How not to land at Frocester

I started model flying when I was 12. I built a Middle Phase and a Gentle Lady. I smashed them both numerous times trying to slope soar them on the flattest fields of the Somerset levels!

Needless to say my interest waned somewhat and it was 12 years later before a re-organisation at work introduced me to some other model flyers, one of which, Andy, kindly agreed to meet me on the slopes of the South Cotswold's.

It was very satisfying to see the model I built as a boy take to the sky, however at the end of the third outing, disaster struck....

A miscarriage of judgment

I was making my approach for a landing at Frocester, it had been a very lively evening up until then with plenty of lift, but this had started to fall away. I followed the line of the river as instructed and turned in towards the hill just below the sun. Now the sun had moved to the right and slipped down from where it had been when I was talked through the maneuver earlier. (As it has done every day since the beginning of time!) I was therefore much further down than I expected and due to the failing lift, much lower. I let the model fly towards me in a straight and fairly level fashion, all looked OK but then it stopped - one of the large oak trees on the right had reached out a twiggy hand of foliage and grabbed it. The noise it made was very hard to describe and rather sickening, a rustling of leaves, like when a large bird goes to take off and then doesn’t. "It'll be interesting getting that down" I remember muttering.

Without much thought for my own safety I tore down through the undergrowth and stingers, which must have been 6ft in places, towards the tree. Every step closer the tree grew bigger. Looking up from under it was obvious that to climb up and get it was out of the question - it was a good 50 ft up and well out. Nevertheless, I accepted a leg up from Andy, who had joined me along with Phil. I stood within the branches, it was 8 ft to the ground and about 38 ft from the model. It was then my bottle went. 12 years ago, when I had my first brief flirt with the hobby, I would have been up a tree like this for fun - not anymore. With a wedding coming up and figuring that my fiancé, Louise, who was still on the peak, not wanting to marry a cripple, I climbed down. A waggle of the stick revealed movement from the boughs as I struggled back up the hill, red faced, empty handed and with the words "tree surgeon" ringing in my ears.

Operation "White plastic waste pipe"

It was 7.30 the next morning as my fiancé and I collected 90m of rope, seven 3m lengths of plastic waste pipe and six push connectors from the local branch of B&Q. Instead of going to work, I loaded my fishing rod and some bamboo canes (to make a bow and arrow (?!)) into the car and with pipes protruding from the sunroof, we arrived at the slope just before 9.
We had passed the first hurdle – the model was still there, the bright red wings shining in the hazy morning sun. I reached for the first couple of pipes and a connector and pushed the very bendy first 6m into the tree. The branches supported the tubes quite well and with my assistant passing me subsequent lengths of pipe we quickly reached the height of the model. That was the easy part. Trying to control 15 metres of bendy pipe was very tricky indeed. One lucky jab managed to dislodge the model from its horizontal resting place and allowed in to fall a few branches before it got stuck again, vertical this time, with the nose awkwardly stuck through an ‘O’ shaped arrangement of branches; prevented from falling further by the leading edge of the wings.
Another hour or so of poking produced little more than a stiff neck and arms covered in yet more nettle stings. Time to reach for the rope and fishing rod. 

The first cast sailed over the tree and the stronger rope pulled through. Some rather vigorous pulling ended up breaking the rope as it rubbed across the thicker branches. The model didn’t move.

Several more casts with the rod proved that the weight was only just heavy enough to pull the line through the trees. A particularly lucky shot placed the line just above the model –perfect. Up went the rope and the pulling resumed. I read later that the correct term for this is "wanging". I got some serious oscillations going up in the tree with quite a rhythm going. With both of us looking skyward Lou stepped back and received a whack on the head as I pull down on the rope.

To Bristol and Back

We had been playing this game for neigh on 2 ½ hours and patience was wearing thin to say the least. Just when we though the model wouldn’t budge from its hole, it bounced up and out and fell a few more feet before lodging itself once more, this time closer to the center of the tree.

The next half hour saw me loose all my fishing weights and with the fewer branches for support, the pipe method was never going to work. A last minute desperate attempt to lasso the model with a makeshift bow and arrow nearly lost me an eye. Lou had to be back in Bristol for work and so I reluctantly gave up. Resigned to the fact that I’d have to come back later with my cheque book.

I called Phil the fridge, simply for a recommendation on which tree surgeon to ring. He offered me the loan of the club fishing pole plus the all-important extra 3 metres. Recalling that I had managed to lower the model slightly (and reluctant to part with at least the cash equivalent of a Zagi) I agreed to collect the poles and give it a go.

The pole vault

When I returned to the slope, many more visitors were enjoying the scenery. They watched intrigued as I made my way back down the hillside, slipping over several times, my arms now immune to the multitude of nettle stings. Reaching the tree my hopes grew once more. I assembled the pole and taped up the joins, with wire hook folded out I pushed the much more ridged pole skywards. With the first extension piece added, the stick made contact with the fuselage. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a group of elderly onlookers, now gazing through a pair of binoculars. I made a screwed up face at them just to let them know I could see them. They watched intently as I carefully tried to lift the model out. I was very cautious about letting the pole come apart half way up the tree as this really would have been a disaster. The care paid off and the plane fell further in the direction of the ground. Removing the last section for extra control, I dislodged the model from its final resting place. It was 3.10pm when the model finally touched down, the nightmare was over; it had taken just over 6 hours.
I struggled back up the slope to the top. A hoard of fans came forward to greet me. After answering a few questions I took the poles back to Phil and made my way home, with every muscle in my body aching.
Never again? 
The model was in a remarkably good state considering the battering it had taken getting it down. Some of the covering had loosened and there were a few puncture holes caused by the pole, but nothing that an iron and a few squares of solarfilm couldn’t fix. In fact, with a fresh set of batteries it could have flown as it was the same day. I guess it’s a credit to the robust design. Despite being switched on for about 20 hours, the batteries still had enough life left to test the control surfaces.

The next day I had the nerve to take all the pipes back to B&Q and get a full refund! I had managed to survive what could have been a rather expensive mistake. I lost a days work though, but luckily my manager had a similar experience when he lost his Hi-Boy in a barley field not long ago and was very understanding. At the time, I swore I’d never fly again but I’ve been well and truly bitten by the bug now – it’s got to be done!

Many thanks to Phil, for the loan of the club poles, and to the various expert flyers who happily give their time to help those, like me, who are not.

Photo’s to follow when the film runs out. They were taken at the start of a 40 exposure film so it could be some time!
Jonathan Smailes 

On my web site is a list of tree surgeons. They charge £20 to £35 to retrieve a model.
copy the list, paste to Word or Excel,  print, and leave in it your car it may come in handy.
please note some trees are 100 feet tall the pole 35 feet long. tallest tree in England is 215 feet (an imported Douglas Fir)
There is also a short movie "How to land safely at Frocester, Take 22" filmed by Ian Matterson. on the club website