Aeromodelling in North Derbyshire by Alf Tunnicliffe

As the founder member of the current Blue Sky Aeromodelling Club, I would like to record a few of the highlights and events which spring to mind and have enjoyed with friends of common interest.

The seeds are sown…
My interest in model aircraft was kindled when my father treated me to a ready-made small glider for Christmas 1946. After a slow start my interest developed consistent with my pocket-money resulting in the purchase of a Veron Glider, an ED Bee 1.0cc engine and a bottle of Mercury fuel – 7/6d. (Now for those of you who do not remember pre decimal days, 7 shillings and sixpence is equivalent to 37p, but allowing for inflation, would today be around £7.50! )

At this time, I became aware of an aeromodelling club flying on Hednesford Hills (Staffs) so I joined them as a very junior member with a SMAE membership number thus introducing me to the what is now the BMFA. I could now fly, fully insured, with the Outlaws MAC on a learning curve for the future knowledge of the intricacies of construction and the characteristics of basic aerodynamics.

And so I left school to become an apprentice to the English Electric Company in Stafford as a candidate for the post of a purchasing manager. As an apprentice you were expected to do at least three nights per week on commercial and technical electrical engineering subjects whilst working a 40-hour week for an initial pay of ten shillings and sixpence, (52p or around £10.50 in today’s money!).

All went well as I always managed to find time for flying, however Her Majesty sent me a very personal letter in 1956 suggesting I present myself to Cardington for a two-year stint to protect the overseas interests of our great country…2 years in Cyprus followed!

And so aeromodelling becomes a real hobby…
When my apprenticeship was over, I became an assistant purchasing officer responsible for the overseeing of group purchases of insulating materials like glass cloth, plastics and resins, mica and various insulating products used in production of turbogenerators, milI motors, switchgear. Eventually EE Co was taken over by GEC which was the cue for me to become self-employed sewing technical thermal electric products for aviation and other industrial outlets.

Now we come to the aeromodelling bit……after moving to North Derbyshire and establishing my factory I thought it was about time I got to my love of flying as a relaxation from industrial strife….so a workshop was duly installed down my garden and stocked up with balsa, tissue, dope, glue, wire etc.

This is where I made my first model control-liner which attracted the interest of a local modeller who was ‘resting’ but willing to join me after hearing the unmistakable sound of a 2.5 cc PAW diesel engine.

The first club is formed…
Together we thought it would be a good idea if we could start a club in our area, so an advert was duly placed in the Derbyshire Times advertising a meeting venue and date. The result was astounding as 12 keen bods showed up for a discussion shortly afterwards. A subsequent advert attracted over 50 potential members, so a club was formed, rules sorted, and the club was named Morton and District Model Club.

Initial flying was carried out on Morton Sports field which proved to be rather small and close to houses, so a search for suitable sites in this area was instigated at Clay Cross, Pilsley, Tibshelf and Tupton. Trial flying was carried out to sort out the best.

It was then time to consult the local council planning dept for approval. Several applications were made, all of which were unceremoniously turned down for reasons we could not understand as we were most emphatic that the question of noise be uppermost in our operation.

As we changed our potential sites, we changed the club titles (TADMAC) to no avail. On one occasion council representatives were invited to bring along their noise measuring equipment which was duly set up and would not work….we politely told them it would work better if they inserted batteries and would they like to borrow our kit for the test! The results were acceptable, but it made no difference as the complainant involved objected to our presence as their mother was ill and they wanted peace and quiet. (They lived on the main road!!)

Displaying our skills…
ln the true spirit of a club we were often engaged in public displays to fundraise for ourselves or to support other events. This was good publicity not only for our club but the BMFA and the sport itself.

Some displays were quite small, but we were honoured on one occasion to fly on Queens Park National Cricket Field in front of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. This was in aid of Chesterfield Nurses and we provided an inaugural flight of a four engined diesel powered 60 inch Lancaster control-line model with radio operated throttles and operating bomb doors. I can tell you this flight was a knee trembler to get it down safely in one piece.

At this time, we collectively got together to manufacture a total of 12 large control-line stunters operating in combat mode, (streamer cutting), which proved most popular. We were lucky in having in our midst a helicopter pilot who, in addition to providing this service for displays, flew his own personal full size aircraft, (a Piper Cub), landing and taking off from a football field…seriously impressive.

