Lady "B" goes to Spain.  How to take an RC model aircraft on holiday abroad.

With the arrival on the market of safe, reliable and powerful electrical systems with which to fly our radio controlled model aircraft, it has opened up a whole realm of possabilities for the avid modeller to be able take a model of a reasonable size away on holiday to just about anywhere. With cheap flights to all sorts of places, many people will be flying away for their summer holdays this year. Many will take thier golf clubs, their ski's or even thier bicycles, so why not take an electric RC model aircraft? I decided to do just that, but before I did, there were a host of questions that needed to be answered, perhaps my little story can help make it easier for someone else.......

It was a dark and cold early February evening, the ceaseless easterly wind continued to chill us to the bone, the temperature had barley risen above zero for days!  I had only returned to England 2 years ago after 23 years in New Zealand so as I was flicking through the pages of recent modelling mag that evening, I took particular interest in an article and plan feature about a fellow modeller who had designed and built an electric fun fly style model especially to take on holiday there. The plan featured one of the new Axi brushless outrunners, a 2808/24 and as it happened I had recently purchased the very same for another park flyer, so I decided to build this one too. Being a relatively simple design, it was quickly completed and the following weekend with a break in the weather I was able to fly it briefly......

But the wind and the snow soon returned and summer seemed a very long way off! As I watched our trees vigorously gyrating in the ceaseless freezing gale, I had the crazy idea to revisit New Zealand myself, I don't exactly know if this was sparked by my craving for some sunshine and warmth, or the fact that I now had a model that potentially could come along too, I do suspect that had a bit to do with it! I also know autumn in New Zealand is generally perfect for flying, so it wasn't long before I found myself surfing through the bargain flight websites on the internet with the view to a month away downunder.

I had seen flights advertised for what I considered "reasonable" prices, however it soon became clear that when you actually try to book them, the cost escalates at an alarming rate, for me the whole idea very quickly became cost prohibitive! But having now aroused both mine an my partners desire for a holiday with some sunshine and warmth, I turned my attention to a short break in Spain in March instead. Before I knew it we had booked return flights from Bristol to Valencia for less than 40 quid each and we were going on holiday in just 20 days time!

Somewhere in all the excitement I had almost completely forgotten about taking the model too, but then why not? Parts of Spain in March can be more like England in late May or June, so the idea of taking a model along suddenly didn't seem so ridiculous, especially as all I would need to take with me to fly would be the model, the tranny and the chargers. I didn't particularly want to have to build a large box for it though, so I went upstairs and searched for our biggest suitcase fully expecting my new model to fit snugly inside. It was however obvious as soon as the model was placed beside the suitcase that it wasn't going to fit inside at all, so if there wasn't going to be a box, I had to think of another way to take it....

Opps - it don't fit!

The suitcase is just over 30" long, the little model has a span of 36",  so I could have built a new wing for it in two sections and  joined it in the centre. Then I thought that if I have to build another wing, why not design a new slightly larger model that could be taken appart especially to fit inside the case! I picked up a piece of paper and began sketching some ideas. I began with the basic wing panel of the fun fly model, added wing tips and a centre section to increase the span and before bedtime she had changed from a high wing fun fly to a low wing semi scale homebuilt style aircraft, into which I had added the curves and features from some of my favourite aircraft. I decided to call her the "Lady B" as I had once manufactured kits in NZ and had designed a model of the same name. To fit the suitcase the fuselage could be up to 30" long, plus a detachable tail plane and fin. Also the wing centre section could be detatched and have plug in wings adding up to a span of 44"! All I had to do now was persuade my partner that I wasn't going to spend the entire time flying, then build her - with 19 days to go!                                                                                                           .

The idea takes shape

The A4 drawing from which she was built


The next morning I drew a 1/5th scale plan of my "intended" on a piece of A4 paper and when I was fully satisfied I had all the proportions right, I scanned it into the computer and began printing it out at 500%. Within the hour I had assembled, trimmed and glued the resulting pages into a full size plan. A few more hours of thinking about how to do this and that and filling in the details with a pencil, by early afternoon I had completed the plan as well as a list of parts, balsa wood ect and was off to my local model shop to get it all.

We run a small B&B guesthouse at the farm in Devon which is just south of Exmoor, as well I still run websites for the town where I used to live in New Zealand, so at this point in the year my time is not terribly consumed by those and I must admit I did rather give this project my full attention for a week. By the following Tuesday lunchtime having had a few late nights, the model was ready for her test flight. I do have the absolute luxury of a private flying strip at the farm, so on this bright calm winters day, all I had to do was wait for the snow on the runway to melt and pray the wind held off before I could test fly her.

Just prior to her first flight - waiting for the snow to melt!

