place:Los Banos Reservoir, California
California: Hippies, flower children, peace to all mankind forget that idea, man its war !.at least on the hills of Los Banos.
Again, email delivered pay dirt, not in form of cash, but in a more lasting currency, that of enjoyable memories to be treasured for many years to come.
Sometimes timing is everything. My work takes me to Silicon Valley every 8 weeks or so, but rarely do I get a weekend stopover. This last trip, not only did I get a weekend stopover, it was also peak windy season and additionally, there was a scheduled combat event at the venerable Los Banos reservoir slope sitedefinitely time to buy a lottery ticket !
Had I not been on the firstname.lastname@example.org email list, there is no way I would have known about either this site or the event.
Charlie Macnamarra was kind enough to announce to the world that his group was planning an informal combat bash on Sunday the 23rd July at Los Banos..a quick return email for details and direction, revealed that about 15 - 20 die hard combat veterans were planning a long afternoon of combat mayhem. At Los Banos , the wind starts to kick in hard at about 3pm in the afternoon and continues rock solid to well after dark. With the current daylight cycle, that gave flying time until well after 9.00pm.
Los Banos is around a 2hr drive south from San Francisco. The route is down the 101, turn left onto highway 152, East over the ranges that separate the central valley from the coastal valley, cross over Highway 5 and loop back into the foothills of the Diablo ranges.
The flying site is spectacular. Los Banos reservoir is a man made dam, which is kept at a near constant water level all year round. The dam occupies the lower portions of an old eroded valley that has smooth, yet steep, grass covered sides, which rise up, to tower some 400 feet above the water and then grade back into to a gently rolling foothills.
These rolling foothills are covered in tall prairie grass. Interestingly, apart from around the waterline of the dam, no trees or rocks can be seen in any direction. Los Banos, like much of the central Californian area is in a rain shadow area, and only the frontal storm systems in winter bring rain to this semi-desert landscape.
At this time of year, the hot relentless summer sun has turned the
tall grass yellow. Like a huge rolling field of wheat, the grass is
heavily laden with seed. The grass, although creating an excellent
landing buffer for the most fragile of craft, (Los Banos is also the
host for scale events), it has two quite nasty side effects. The first,
is the incredibly sharp, barbed seeds, that make their way into socks,
shoes and shoe laces with incredible ease. The second and more
dangerous is that the long grass is stiff and smooth. As mentioned
earlier, the sides of the Los Banos reservoir are steep, and smooth. In
fact, the incline angle in some places is in excess of 45 degrees. As
summer progresses, and the wind strength increases, the tall grass is
blown down to match the incline of the slope. The grass creates an
incredibly slippery surface, which affords less than optimal traction to
I was told that several unwary flyers, have had the unpleasant and painful experience of sliding a long way down the hill after losing footing on the steep upper regions of the hill. You scan see in the picture, that I am holding a rope as I descend down the slope to retrieve my downed Zagi. Believe me, the rope was necessary and without it, I also, would also have had an uncomfortable trip to the bottom of the hill. Quite a number of the flyers wore no shoes, they said that this solved both problems, bare skin was not attractive to the seeds and secondly, bare toes gives the best traction on the slippery surface.
Los Banos Reservoir is a California State Park, and on entry, one is required to pay homage to the "Iron Ranger", a secure metal cylinder into which an entry from and $5 is placed.
I was fortunate to have the company of one of my work colleagues who had volunteered to play camera man and contest director for the day, only he didnt know it at the time. I did warn him however, that it would be a long day, as an opportunity to fly with unlimited leave pass (from she who must be obeyed) cannot be wasted and every moment of flyable air and daylight must be fully utilised under these circumstances !
We arrived at the site at around 1pm, after and easy and uneventful trip down from San Jose.
My first impressions were one of awe. The dirt road that winds into the park, soon turns to follow the top of the ridge line, making access to the slope incredibly easy. Driving along the road gives spectacular views of the reservoir and beutiful surrounding county side. The contrast of the dark, deep blue water of the dam and the golden flowing country side is rich. On the main slope, which faces nearly due west, it is a 400+ feet drop to deep water. Standing at the top, you get to look down a smooth unbroken bowl of land covered in the dry yellow prairie grass.
When we arrived at 1.00pm, there were already around 10 pilots present and were busy reading their weapons for war. By far, Zagis and Zagi clones were dominant in numbers. There was also a spattering of DAW P51s and other unnamed craft. Unfortunately the wind stayed variable for the next couple of hours, but during that time, the pilot count had risen to over 20. A blessing was that the thermal activity was quite strong and unusually visable, by virtue of the small birds that were chasing their lunch. When a thermal was spotted, it was all hands to deck and aircraft were launched for a brief but intensive sortie.