A shocking display…
Whilst flying a combat display just outside Matlock another member and myself were happily doing our stuff when we both received a very serious jolt of electricity down our steel line. He looked at me and I looked at him and immediately decided to ditch the planes and scoot for cover in case any more lightning was next in line….our drinking arms suffered some tingling for some time thereafter!

When the local people of North Derbyshire became acquainted with the model aircraft displays we could put on the extra activity caused us a problem with logistics i.e. how to get to the venue with a stack of tackle.

We duly took possession of an 8ft x 6ft trailer chassis complete with tow bar (ball and socket). On to this we built a suitable steel box section structure over 8ft tall with polycarbonate glazing on three sides to provide transport for our display models, and a health and safety package just in case.

This was a godsend providing an on-site control tower with good vision and containing a 24 volt DC amplifier and loudspeakers to broadcast to all involved what was going on, and the technical information for the public as to the pilot, the aircraft and the proposed display.

This proved an excellent addition to our safety when dealing with the public. After the event, all the display models were stored in the mobile tower ready for next time thus absolving all members from carting stuff all round the county. It was most handy that my factory had a suitable car park for the construction of this project thus saving members from unnecessary grief to get it to our venues.

Problems with the neighbours…
The field at Lower Pilsley was in excellent condition with two runways and a control-line circle in use on one Sunday afternoon. Members were just having a break from flying when an individual strode up to our field boundary fence and balled out “which of you idiots keeps flying over my house ????”

Knowing that he lived over a mile from our strip we put on the puzzled and perplexed expression which we have found useful on such occasions. Now we had, within our midst, a farmer member who was a mild mannered person who worked the land in our immediate area.

This was too much for him so, with a face suffused with rage, he proceeded to prod the chest of this complainant with a not inconsiderable rigidity of the forefinger with the comment “When you next come up to see us you had better be in possession of £17.50 in consideration of a cow not paid for to my father in 1953 – so sod off until you can do this whereupon we will listen to you.”

Our farmer member was immediately presented with the Guinness Tin of Honour for Bravery with full acclaim of all members in the light of the fact that he defended the honour and integrity of our club for all time. We heard nothing further from this episode.

We learn about material properties…
And so, as already explained, we were in great demand for flying displays in a variety of venues, some good, some difficult. On one particular occasion the day was hot with the C/L team doing their bit using our club models powered with Fox 35’s and Fox 40 glow motors.

Suddenly, an engine note changed, followed rather abruptly with the arrival of a propeller blade which bounced off the front window of our control tower. This was quickly followed up by the other half of the prop which disappeared into the blue for ever. This resulted in the engine in question, relieved of its loading, proceeding to escalate its RPM to a screaming level which would inevitably result in the engine disintegrating and turning into shrapnel.

With great presence of mind the pilot stuffed the aircraft nose into the turf which did the job.

As with all accidents we duly investigated this unusual occurrence to find out that the high ambient temperatures had changed the elasticity of the nylon propeller so reducing the tensile strength and allowing elongation of the blade due to torque.

Thereafter all our models were fitted with new glass fibre reinforced props with no further trouble. Safety at all times has always been paramount, be it mechanical or electrical, to prevent disasters as in full-size aviation. No-one envies the duties of a club secretary having to present an accident report , with consequences, to BMFA and the investigation to follow.

Never work with children …
We had been asked to fly at a venue in Bolsover when I opted to fly a scale Mick Reeves Spitfire Mark 9 – well made and decorated with a fixed undercarriage for control-line work. A 10cc engine provided the grunt. I flew this on 70ft lines with some success as you cannot do rolls with a control-liner.

Half way through my display I was astounded to feel my trouser leg being pulled by what turned out to be a very small toddler gurgling with delight. In total shock I called to team members to remove this toddler pronto as he/she had crept into my circle without coming into my range of vision.

As I had a fixed throttle I flew a high circuit to enable retrieval of the little beast and subsequently landed in the normal way.

Fortunately all went well with the toddler being returned to its parents who then went on to blame us for the risk when they were not in a position to restrain this child. It took me some time to restrain myself from giving this couple a few home truths!

or animals…
The day was perfect, little wind, blue sky and the prospect of a well attended display and local event.
I had arrived in the flying area and was in the process of unloading my models, when David, a very keen modeller whose day job was teaching metalwork at a local college, drew up to park a short distance away.

