The pages of the now defunct magazine "English Mechanics" confirm that as long ago as 1910 the aeronautical section of the Dublin Society of Model and Experimental Engineers was actively flying model aircraft in the Phoenix Park, where "successful flights of over one hundred yards have been made". Distance in a straight line being the then criterion of performance for the rubber powered models.
Twenty five years later models were still being flown in the Fifteen Acres by the model section of the less academically named Flying Aces Club. Such was the interest in the hobby that they were shortly joined by the Irish Junior Aviation Club, founded by the noted Irish Aviatrix Lady Heath, the Portmarnock and Malahide Model Flying Club, and the Dublin Model Flying Club, of which only the latter remains active. There was plenty of friendly rivalry between the clubs, and from 1935 competitions were regularly held which attracted entrants from as far a field as Belfast, where both the Belfast Model Flying Club and the Ulster Model Aero Club were based. These events were reported both in the national press and in those magazines such as "Aeromodeller" and "Model Aircraft Constructor" which catered for the needs of the growing band of enthusiasts. It came as no surprise to read in 1939 that a controlling body was to be formed, that would co-ordinate the clubs' efforts, formulate competition rules, homologate records and represent Irish aeromodelling interest at international level.
Model Aeronautics Council of Éire
Accordingly, on August 24th, 1939, the first formal meeting of the MODEL AERONAUTICS COUNCIL OF ÉIRE was held under the chairmanship of Dr. Hal Charles, and its constitution and rules were ratified and signed three weeks later. One of the first considerations of the Council was the provision of third-party insurance cover for its registered members; this difficult hurdle was overcome in 1940, and has been a significant advantage of membership ever since.
World War II
Despite the inevitable shortages of modelling materials, the growth of interest grew apace during the war years, with large attendances at the competitions that were held in both the Phoenix Park and Collinstown Aerodrome. While the rubber powered model continued to dominate in numbers, there were quite a few models flown using miniature petrol engines of mostly pre-war vintage; these were banned in the United Kingdom for the duration of the war, but as far as it is known no such ban applied in Ireland. A trickle of supplies was still available from the U.S.A. and in the immediate post-war years, Irish modellers were able to offer stiff competition to the many British modellers who flocked to the Irish Nationals, now being held at Baldonnel.
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
In 1948 the Council was the ONLY officially recognised sport aviation group in the country and directly affiliated to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. By this time the name had changed to the more all embracing MODEL AERONAUTICS COUNCIL OF IRELAND.
Control Line Model Aircraft
During the late forties a new form of powered model flight had been introduced from USA, tethered or control-line flying in which the pilot had direct control over the attitude of the model flying around him on thin wire. And so it was that the 1947 and 1948 national contests held by the Council could boast an entry of over a hundred and warrant a two-page report in the model magazines. They were also covered as bonafide sporting events by the national newspapers; this exposure, together with the annual exhibitions of model aircraft that were held in the Mansion House and other central venues, gave local aeromodelling quite a high profile. In fact, Mr. Alfie Byrne, the then Lord Mayor of Dublin, presented a special trophy for the best performance by an Irish designed model in the international Wakefield class, which was considered to be the epitome of model aerodynamic design.
World and European Championships
Our entry into the scene of world aeromodelling left us somewhat surprised that we were not completely outclassed, and scarcely a year has passed since then when we have not been represented at some event abroad. We have yet to win an event, but we have certainly established our national identity on the circuit both as competitors and as international judges. We also have a major input into aeromodelling committees of the F.A.I. and M.A.C.I. is always represented at its annual conference.
By the end of the fifties, membership had passed the four hundred mark, spread over some twenty clubs throughout the country.
Radio Controlled Model Flying
Experimental remotely controlled model aircraft had been flown as early as 1916 but with limited success; now, with increasing reliability and miniaturisation of radio gear the cost of this ultimate aspect of model aircraft control fell from the exorbitant to the merely expensive. Within a five year period came a falling off of interest in the traditional free flight model with its intricate lightweight construction. By 1963, when the Council held the first Radio Control Nationals, the knell of the free flight competition model was already sounding in Ireland By the end of the seventies even the layman’s idea of a model airplane automatically assumed that it was remotely controlled by radio.
From 1970 onwards radio control aerobatics led the way with radio control scale (miniature replicas of full-size aircraft) and more recently radio controlled helicopter following. The numbers attending competitions has never reached the all time highs of the 1930’s but has steadily grown over the years. Johnnie Carroll led the way at international level in scale model flying, attending and judging at numerous scale world championships. Radio control aerobatics first flourished in Belfast where Howard Menary represented MACI at a few world championships, but more recently the focus has switched to Cork where Noel Barrett and Ray Keane, together with tem manager Finbar Constant have been on the Irish aerobatic team almost continuously since the early 1983.
In scale model flying the names of Johnnie Carroll, Jim Clarke and John Shortt cannot be forgotten. And control line model flying has made a new comeback with John Hamilton, Kevin Barry and Maurice Doyle representing Ireland at quite a few recent world champs.