The wind finally settled in at around 4pm, and combat started in full swing. At times there were over 16 planes in the air, which was an incredible sight to behold. The lift, as the afternoon progressed, simply got stronger and more consistent. For me, combat is great fun, it is socially enjoyable, physically demanding and mentally challenging and unlike some other forms of competition, it is unfettered by rules and limitations. The battles are tough, and because there are no rules, only pilot skill (and some luck) will determine the winner. I also recognised a camaraderie of spirit within the pilots as we focused on a common goal to have fun and make some kills. Combat is dangerous, the planes are fast, they do crash and they could hurt, but up front before the combat commenced, individual responsibility was agreed and no one was to be blamed if any one was injured or hurt.
The pilot skill level was impressively high, as was the engagement level. It was full on and no holding back. In silicon valley there is a flight combat simulator called Magic Edge. This is an immersion game, where you are installed into a moving lifelike cockpit with a wide screen format, reasonable resolution graphics, multi-player capability and high performance processing engine, although good fun, it pales in comparison to slope combat. Also at $20USD per hour, it makes sloping extremely good value.
The Los Banos BASH #3 (well arguably #2 but it's debatable) was hugely successful. What was interesting, was that many of the pilots had already seen each others name or communicated via the RCSE soaring digest. Folks such as Tim Cone, Bill Mulica, and Charlie
MacMurray. A special thanks for manning that rope goes to Mr. Cone! It was much appreciated!!
A particularly enjoyable session was the reconnaissance mission by the warbird squadron. A one point in time during the afternoon, two P-51's and a ME-109 set off looking for a better slope. The pilots were
fortunate and soon discovered a fine location on the next ridge point further back along the dam. These EPP foam combat warbirds then proceeded to do some formation flying. One of the pilots, was heard to say that this was nearly the most rewarding flying he did that day. He said that they would initiate a pattern and then try to maintain the closest
separation possible. The planes would tap each other occasionally and crashed a few times but nothing is prettier that a couple warbirds turning in unison or watching a P-51 slide into formation with another P-51.
The warbird squadron was quickly joined by a single Zagi being driven by Mr. Tim Cone. However, he seemed just as pleased by the formation flying as he was with full on combat.
The warbird pilots had about a 30min respite until the rest of
the pilots got the hint and came over. The fighting soon became furious. There were in excess of 16 planes at times, and given this particular slope was only about 100M long, it was crowded, intense and made for great fun. The Zagi's did seen to gang up on the warbirds, mainly I think because they presented a more visible target, the flat profile of a Zagi can be a difficult target, and many of the Zagis were without fins, which made their profile even further reduced.
Mr. Charles MacMurray educated many, with his flawless demonstrations of kick launching his home-brew flying wing. Its is similar to a Zagi only smaller, and sports a different wing section. His punt/SAM launches were GREAT!
At about 5.30pm, it was decided to have a formal 20min session, complete with some prize money, which I think was collected by everyone entering putting $5.00 in the pot. There were about 16 planes in the session and a great time was had by all. I got killed twice and I didnt even see what hit me. I made one kill which was pleasing.
One of the guys had a flying wing with a football whistle inserted into the wing section and went about the slope making a most ghastly racket. No mistaking at what speed at what location he was at. He certainly made an audible target, but being a good flyer, not a very easy one.
I dont recall who won, but I do remember that it was one of the younger pilots and that it was by a silly margin. I think he amassed 7 kills. I think school time should be increased so that they cant practice after school !
As mentioned earlier, the slope does face west, so a good part of the latter afternoon is spent flying looking into the sun, A good pair of sunglasses and 30+SPF sunscreen lotion is a mandatory.
I spend the rest of the afternoon combating with the Zagi and stooging around with the Pibros. This was the first time that anyone in this group had seen a Pibros, and there were plenty of surprised faces at the manoeuvrability and fun, this little plane offers. I even managed to take a Zagi down at some point, which caused a great deal of mirth.
At one point in the afternoon, one of the guys took out his new F3B moulded plane and gave it some F3F style flying, although it was apparent it was not quite set up for the F3F style flying, its was very fast and really ate up the distance around the slope and of course made that high pitched whistle that all moulded ships seem to make.
We flew until the light failed and we could see no more. On other occasion, the guys have bought along some lighted craft for night flying. The wind blows long into the night and Los Banos is a great site for nocturnal flying activities.
A quick trip down the hill and into town to the local MacDonald for dinner (well thats stretching reality, calling MacDonalds food, dinner !)
Plenty of chat and laughter about the days session and many commitments to do many more.
I just wish I could get there on a more regular basis. Warm weather, a fantastic site, great lift, new friends, laughter and excellent flying, make for an outstanding day. I was glad of the company on the drive home, as it was most pleasantly tiring day and I was fast approaching time for sleep by the time I got back to the Hotel in San Jose.
Copyright © 1998 R/C Soaring Magazine - Richard Frawley.
No commercial use or publication (e.g. on other www or ftp sites, print media) without a written consent.
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