over enemy territory, Manfred was issued a Fokker of his own. "It climbed like a monkey, and maneuvered like the devil" he was quoted as saying about the three winged aviation legend. The third time he flew it however, the finicky old Oberursel engine, (a notoriously unreliable German copy of the French made, rotating cylinder LeRhone) which had so amazed him upon his first sight of one, sputtered and died immediately after takeoff, forcing him to set down in a field. The resulting forced landing was a far cry from graceful, and although he survived mostly unscathed, his beloved Fokker was basically reduced to so much rubble.

He'd get another however, several more actually, until he found himself in the one that even those with no penchant for aviation whatsoever could likely pick out of a crowd, or at least they could if it still existed. The one painted bright red, as if to mock the inaptitude of the enemy airmen who went skyward attempting to hide in camouflaged planes with the 80 previous victories of Manfred remembered, and an insatiable thirst for his blood in revenge for their fallen comrades.

80 victories. This was by far the most enemy planes shot down by any single fighter pilot, before or since.

CORRECTION: As Jay Stevens has pointed out, this statement is not true. While Manfred did indeed shoot down more enemy planes than any pilot before him, his record has since been beaten, although not during the 1st World War. In WWII however, Erich Hartmann of the German Luftwaffe, was credited with shooting down 352 planes from the cockpit of his Messerschmidt Bf109-G6 fighter while flying on the Soviet front. Thanks for the clarification Jay, and I apologize for the misstatement.

On the fateful Sunday morning of April 21, 1918, Manfred's aerial reign of terror was finally ended. As he pursued a British pilot by the name of Wilfrid May, fellow Brit Roy Brown spied an opportunity while Manfred was thus engaged and took it. When the guns of Brown's trusty Sopwith Camel finished hurling lead at the unsuspecting German airman, Manfred reached the end of his reign over the skies of Europe in a trail of smoke, and a ball of fire. Stories would be told and embellished. A legend would grow. Songs would be written about him, and various things related and grossly unrelated would be named after him, but Manfred Von Richthofen . . . . . AKA: The Red Baron, would fly no more.

What the hell is the significance of all this rubbish you ask? Just hang on a minute, keep reading, and I promise that it'll all make sense soon enough.

Now let's jump ahead a few years to 1967. It was in this year that one particularly ingenious fellow, one who's invention I'm quite fond of actually, managed to invent the world's first fully proportional radio control equipment. His name was Phil Kraft, and to this day antique Kraft radios still circulate around in estate sales and online auctions, many of them still functional although I doubt that anyone accustomed to the fineries of modern equipment would want them for anything other than a conversation piece. Nostalgia just ain't what it used to be after all.

Now Mr. Kraft needed a model in which to test his new invention, but rather than convert one of the existing free flight or control line offerings of the time which would've been far too heavy after adding the necessary equipment which at that point in history was about as light as a featherweight shot put and comparable in size, he decided to design his own so that he could keep the weight to an absolute minimum. What he came up with, was a simple wing and square fuselage affair with rounded tail surfaces designed more for gentle but somewhat spirited flight characteristics over anything else.

Although it was never really designed as such, it loosely resembled a Fokker Eindecker, an early German monoplane.

Since it was regarded by many to be quite ugly, and since it was made out of sticks, and since it basically resembled a stick, the name Ugly Stick, or Das Ugly Stick to pay homage to its WW I German visual cues, was born.

As RC equipment advanced by leaps and bounds over the coming years, and modelers began demanding more and more aerobatic performance out of their planes, the original Ugly Stick design was changed a little here and there, but still remained true to its "simple yet effective" roots, and amazingly enough they still remained . . . . period. The plane was designed strictly for its flight characteristics, not to look like any particular aircraft, but since the plane did indeed loosely resemble the aforementioned Fokker Eindecker, it was only a matter of time until one was covered in a loose translation of the final color scheme favored by the infamous Red Baron: Mostly red, with white stripes trimmed in black from the leading to the trailing edge of the wing, adorned by black crosses.

At that point, a monster was born.

Offered as kits and ARFs by several manufacturers over the years, Sticks as they've come to be called are still sold in a multitude of versions, as are plans for the modelers that prefer to build their planes from scratch. Sticks, Ugly Sticks, Das Ugly Sticks, Das Plas Sticks, Big Sticks, Giant Sticks, Ultra Sticks, Mini Ultra Sticks, plus a multitude of copies by other names altogether flooded the market for decades, and they still do to this day. Famous for their predictable flight characteristics and moderate aerobatic ability, hardly a modeler out there hasn't owned at least one stick in his life or a variant thereof.

