An interview with the AMA Hall of Famer and RC legend.
Bob Aberle and I have exchanged hundreds of emails over the years. We have never met in person, though we both attended the historic last KRC Electric Fly in 1998. I have always found him to be very thoughtful, knowledgeable, and generous with his time. He cares deeply about model aviation, and it has been an honor to know him.
This is the first ever RCadvisor interview. I hope you like it. Would you make an interesting interview subject? Do you know somebody that would? Let me know!
Your AMA number is 215. So how does one go about getting a three digit AMA number?
My original AMA license number was 8409 and was issued to me in 1951 at age 13. That was essentially my starting point in the hobby. During the mid seventies I was asked to join the AMA RC Frequency Committee. At that time we had only 7 RC channels available to us, 6 on 72 MHz and 1 on 75 MHz. Things were getting very crowded and long waits to fly were common back in those days. The AMA, this committee, and a wonderful legal firm that we hired all went after the FCC to grant us more channels. Things went pretty slowly. Our committee chairman was a slow mover. We were getting no where. In 1980 AMA Executive Director John Worth, asked if I would take up the job of Chairman of the RC Frequency Committee. I spent the next three years going after the FCC. Finally in 1983 we were granted 50 RC channel for aircraft use on 72 MHz and 30 more channels for surface vehicles (cars and boats) on 75 MHz. For this effort the AMA bestowed upon me the award of AMA Fellow. Shortly after that I received the AMA Distinguished Service Award. Later I was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame (1998). Along the way I received the Howard McEntee Memorial Award, the Vintage RC Society Hall of Fame Award and the Frank and John Zaic Memorial Award.
At the time we were granted these new channels, John Worth told me that he was assigning me AMA license number 215 as a way of saying thank you for all of my efforts. I’ve always been very proud of that three digit license number. Believe me, many modelers take notice at the various fields I fly at when they see that number on my wings.
When did you start your Model Aviation Frequently Asked Questions column? How did that happen?
I actually started writing for Model Aviation around 2001. I had taken a year off from my 25 years with Flying Models after having heart by-pass surgery in 1999. Initially I did feature articles for Model Aviation for Aeromodeling Editor, Bob Hunt. One of my best early efforts was a ten part series called FROM THE GROUND UP. It reads like a book and was intended for the rank beginner in our hobby. That series is still available on the AMA website:
Around 2004, Bob Hunt suggested that I take that series a little further and create a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) column to appear monthly in Model Aviation. I’ve sequentially numbered every question and answer since the start. I’m currently up to FAQ-563. Very soon the new AMA Model Aviation Library system will be up and running. The date it will become operational is September 15, 2012. Any AMA member, using a password, will be able to access every one of my FAQ’s from day one.
This past year my FAQ column was cut-back to a bi-monthly format. Space had to be created for other material. So we monthly columnists had to be stretched out.
Any idea how many airplane plans of yours have been published over the years?
To date I have published 106 model aircraft designs. The first article, my Long Islander RC sailplane appeared in the December 1973 Flying Models. Over a 40 year period I probably have published several thousand pages of columns, digests, reviews, feature articles, and construction articles. It’s certainly a labor of love!
Tell us about your involvement with RC Micro Flight magazine. How do you see that publication changing in the future?
I originally participated with the Air Age publication called RC Microflight. It was a 16 page monthly newsletter. That lasted for about four years and then was canceled because the staff was too tied up with their other publications, like Model Airplane News, Flight Journal, and Electric Flyer.
Seeing the need to continue the Microflight theme, John Worth created his own publication, called RC Micro World which had its first issue in May 2005. The unique part of his publication is that it is a webzine. Subscribers receive a password when they pay for the subscription. Each month a new issue can be easily downloaded and filed away on your computer. Paper is not involved! Of my 106 published designs, 45 of them have appeared in RC Micro World. I continue till this day with monthly submittals. Seems hard to believe that in the course of a month I design, build, fly and write up an article for publication. That takes a lot of work!
