Indoor Flying at Maker Faires

In Uncategorized on August 27, 2013 by nicholasandrewray

Indoor Flying at Maker Faires

In the Atrium

In the Atrium

Have you ever been to a ‘Maker Faire’? Maker Faires are science-oriented hobby fairs organised to promote science activities. Often they have a strong focus on electronics including robotics, 3D printers, laser cutters and the like.

I knew nothing about them until early this year I heard about one being put together here in Adelaide, South Australia. This is the story of how a model was designed for the event and ended up in front of a crowd of 20,000 a few months later.

Encouraged by flying buddy Dave Putterill, I met with the organisers of the Maker Faire to see if they’d be interested in having some indoor model planes on display. I showed them a few models including an F1D and a Mini Stick. The show was going to be indoors in a large atrium – but would also be (hopefully) full of people.

‘Was it possible to have a model flying over the crowd from time to time?’ they asked.

Well, I was thinking more of a static display or a talk, but I agreed to give it a go. As an afterthought, the organisers said: ‘Is it possible to do a hands-on activity – or a kit people can buy and take away with them?’  Hmmm – ok – I’ll give it a go.

So over a few days I contemplated the age-old aeromodelling problem of what to offer as an ‘introductory model’ for beginners. On top of that – it needed to be something that could be demonstrated within the space available. The Hanger Rat was going to be too big for the space. The Delta Dart is easy to build, but I couldn’t see it as easy to demonstrate as a lighter, slower model. Maybe something like a Mini Stick? Not a ‘beginners model’ but something people with interest and hobby skills could take on as a challenge. After all, a 1/72 plastic models and electronic robotics kits are not easy or aimed at beginners.

Then came another question from the Maker Faire people: ‘What is your exhibit called? It has to be something descriptive like The Dalek Builders Union who will also be there.’

Now here is something I understood. I have a marketing background, so I knew it needed to DO what it said. Five seconds later I came up with ‘The Fly’.

It was going to be covered in tissue (rather than trying to get beginners to use OS Film) and be made a lot easier to handle (which meant heavier). So I made the wing area bigger than a competition Mini Stick.

OK, so now I want to back track a little. We all have a story from our aeromodelling youth. After building a few models with my Dad, one day (1976) I walked into a newsagent and saw a microfilm model on the cover of Airborne Magazine. I was fascinated. My parents lived in a classic 70’s home with a high pitched roof with exposed beams. So I started building tissue-covered stick models small enough to fly around the living room. Short span, lots of wing area and steep dihedral tips at the end of a flat rectangle wing. Forty years later I’d finally found a use for all this practice!

With this experience in mind, The Fly prototypes took no time to put together. I like the modern look of the vertical tip fins on wings and stab that have taken over in Mini Stick and Penny Plane classes in recent years. They are easier to cover than wings with dihedral joins. The wing makes a nice ‘canvas’ for whatever you want to draw or print on the surface. The size makes it easy to fly in a small area. Even though some exhibition space are big – it is difficult to track and recover a big aeroplane with a wide turning circle. The Fly was designed to stay close and buzz around your head like…  well, like a fly…

Armed with 20 kits, a few prototype demo models, and a few posters, I went along to the Maker Faire and had a great time just flying all day and talking about indoor flying to science and crafts oriented people. I didn’t break or lose a single model. Sold all 20 kits by noon.

Encouraged by the success, a few of the Ingle Farm indoor free flighters embarked on another event – a Hobby and Craft Fair. My hats off particularly to Dave, Max and Jack who spent many hours with me that weekend. Lots of interest… but maybe not the right crowd mix. More Art & Crafts than Science.

Most recently – and the biggest of these events – was called Science Alive! This was a science expo organised as part of National Science Week.

About 20,000 people attended over 3 days. The expo included careers information stands for universities and science research organisations. I did a lot of demos and showed people how to wind and fly – let people have a go etc…   Good fun but quite exhausting!

We were next to a giant smoke generator which added to the crowd interest ( and there has been some significant interest from schools and other organisations.

I’ve tried a number of different strategies in connection with the project including:

  • handing out free copies of the plan and instructions to interested attendees
  • making the plan a free download from various sites including my own (maker communities use the ‘open source’ concept as a popular way of engaging and encouraging interest)
  • offering a free-to-enter raffle prize in exchange for attendee email addresses (with proviso that you will receive at least one newsletter – at which time you can then opt out if not interested).

For those who have tried something similar, you’ll know that it is hard work. But the benefits are certainly there. For example:

  • making contacts with indoor venue owners
  • talking to school teachers about possible projects
  • showcasing and promoting an activity that is seldom seen.

The gentleman with the smoke generator (Mark Thomson) is also the author of two great publications: ‘Blokes and Sheds’ and ‘Rare Trades’.

He said the real reward for most of us, is just that moment in someone’s eyes – that look of disbelief, inspiration or innocent wonder – at seeing something they never knew existed. That’s probably enough.

However, going back to the magazine I saw in my teen years – an early introduction, planting the seed, may have a long term effect that we will never know about.

Example: The magazine I saw in 1976 described Boyd Felstead’s Australian national record flight made that year at Centennial Hall. His time was 26:42 – and it stood for many years. The Science Week event I attended was at a new Expo building, on the same site as Centennial Hall (which is no longer). So for me it’s hallowed ground. In fact, I was given a piece of Aero-Lite balsa handed down from the days when Boyd Felstead, Gordon Burford, Max Starick, Mal Sharpe, Stan Grey and others flew at this venue. As a sentimental bloke, I used a bit of this wood as boom joiners in my Belgrade models. When I looked back at the data, my best time at Belgrade (in the Dorcol) was exactly the same as Boyd’s – 26:42. A nice bit of symmetry.

Now days, of course, there’s more you can do to support an event like a flying model display. It’s more work, but providing information online, as well as ‘being there’ in terms of social media is of increasing importance. So I tried to do all that too, including youtube, twitter etc. So some links are provided below as examples.

The Fly has a facebook page  (if you are on that) with more photos:

And I managed to get a web page up in time for the event which is at:  that way if people downloaded the plan they had a local contact to get supplies or a kit.

I hope this was an interesting tale both for those who have already tried something like this, or who want to give it a go. Good luck!


Tim Hayward-Brown

Tim with The Fly

Tim with The Fly

Fly Display

Fly Display





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