Many RC pilots, myself included, regard them as an excellent 2nd plane after an aspiring pilot has become proficient with a basic trainer. With a little aptitude, and some help from an experienced pilot, I see no reason why a lot of beginners couldn't skip the first step and just start out with a Stick and spare themselves the agony of getting bored with a trainer and not having the money or time to move up to something more advanced and capable right away. They fly a little faster than the average trainer, but nothing that shouldn't be manageable with a little experience on a modern simulator and some back up by someone with some know how on the other end of a trainer cord. The part that's still somewhat endured in spite of all of the various variants however?

The Red Baron's color scheme.

Now I'll finally get to the point of this not so little history lesson. I proudly present my homage not only to Herr Von Richthofen, but also to one of the most fun and versatile RC models ever conceived: The Ugly Stick. I pay this tribute with another one of the most fun and versatile RC models ever conceived: The Mugi Evo. Believe me, it took far longer to lay out this color scheme than it did for you to read this post. The 3600 rpm/volt brushless motor strapped to the back of this bad boy says that not only does it look better than my last one, it'll haul ass like a fresh fucked fox in a forest fire. I'd be extremely happy to match the top speed of the Fokker DR I from which its color scheme was pilfered. 115 MPH? Not likely, but as soon as the weather allows, we'll find out. Long live the Baron.

There, now aren't you glad you spent all that time reading this?


JC Williams said...

Great post Justin and here is a great song to go along with it.

Justin said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! That's the best video I've seen on youtube yet, thanks a truckload for that one JC. I've seen the plans for the Snoopy's Flying Doghouse before, and I've seen pictures of the finished product, but that's the first time I've seen one fly. I've seen the flying lawnmowers before, but the doghouse always eluded me. That Fokker was mighty nice as well, that's one of my "someday" planes, LOL. There's a company called Polk Hobbies that makes a really nice DR I electric park flyer with about a 30 inch span, and Abell Hobby had one in stock a while back. I know of another guy that's in the process of putting one together right now though so I'm waiting until I see how his flies before I lay down the cash. Besides, my hobby budget is sort of tapped out right now, I seem to have fallen in love with something that a friend told me about on ebay last night . . . and . . . well . . . . it's on its way here from California right now to the tune of about 200 samolians. If I buy about one more flying thing before Christmas, I'm likely to need a real airplane to escape the wrath of the Mrs. ;)

Moogs said...

Very very cool colour scheme - and now in the gallery over at Mugi.
Music to play loud? no Rammstein?
would be my favourite of theirs... though not generally with FPS footage.

Justin said...

Howdy moogs, the guest of honor has arrived! I was a little surprised that there wasn't any Rammstein myself, it didn't fit into my top 10 but it's right up there. I figured somebody would pick it though. Glad you like the Fokker Mugi, or Evo Stik, or whatever the heck I end up calling it, LOL. I just can't wait to see how it flies!

Cricket said...

WOW!! That turned out awesome!! I had advanced notification of the color scheme, but had a hard time envisioning it. You out did yourself this time :-)
The history lesson was a definite added bonus. (even for the "closet" aviation entheusiast...shh don't tell! I wouldn't want the hubby to fret about another "hobby" envaded by me!!

cricket said...


Justin said...

I wouldn't worry about invading his hobby Cricket, it'd just make the two of you have one more thing in common, and that's seldom if ever a bad thing. Thanks for the compliment on the color scheme, and I'll have to chastise your hubby for blowing the secret when I see him, LOL. He's got a couple of really cool ideas himself, that is if he ever gets around to building one, LOL.

I've got a spare one put together right now if he's interested . . . ;)

Jay Stevens said...

Not to be a stickler for detail, but the Red Baron with 80 kills was not the top ace of all time. That honor belongs to Erich Hartmann who shot down 352 planes during WWII...

Justin said...

Well Jay . . . . I guess I stand corrected. Just one more example of proof as to why people should not believe everything they read . . . . and definitely not repeat it, LOL. ;)

JC Williams said...


I have to disagree with both of you on who was the greatest fighter pilot of all time, my vote goes to Snoopy, anyone who can shoot down a fighter pilot like the Red Baron while in a flying dog house has to be the greatest, even if he did have only one kill and never reached the status of ACE.

Justin said...

Well yeah, but Snoopy was flying against an outdated old Fokker, and that dog house is pretty agile! I think Snoopy needs a Mugi Evo, that way he could give an F22 Raptor a run for its money. ;)