In those days, the clubs existed mainly in the centres of population – mainly Dublin and its surrounds and also in Belfast, Cork, Limerick and Tipperary. Nowadays there are clubs in every corner of Ireland from the far northwest of Donegal to the tip of Wexford.
The newest branch of the sport is indoor electric flying. Aircraft here are very miniaturised some weigh as light as 25 grams. Mostly would be slightly bigger but normally with wingspans of under 300 mm and powered by very tiny electric motors. Both fixed wing and helicopters are flown and the flying "site" is usually a large indoor sports arena or hangar.
Administration of MACI
At administration level, MACI has gone through the typical cycles associated with a voluntary organization. During the 1950’s administration fell to Gerard Sheehy who kept things going almost single handed. Since then there has a strong representative committee from the clubs around the country with special mention for Capt Joe Dible and Johnnie Carroll who put in Trojan work during the 60’s and 70’s and then Finbar Constant acting in many posts during the 80’s and 90‘s and more recently John Molloy running the show. And Joe Dible has consistently represented Ireland at F.A.I. international aeromodelling commission level since the 60’s
MACI take seriously the idea of representing aeromodellers and this is the main purpose of our existence. Over the years this has involved negotiations with various bodies over flying fields, liaising with the Department of Transport and Communications, airports and air traffic control, arranging exclusive use of radio frequencies for model aircraft, education and information of aviation matters to young people and schools, representation at international level and of course the ever needed insurance cover.
Safety is nowadays a big concern and MACI has pioneered the way with guidelines on flying sites, safe code of practice for the operation of models, and a certification process for pilots graduating from beginner to "A" and then "B" Certificate and finally Examiner level.
At the educational level, MACI has distributed thousands of Delta Darts which are a small free flight model developed by the American Academy of Model Aeronautics and is ideally suited to teaching the rudiments of model aircraft construction and aerodynamics to children.
Radio Control Aerobatics World Championships, Cork 2001
Our exposure to international contest have taken members as far a field as Japan, South Africa, Australia and Argentina and we are regular attend contests in Europe. While at the Aerobatic World Champs in Pensacola Florida in 1999, we found that the 2001 event had not been requested by any country and so Ireland put a bid to F.A.I. to run it in 2001. Accordingly in August 2001, Finbar Constant the event director and a small committee of just seven from the Cork Club hosted 42 countries and over 100 pilots (the largest entry ever) to Mallow Racecourse where perfect weather blessed us and we ran what is still regarded as the definitive F3A aerobatic World Championships to which subsequent ones are still compared.
Trans Atlantic flight by Model Aircraft 2003
In 2002 Maynard Hill from USA made three attempts to fly the Atlantic with a radio controlled model from Newfoundland to Clifden in Ireland; all three ended in failure! However a year later in August 2003, his model, Trans Atlantic Model 5, succeeded and MACI stewards appointed by the National Aero Club of Ireland acted as liaison with authorities in Ireland and were on hand in to certify the timing and location of the landing. This was subsequently ratified as a World Duration and Distance Record. The model was 6 foot span and weighed 5 kilograms at take off!
Equipment and Construction
Originally model aircraft were constructed from balsa wood frames covered in tissue and dope. Tissue was superseded by plastic heat shrunk film. Then came fibreglass and polystyrene foam. All forms of ABS and PVC plastics followed and nowadays modern composites are mainly used including carbon fibre, Kevlar etc.
Power first came from wound rubber bands. Miniature diesel engines in the up to 2cc range came in the mid 20th century. Then the two-stroke glow engine (up to 20 cc) was developed in which a small coil is heated by a ground based battery for start-up and remain hot from stroke to stroke once the engine is running. Four stroke engines in the 20 to 50 cc range gave still more power.
But the latest forms of power include miniature gas turbines and electric engines. Gas turbines are very high power but require considerable electronic controls for start-up and run. They normally start using electric starters, then transfer to gas supplied from a small ground tank and when they come up to speed, they transfer to aviation fuel.
In the electric engines, the power source is a 42 volt on board high capacity battery pack. This is converted to high voltage variable frequency 3 phase alternating current to power a variable speed three phase motor. The advantage of this is the lack of any need to carry fuel, fuel pumps, filters etc.
Radio control equipment has changed greatly from the early single channel pulse radio transmissions to multi channel proportional control and then to digital FM and PCM transmission. Nowadays spread spectrum frequency transmitters can lock on to a particular aircraft receiver and so very large numbers of aircraft can be controlled by different transmitters without the risk of interference. (just a large numbers of phones, pagers etc can operate without interfering with each other)
MACI’s strength has always been its voluntary staff. This has strained it at times, but it has also given it diversity and sense of purpose. Money is always tight, especially with the need to cover insurance costs, but we are now financially reasonably healthy and in a position to foster aeromodelling which after all was, and is, our main goal.