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World record is all the buzz

August 04, 1998

Radio controlled flight recordBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer [enlarge]




For 14 sweltering, maddening hours on Monday, Maynard Scott Hill and Paul Kirsh directed a model airplane in circles from their lawn chairs at the Mason-Dixon Dragway east of Hagerstown.

When the red plane finally coasted to a landing on the lush grass, they had set a world record.

Hill's father, Maynard L. Hill, of Silver Spring, Md., designed the radio-controlled plane. But he has not been able to operate it for the last two years because a degenerative eye disease has robbed him of his sight.

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"It feels wonderful, but I'm happier for my father," said the younger Hill, who goes by Scott, and who was the lead pilot in the flight. "I'm honored that he chose me to fly it for him."

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Scott Hill, of Stevensville, Md., said he deserves little of the credit since the real skill is in designing and building an aircraft that can remain in the air that long.

The Paris-based Federation Aeronautique Internationale, which sanctions world records for radio-controlled model airplanes, gives awards to pilots. As a result, Scott Hill said he will use his formal name - Maynard - so the diploma will be in his father's name.

The senior Hill, who is a member of the Hagerstown-based Pegasus Model Airplane Radio Control Club, said he fell in love with aviation when he was about 6 years old and Charles Lindbergh was a national hero.

The distance record set in Hagerstown on Monday was for closed-course flying. The airplane had to remain within a half-kilometer area.

Scott Hill and his partner Kirsh, of Silver Spring, who relieved him at periods during the flight, kept the plane within the zone, turning it each time it reached the end.

They passed the old mark, which a different pilot set with the same plane three years ago, at 7:23 p.m. At that point it had gone 1,250 kilometers.

When the plane finally landed at precisely 7:55 p.m., the plane had made 1,301 laps. That equals about 806 miles.

The senior Hill, who is 73 years old and has set 22 radio-controlled airplane records, said the closed-course distance record is the hardest to set.

The contestant must fly the plane fast enough to complete the distance before darkness descends. But the faster the plane travels, the quicker it burns fuel. So a delicate balancing act is required to keep the plane in the air until it has traveled the required distance, Maynard Hill said.

Hill failed in an attempt a week ago. After 1,153 kilometers, just 97 short of the record, the plane ran out of fuel and crashed, he said.

"Marvelous Martha" - named for a waitress at a Damascus, Md., restaurant - is about 5 feet long with a 64-inch wingspan.

At launch time, the aircraft weighed about 11 pounds, half of that fuel.

John E. Patton, a contest director for the National Aeronautics Association, the U.S. governing body, said the plane had crashed on a test flight the week before last week's attempt, and its fuselage had been damaged. A resulting leak in the fuel line doomed the effort, he said.

With about two hours left to break the record on Monday, Maynard Hill was pacing nervously. He said an error in his calculations had contributed to last week's failure.

"I took a guess and it wasn't a good guess," he said. "I'm sweating it out whether we fixed it."

Hill's corrections proved correct, and he added the record to many others his planes have attained.

He said he holds the record for altitude flying, at about 27,000 feet. The plane was so high that it could be seen only with powerful binoculars, he said.

His speed record of 167 mph set in 1984 still stands, he said.

Hill also has the duration record, a total of 33 hours and 29 minutes.

Until a California man broke it recently, Maynard Hill held the record for cross-country flying. He said his crew flew the plane 457 miles down Interstate 95 from Bealeton, Va., to Ridgeland, S.C. During the nine-hour drive, the pilot sat in the back of a convertible and controlled the plane above.

All of this fails to answer the question: Why do this in the first place?

Like those who set records in any endeavor, Hill said it is the challenge of the feat that draws him.

"This is very tedious, very difficult, very hard on the pilots," said. "You want to set a record, it takes doing something."

Bob Ballentine, a Hagerstown resident who is a member of the Pegasus group, said Hill's records are a source of pride for the organization.

"Maynard's very professional about it. Most of us do it just to punch holes in the sky," he said.

For Hill's coup de grace, he said he hopes next year to become the first person to navigate a model airplane across the Atlantic Ocean.

He said he will outfit his plane with a tiny microchip that will allow him to use a satellite to navigate it from Newfoundland, Canada, to Ireland.

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