With the passing of John Worth in October 2011, Roland Friestad took over as Editor of RC Micro World (RCMW). Over the past year he has merged RCMW with his Full Size Plans (FSP) business. He now offers combination deals that cover both RCMW and FSP. Roland’s e-mail address, should you want more info is: cardinal.eng at grics.net.
Roland is beginning to steer RCMW into a format more like Flying Models magazine. In other words, he is not going to limit himself just to micro/indoor aircraft. He expects to get into free- flight, control-line, sailplanes, park flyers and more.
Tell us something about you that most readers of Model Aviation do not know.
Well, I have held a general class HAM radio license since 1957. My call sign is W2QPP. For several years I pursued the HAM radio hobby quite actively. In fact I worked (talked to) 49 out of 50 states from my ten meter mobile ham radio system that I built myself.
Another little known fact is that I love golf. I can’t live in my basement shop forever! So at least once a week I play 18 holes of golf, almost all year long – weather permitting.
Any plans for retiring?
I’m 74 right now! The opportunities for publishing are far fewer today than ever before. Combined with that, our pay as authors has been greatly reduced. In fact, one publication no longer pays its authors at all. Construction articles are not needed as much because, sadly, today modelers want ready built or almost ready built aircraft. They no longer want to cut, sand, and cement balsa wood. I’ll keep going–a while longer. But not until I die!
Where do you see AMA’s future? What are the most serious challenges that it faces?
The AMA has a serious problem of late because of the way the FAA perceives our model aircraft flying. Military UAV type aircraft is concerning many in government circles because RC model aircraft could be used for observation (spy) purposes or might even be capable of carrying weaponry of some form. Legislation is still pending that might curtail some of our flying activities. The AMA is our contact with the government (FAA and Homeland Security). This issue is far from being settled and may take several more years before it is all sorted out. One thing that bothers me is the popularity of the new First Person View (FPV) systems. This is where you have a TV camera on-board that allows the RC pilot to control his model aircraft beyond the normal line of sight. This may prove a sore point with our government officials.
What changes do you see coming down the road to the hobby?
I unfortunately see more and more hobby enthusiasts going to almost ready built or ready built aircraft. Doing this then requires only pilot skills, not traditional building skills. That to me was always as important as flying. The accomplishment of designing your own plane, building it and then flying it, made it all worthwhile. I see that happening less and less and I find that upsetting. But I still look forward to new technology improvements in our hobby. We never thought a few years ago about brushless electric motors, Li-Poly batteries, and 2.4 GHz spread spectrum radios. The world doesn’t stand still. So maybe there will be more new technology appearing in our hobby that will keep model aviation still as a popular hobby.
What projects do you have in the works that you can talk about? Is another book or CD in the pipeline?
No, I don’t feel like I have another book really left in me. Roland Friestad (RCMW Editor) has indicated that he wants to put all 45 of my micro designs that have appeared in RCMW on a single CD. It would include all the text, photos and plans for each plane. He has asked me to write a “preamble” for each design. He also plans on including a copy of my book titled The World of Indoor/Micro Radio Controlled Aircraft on this same disc. I hope he produces this CD or DVD.
What’s your favorite model airplane to fly right now? Why?
My favorite is still my 600 square inch Playboy Senior that I won in my only first place at the 1996 AMA E-NATS in Muncie, Indiana. After all the years I flew in AMA Nationals, it was the only time I got a first place. I still fly that plane with an Astro Flight FAI Cobalt-05 motor. I do that several times a year and always at our annual NEAT Fair.
You seen to like small RC electrics a great deal. Why is that? Any other types of models that interest you?
In all honesty, designing and building the micro planes can get a little boring after a while. I do on occasion like to fly larger, faster and heavier aircraft. But since I make a living out of my design work, I have to produce what people are willing to pay for. But yes, I would like to try some different types of aircraft if offered the chance. However, they will always be electric powered. I will never go back to fuel!