By mid-day the patch was clear enough for a take off, so we wandered down to the strip for the test flight. I was very pleased that she flew beautifully with no major adjustments or vices, especially notable was how she floated in for landing and settled perfectly on the ground everytime. OK it was on! Lady B was going to Spain! I spent the rest of the day and evening adding a windscreen and some cockpit detail, also I wanted Lady B to have a "personality". I had for some months envisaged a model with blonde "pilot-ess", whose hair would flow behind her in the wind. This is another story really, but briefly as well as my model aircraft flying weekends, my partner runs needlework and craft retreats at the farm and had recently shown me some soy fibre which has an incredibly fine texture as well as the appearance of blonde coloured hair, so this was the inspiration. I had never tried to carve anything like this before, but I whittled away at a stick of 1" square balsa for the rest of the evening and I must say I was rather pleased with the final result.

M-lady at the controls of her new aircraft - The windscreen frame is made from tomato puree tube.

With the model completed, the next set of questions arose, how indeed was I going to take this model to Spain, if in fact I could do so at all? One of the drawbacks of booking budget tickets on the internet is that there is absolutely no-one to talk to or ask questions! As well as the transport issues I needed to know about insurance and of course the legal radio frequencies in Spain. The frequencies question was quickly answered, I simply typed "radio control flying frequencies Spain" into the Yahoo search engine, which pointed me to the BMFA website where I found not only the answer to that question, but a list of pretty much every country and the permitted frequencies in each. I was delighted to discover that Spain and the UK use exactly the same frequencies and numbering system. I do have BMFA insurance to fly in the UK, so I rang the BMFA office to check whether I needed to do anything else regarding insurance to fly in Spain. The lady who answered was exceedingly helpful and informed me that the insurance did cover me to fly anywhere in the world! Brilliant, it was all falling into place! Just a note here, I did also read somewhere that proof of insurance was only required in the USA and Canada, but decided that I was going to take along my papers anyway.

After ploughing through the airlines website I couldn't find anything that was really going to put the ki-bosh on this at all. If Lady B had been an IC powered model, it would have been a different story, both lead acid starter batteries and the fuel are prohibited items on aircraft, but there was nothing regarding the transport of Li-Po cells or ni-cads, so next came the question of weight. Each passenger is allowed 20Kg of hold luggage, it doesn't say it has to all be in one case, but the huge trunk suitcase weighted over 6Kg empty, as well as taking up a large percentage of our cars space. It began to look as if Lady B was indeed going to need her own box after all. On the plus side though, it would now only need to be 30" x 12 and about 6" deep and could be made from lite-ply.  The model was only 24oz all up, so the weight penalty including the box would probably be half that of the empty "trunk".

In the workshop I found a piece of 1/8th lite ply that conveniently measured 32" x 12" so I positioned the disassembled model on it. OK it was going to fit, so I was back to trying to find out about baggage allowance's. The airline's website does mention that "sporting equipment" such as ski's, bikes or golf clubs that require special handling are charged at £15 per journey, which could mean Lady B's airfare was going to cost nearly as much as mine, but without anyone to ask directly, all I could do was turn up, hope and be prepared to pay.

During the last few days before the holiday I constructed her a box with the view to it going as "standard baggage". I made the framework from 1" square pine and added a couple of cross braces, which were positioned to form little compartments so the wings could each fit snugly in the top and bottom of the box. Finally I purchased a 1/4 sheet, approxamatly  36" x 42" of 1/2" thick upholsterers foam and carefully cut it into sections with which I padded the box and packed around Lady B.

I had by then also telephoned a local travel agent who was abel to fill in some of the grey areas regarding the luggage allowance. Apparently if two people are travelling, a single case can weigh up to 32Kg, but so long as the total of weight is within the airlines limit, it seemed that two smaller normal size cases and the models box would be OK. The heavier bits such as the transmitter, spare battery and chargers all went in the  hand luggage which is above and beyond the 20kg limit. This is of course different with different airlines, some charge "per bag".

The model packed in the box with the foam and ready for the journey

The night before we left there was 3" of snow in Bristol our departure point, but by the time we had to leave for the airport it had fortunatly turned to rain. Our flight was due to leave for Valencia at 7-40am, with check in two hours earlier,  add my built in "safety time" and "parking time" and we had to leave home at some unearthly hour, we were however first in the queue! The suitcases and the model were checked in, weighed and tagged, then as the cases went off for loading I was directed with Lady B to another desk for "non conventional luggage". To my delight, with tthe airline we chose, there was no extra charge on the outward or return journey.

