It was a somewhat difficult start to the year at the National Centre due to the extensive wet weather, reports indicate we experienced the wettest March in over 40 years and we certainly saw the effects at the Centre in terms of ground conditions.
In the six years we have now been operational it was the latest in the year that we have opened the campsite, for most of February, March and April we had standing water.
Of course, we coped by limiting camping to the hard standing areas and flyers carpark but it had a significant impact on early season income.
As usual the first large event of the year was the Jet Modellers Association Spring Fly-in and AGM meeting.
Despite the wet ground conditions, the runway remained usable, if a little sticky at times and over the weekend there was plenty of flying with around 70 pilots booked for each day and only a few breaks for rain showers to pass through.
Talking of jets, we have already hosted two of the informal midweek jet events, these are two-day events and are open to all jet flyers (not just JMA Members). As these events are much quieter than the large JMA weekends they are a great opportunity for newer flyers to get some help and experience or for those with new aircraft to conduct test flights in a less busy environment. If you are a budding jet pilot then check out the National Centre Calendar for future dates.
Our first of the larger general events at the Centre is the SAM35 Spring Gala which also features the first of the very popular swapmeets in mid-April.
The campsite remained closed due to the amount of standing water, compounded by another two days of heavy rainfall on the Thursday and Friday before the event, the Saturday saw more showers but actually there was still a fair bit of flying.
The busiest activity of the weekend was the Tethered Car Track which remained busy both days, with cars running pretty much nonstop and plenty of spectators taking in the atmosphere.
The car track is proving to be a huge success and has been a great addition to the Centre (for those of you who don’t know, tethered cars was adopted as a formal aspect of SAM 35 a few years ago).
The track has attracted a significant amount of new interest and activity, and at the SAM 35 Spring Gala a good number of new cars and part-built projects were in evidence, we also have a couple of enthusiasts developing an electric car which is an interesting project, initial runs have demonstrated speeds of over 140mph with plenty more to come, we shall watch with interest.
A new event came to the Centre in the form of our friends from the Royal Airforce Model Aircraft Association (RAFMAA) who held an open Warbirds Fly-in in early April.
The weekend was open to all BMFA members with appropriate aircraft (the warbird designation was fairly loosely applied) and attracted a good number of participants, a great early season event and set to be a regular feature of the NC calendar.
Unfortunately, all the planned early season Achievement Scheme run Fly-ins were lost due to dire weather which was a shame but on the plus side there are several more in the calendar for the rest of the year.
As well as the day-to-day site maintenance programmes at the Centre there are always a number of projects on the go.
The Volunteer Team have now completed the Campsite washing-up area which provides a nice addition to the camping facilities, providing campers with somewhere close at hand where they can do their washing up rather than ferrying it to the Hangar kitchen as previously. The facility is already seeing plenty of use and proving very popular.
We have also been preparing for an electricity supply upgrade to accommodate the Head Office relocation plus further site developments.
The Volunteer Team have undertaken the cable laying aspect and recently spent 3 very long days digging out for the ducting across the main courtyard and laying it to the required standard.
This represented a significant saving over having the civils works completed through National Grid who are the main contractor, as always the Team tackled the job with considerable enthusiasm and commitment and National Grid have now pulled the cable through the ducting.
The size of the new cable was something of an eye opener, as previously the main feed into the site was a cable with around 18mm outer diameter, the new cable is 50mm so a considerable step up in capacity and redundancy.
It’s great that the Team here are able to tackle such large projects as it means we can improve facilities at a level significantly beyond what would could achieve if we had to rely solely on employed contractors with the associated high costs.
The other major project is the development of the building adjacent to Reception (we still haven’t thought of a name for it yet).
This project has unfortunately dragged on rather longer than the planned schedule due to a number of issues (the winter weather at the start of the project didn’t help).
We are now onto decorating and flooring with the aim of it being a usable space in the next few weeks with the longer-term aim of a small café/coffee shop with indoor and outdoor seating area on site early next year.
We have also made further improvements to the flightline charging facilities with a covered charging bench with four double sockets on the rear of the large barn facing the flightline, another popular addition to the facilities.
Of course the Team here continue to undertake the day to day grounds-maintenance tasks and the run of wet weather has meant that grass cutting has been a significant task, Chief Grass cutter Alan has done sterling work keeping on top of it and maintaining a runway to be proud of.
As ever I am humbled by the amount of time and effort that the Volunteer Team put into the National Centre and the amount of pride that they take in the facilities we provide.
The curse of the current “summer” continues and unfortunately a number of National Centre events have suffered from poor weather, leading to either reduced visitor numbers or in a couple of cases to fully cancelled events.
This is unfortunate as the Centre generates the majority of its revenue through the summer months (as you would expect).
The very popular and busy Warbirds Festival was sadly a complete right-off due to very high winds (40 mph straight across the runway) as was the scheduled weekend of gliding competitions the following weekend (F3K and F3 RES) along with a control line aerobatics competition, so rather disappointing.
The BMFA University and Schools Payload Challenge has become an annual highlight at the Centre and this year’s event was particularly good with 24 teams entered from 6 countries. The weather was very kind for this one and the 2 days of competition flying was a great spectacle with some innovative and interesting designs on show.