‘Hi Alf!’ he said, dismounting from his car and at the same time releasing his sheepdog pet from the back seat. Immediately the dog saw me from about 10 yards away, it inflated itself by a factor of 2 and proceeded to launch itself in my direction at something just short of supersonic. It’s eyes were wild and it’s teeth well bared for action. This is not normal I thought, as this beast attached itself with much growling and shaking to my right trouser leg.

My initial reaction was to go into my highland fling mode in an effort to dislodge this animal using the prospect of using centrifugal force to lift it off the ground to reduce traction. Eventually, after several revolutions, David managed to grab his normally docile family pet and retired to lock it in his car.

David was mortified at this public (hilarious ?) event and was full of apologies having examined the now tatty state of my trousers.

Now on this occasion I had travelled to this venue still clad in my white cow gown overall as the pockets were useful in holding oily rags and bits of models. After a moment’s thought David said “l’ve got it! An hour ago I had taken my dog for it’s annual jabs at the vets in Clay Cross and guess what – the vet wore a white overall similar to yours.”

This was obviously a situation which called for doggie revenge as it put 2 and 2 together assuming it was due for another unpleasant jabbing session to be endured. All became clear and no blood was drawn as what David and the dog did not know was that my right leg is totally encased in a hard plastic orthopaedic support from knee to toes and is virtually bullet proof.

David and I then proceeded to shake hands and adjourn later that day to consume the required amount of alcoholic medicine consistent with the day’s activities.

Flying with the Red Arrows…
We had been requested to provide a Saturday model aircraft display at Belper, a rather pretty River Derwent valley site, in aid of local funds.

The day chosen was glorious – warm, with little wind, and a blue sky dotted with small fluffy white clouds.

We were well into our afternoon schedule with a couple of trainers in the air doing circuits and mild aerobatics at about 150 feet or so when we were rudely interrupted by a massive wall of sound and fleeting shadows immediately above us.

We had been ‘invaded’ by a full complement of the “Red Arrows” display team flying in from the south, in line abreast, extremely fast and low, obviously enjoying themselves with navigational and low flying training whilst in transit to either home or their next venue.

Our two pilots, now ashen faced, did a prompt landing to a tumultuous applause and cheering from the crowd, who, it transpired, thought that this event was part of our display and was very much appreciated by all and sundry who were bought up to the sound of Jet Provosts from Cranwell.

Modesty ensured that we did not let on with the truth so we finished the day covered in glory, respect and good publicity.

So we can truly say that on this day we flew with the Red Arrows (not many can say that !!!!)

Pride comes before…
Finally, I must record a hilarious episode at our flying field at Lower Pilsley. One particular member was always accompanied by his father who, on a Sunday afternoon, had absorbed more than his fair share of alcohol then insisted that his son was the best flyer in the club. On this particular day father was doing his bit whilst son proceeded to fly an inverted pass down the runway.

At this point the battery hatch detached and ejected the R/C power pack outside the model which was now upside down – with the prospect of everything going dead…. an inverted landing resulted with red faces all round…… pride cometh before a fall!!

And so on to the present…
Over the years technology, particularly in the realms of electronics, has blossomed with the sophistication of transmitters, receivers, batteries and sophisticated models such as the current drones with cameras and complicated navigation programme.

Blue Sky Aeromodellers, through their own efforts, currently enjoy the choice of three well-maintained flying sites – luxury indeed but is lot of work in the mowing dept.

When the weather is inclement indoor flying is available and is very well supported for this most delicate of models.

Blue Sky members have been over the years been the bedrock of membership of the Midland Area Committee of the BMFA participating in the formation of new rules and distribution of national information from the BMFA and FAl. We were also instrumental in the running of the Midland Area Festival of Flight held every year until recently at RAF Barkston Heath airfield until approval was withdrawn.

From its initial formation starting with Morton and District Model Club this club has been responsible for spawning many new clubs in Derbyshire as members decided that they could function closer to home. A selection just for the record…Alport MAC, Darley Moor MAC, Derbyshire MFC, Ashbourne, Heanor MFC, Leafields MAC, Mansfield & District MAC, Windy Ridge Helicopter Club, Sutton MAC and other Country Members .

Anyone wishing to take up this sport can initially contact the British Model Flying Association, Chacksfield House, 31 St Andrews Road, Leicester LE2 8RE (Tel 0116 2440028) or online at

I hope this article will be of interest in general but with particular as a historical record when being interviewed for the Bolsover Council programme.

Alf Tunnicliffe, Founder.