At the non conventional luggage desk, the man did want to know what was inside the box, he X-rayed it then and called me in to have a look. Apparently he thought he could see a bottle of glue, I had a job seeing anything at all until he pointed out the motor, but I could understand how he thought it might have been a bottle of glue. I explained that the model, the receiver and the battery, which were all disconnected, were inside the fuselage, but that my glue was in the hand luggage not the box. He didn't seem worried about the glue in the hand luggage at all, he just wanted me to explain the darker area that did seem to resemble a bottle of some sort. Once he pointed out the motor I was able to explain it was probably the plywood mounts for the wing servo's as well as the tail plane centre section which were all sandwiched one on top of the other. I had also put a strip of duck tape around each end of the box to secure it, and really didn't want to have to open it, fortunately he accepted my explanation and Lady B was on her way to Spain!

We landed in Valencia mid morning to clear blue skies and a wonderful 22C, I picked up our rental car and we headed south to our destination which is a Spanish village about 90 minutes drive along the motorway not far from Javea. As soon as we got there I opened the box to check the model was intact and was delighted to find it had arrived unscathed. Later that day once we were settled in, I assembled her and prepared her for flight. The whole idea of taking the model along was not to spend every waking moment flying, we were intending to do some exploring and to have the model ready in the back of the car for those opportunist "oh wow what a great place to fly" moments was the plan. I must point out that such potential flying sites are not terribly prevalnt in the mountainous area we visited, but I expect there are some.

I had also been searching on the internet for a model club in the area we were visiting, but to no avail, then as it turned out my partners brother who lives in Spain did know where the local model club flew, he also thought the people he had seen flying there looked "English". We had arrived on a Monday and although the weather was gorgeous, it was a tad too windy to fly during the first few days. I did however find the flying field which was only about 8Km away. It was beside a busy road, rather small and the flying and pit area were fenced off from the first car park, with notices in spanish obviously forbidding entry. There was also a large sign written in Spanish, English and German explaining that spectators were not to pass beyond the fence as they were not insured. I certainly wasn't going to be rude enough to assume I could just go in and fly, so I decided to wait until the weekend and hopefully meet someone there.

Saturday was wet and windy (yes it does sometimes do that, even in Spain) and the forecast for Sunday was no better, so when I awoke to clear blue skies and almost no wind on Sunday morning, to say I was ecstatic would have been an understatement! I loaded the model into the car and headed straight for the field, aiming to arrive at 10am. But there was no one there - my heart sank for a moment and I wondered whether this was all this for nothing.


I decided to wait for a while and to my delight within a few minutes a car pulled in, an open top european sports car with a large yellow model taking up the back seat. The gentleman driving looked as if he could be Spanish so my first question was "do you speak English? To my relief he did, perfectly in fact, so I began to explain that I was on holiday, I did have insurance and would it be OK if I flew my model? Yes was the answer! Within the next few minutes another dozen or so cars arrived, most of whom were ex-pat retired Englishmen and interestingly, most were accompanied by their partners who congregated together and sat talkng in the sunhine! The club members most certainly wanted to see my insurance documents, but with the formalities over I was very much welcomed and allowed to fly.

The Teulada model flying club at Moraira on the Costa Blanca - The club meets Sunday mornings membership is 100E a year including the Spanish insurance.

The club has upward of 35 members, being made up mainly of English, Dutch, German and Spanish. The club has a splendid pedagree, with many former "champions", a jumbo jet pilot, even a former editor the aeromodeler! They fly a variety of models from IC to electric and have provided a number of tables in the pits area on which to sit the models whilst you tune your engine, I was allocated one for Lady B. I was told their flying field was going to be developed one day soon and they were searching for somewhere else to fly, but that it had been under threat for three years and the develpoer had apparently run out of money. They also thought they had found somewhere else reasonably nearby, but flat land on this part of the Costa Blanca is at a premium to say the least! The strip was flat and green, but when you get close it's not actually grass, just a collection of green weeds growing in the hard sandy ground, to my surprise this didn't present a problem. Beyond was a 50 foot ravine filled with a forest of bamboo, what I thought were small bushes were indeed the tops of huge tree's!

Lady B on her allotted table - note the green of the flying strip is not the traditional grass us brits are used to......

The club have a frequency peg board,  without a peg of my own I was told to simply hang the car keys on my number instead. I pluged in the electrics, placed her on the runway, pointed her into the light breeze and wound on the power. She was airborne in less than ten feet and looked a picture against the clear blue Spanish sky. I had a fantastic morning in the glorious warm sun, flying, meeting and generally talking to many interesting people of various nationalities. One of the discussions was about my choice of colour, yellow apparently being favoured here because it stands out best against a blue sky!

Lady B in flight in Spain!

Mission accomplished! Lady B had flown in Spain and when she landed there was a huge round of applause from the pits. What's more I was told I could fly there at any time during the remainder of my stay, which I did, as well as returning the following Sunday with my partner who joined in with the ladies. Taking Lady B to Spain was most certainly a success! She has now returned safetly to England as we await the return of our summer.
Me with Lady B in Spain

© Chris Bell 2006