The Centre also accommodates a number of commercial bookings which make use of some of the indoor space we have available, as well as the flying site for a number of educational competitions. The largest of these is the UAS Challenge held by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. This has become a large competition attracting teams from around the world as well as significant sponsorship from the commercial sector. We are proud to be able to host it at the National Centre and provide what is essentially a turn key solution in terms of the required infrastructure, the 250 long marquee makes a fair spectacle on its own!
Looking forward (and hoping the weather improves) there are still plenty of events to come at the National Centre with a number of competition disciplines holding their National Championships in the absence of the usual Nationals at Barkston Heath.
Coming soon we have the British Funfly Nationals, the IMAC Aerobatic Nationals, the 3-day Control Line Nationals, The Silent Flight Nationals over the August Bank Holiday, the Pylon Racing Short Course Nationals and the Scale Nationals and Eurochamps in September. All events are open to spectators so why not come along and see what’s going on at the Centre, check out the National Centre calendar for events listings and dates.
Of course, regular favourites such as the Introduction to Aerobatics days (first Wednesday of every month) are available to book as is the opportunity to book the site for a club away day and of course not forgetting the opportunity to just turn up for a day’s flying (subject to the site status for the day).
Autumn events – get your wallet on standby
The Autumn has become a very busy time at the Centre with three big events in one month aimed at providing a range of shopping experiences for the engine collectors, the builders and of course those just after a modelling bargain.
The last day of September/first day of October sees the now established Model Builders Show taking place, a great opportunity to stock up on materials for the coming winter and to learn some new skills at the various seminars and demonstrations. This year the Model Builders Show comes with the benefit of a themed Fly-in, if you designed it, built it from a plan or kit, or even just modified it, then why not come for a day’s (or weekend’s) flying and take in the Model Builders Show at the same time.
Mid-October sees the final Buckminster Swapmeet of the year in conjunction with the SAM 35 Autumn Gala, always a popular end of season get together and a great chance to pick up a bargain or two…..or of course, offload some of your previous bargains. Indoor space is still available but selling fast.
October draws to a close with the now established BMFA Model Engine and Aircraft Auction with viewing day on Friday the 27th and the Auction live and on-line in the Goldsmith Hangar on Saturday the 28th.
Most of the larger events will have a catering vendor on site and Reception will be open for access to the now famous vintage kit display.
Keep an eye out for updates on all of these events in the coming weeks.
Site status – its new and improved but you do have to look at it.
We have been experimenting with the site status display on the National Centre website and have now arrived at a system that makes the day-to-day site status (hopefully) easier to understand.
This has been something of a challenge as the facilities have been developed leading to an increased range of activities to display.
Hopefully the new system makes it easier to see what is happening in each area of the site on any given day.
Whilst we of course do our best to maintain the information as accurately and up to date as possible, it is possible that errors do occur, so the suggestion is to call in advance if you have a long journey or you feel the status isn’t clear.
Targeted Fundraising and Donations
The National Centre has benefitted from a number of donations since we opened in 2017. These have consisted of general donations to assist with the day to day running of the Centre and to support the smaller projects that we undertake, to the larger donations targeted at specific projects such as the Tethered Car Track and the Control Line Hard Circle.
One of the areas where we are perhaps somewhat vulnerable at the Centre is the grass cutting, we close-cut around 10 acres in support of general flying and camping using our main cutter plus a smaller machine for the detail work.
Whilst the Volunteer Team are very adept at maintaining our equipment in top working condition, there has been the occasional “standdown” while we have sourced parts or undertaken more extensive disassembly jobs.
The view is that we are somewhat vulnerable in our reliance on the single cutter for the larger areas.
With this in mind we have set up a separate budget to direct donations to purchase a further grass cutter to back up the existing unit and ultimately take over as the primary cutter.
As always, donations are very much appreciated, if you would like to make a donation to go towards a replacement grass cutter then we would of course be delighted to hear from you.
Talking of vehicles, we have had a petrol golf buggy at the Centre on loan for some time as a goodwill gesture from a local company that I deal with, however this had to be returned earlier this year. On the basis that it had proven to be a useful addition to the facilities here I started to look around for a suitable replacement.
I was fortunate to find an appropriate electric vehicle which has been purchased and very kindly donated to the Centre by Jim Wright and his wife Norma. Jim has been instrumental in the development of the National Centre since the inception of the project and the donation represents yet another benefit to the on-site facilities we have to offer.
Thank you to Jim and Norma, I am sure our less mobile visitors will make good use of the buggy for many years to come.
There is a donations page on the main BMFA Website which can be accessed on the link below.
Come and visit
Every year we aim to improve the facilities at the National Centre in order to make it an attractive and pleasant place to be, the general feedback seems to indicate that we are succeeding, and each year we welcome first time visitors as well as the valued repeat bookings, whether it’s a day’s flying, attending a specific event or a few days camping break why not come and support the National Centre and enjoy some model flying with like-minded people.
We look forward to seeing you at the Centre soon.