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The British Association of Radio Control Soarers was founded back in the early 1970′s by a bunch of keen and enthusiastic soarers, all well known names at the time for their involvement in thermal and slope soaring.
Eager to exploit the potential of proportional radio newly operating on 27 meg frequencies allowing several models to be flown together, a wholly new concept of competitive soaring was created. A step change from the previous lottery of a model simply having to fly a max of six minutes, the new concept developed within BARCS was man-on-man flying of up to six models at a time in the same ten minute slot with a bonus for a spot landing and the six resulting times =slot-percentaged, so all the scores were percentaged against the winner’s score. When all the preliminary rounds were flown, often involving many hundreds of individual flights, at the end of the day there was a set of “fly-offs”, so that the top six usually flew against each other to define the day‘s winner.
While all this was evolving, rules were being developed for smaller models….the 100s class……vintage and scale, as were classes in slope flying, though most of these came somewhat later, as slope aerobatics and pylon racing dominated the scene until the mid-eighties.
Those were heady days; the BARCS magazine, Soarer, was full of plans, building tips, flying techniques and lots of comp results from all over the country. Commercial magazines have now overtaken the space filled by Soarer, though communication continues as members‘ web based entries, alongside many other interesting soaring sites and forums run by enthusiastic individuals.
There was keen competition between the regional leagues for overall mastery. The annual BARCS jamboree, Radioglide, was regularly oversubscribed and to cap off the entry to a manageable number of one hundred and twenty! , a seeding scheme was introduced.
All the models were homebuilt, mostly from plans, mainly rudder/elevator and the planform settled into a predictable polyhedral 12 foot wingspan format. Popular kits were from the Chris Foss stable, Dick Edmonds and American imports such as the Bird of Time.
I have no need to remind you just how much all of this has changed. Fully moulded glass and carbon RTFs from the Eastern European bloc now ubiquitously dominate every flight line and slope comp. For thermal, gentle running tows have been replaced by electric winch rocket launches, catapulting a well controlled climb to about 200 metres, and all the old waiting, and waiting, and waiting after the slot time start for tactical reasons is but a memory.
Model performance and the overall piloting skill is a world away from then. But I believe that the founding fathers of BARCS did a great job in getting the formative rules right, so much so that the current internationally recognised F3J rules are a direct descendant from all the good work done some forty years ago.
BARCS has also developed over these years a considerable voice in protecting and promoting its interests, such that it is the specialist body for soaring as recognised by the BMFA and now has a considerable presence within that parent UK body. It also has a place around the table in regular discussions with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates all types of flying in UK airspace.
So what now and where is BARCS going?
The revolution in electric related technology, giving us cheap brushless motors, and high power lightweight batteries, such as LiPo’s, with commendably efficient speed controllers all point, some day soon, to on-board electric power replacing the winch launch. The arrival of cheap and reliable height limiting devices at last provides the means of guaranteeing an equal launch height for all from which to start thermal hunting.
A succession of economic crises over the last few decades, with fuel costs over 700% more than when BARCS comps first got going, have inevitably resulted in reduced entries and therefore membership. The cost of the airframes and radios also has to be factored in, alongside the ageing profile of the soaring participants, all leading to a soaring community diminished from those early days, but no less enthusiastic.
I am however optimistic for the future as I am convinced that as BARCS embraces and develops the available new technologies, whole new generations will delight in the challenges and rewards of soaring, both for sport and competition.