I first met ”Big Al” shortly after I joined Basingstoke Model Aircraft Club (BMAC) around 1973 or 74. I had built a Monterey 100 inch soarer (Radio Modeller Plan). Al had agreed to teach me to fly on Basingstoke new common. I remember that first short trimming flight well. I gave the model a reasonable throw down the slope on the common, it flew very well and landed at the bottom. I retrieved the plane and returned to where Al standing was with the Transmitter. “Now reverse the elevator” he said. Yes he had flown the Monterey perfectly down the slope reversing the elevator stick direction to compensate for my error. Over the years I have taught a fair number to budding new pilots to fly, the first thing I do to this day before that first launch is to check the elevator for correct direction of movement, something’s you never forget.
At the BMAC AGM that first year Al who was Club Chairman was re-appointed. However, there were no volunteers for the Secretary’s job (sounds familiar). Al simply looked across at me and said I helped you to learn to fly, so its your turn to help me, you’re now the new Club Secretary.
I'm sure many of you will know that prior to flying radio controlled gliders, Al was a free flight champion having a number of “A2” designs published including the Wishbone, published in the May 1964 edition of Aeromodeller. With the advent of proportional radio control systems Al turned to RC gliders, becoming one of early founders and promoters of the British Association of Radio Control Soarers.
I believe his first model was a 2 meter model from a well known German company. He entered and flew in his first competition (BARCS Southern Area), without any prior tuition or practice and yes he won.
Al was at that time employed as a representative by a large company of shop fitters. He would often be up early in the morning and drive to Birmingham for a 9am meeting, thus enabling him to be back in Basingstoke by early afternoon. He would then be out as usual on Basingstoke common with his plane and bungee practising in all weathers.
Al was probably best known for his large blue coloured rudder/elevator competition soarer called “Blue Beast”. BMAC used to hold a static competition in April each year to see who could produce the best looking model in each category. Well Al brought along this big blue coloured machine for the glider category, when it was assembled somebody remarked “that’s a big beast”. Hence the name of “Blue Beast” came about.
Al formed his own competition team to fly in the BARCS league. This comprised Ken Glynn, Norman Elliot (who passed away this August),even persuading Norman to move from Mitcham to Basingstoke to be in the team, Peter Lee (also deceased), myself and later on Adrian Lee to fly against Chris Foss, Ricky Shaw and many others in the BARCS league. At times Al would fly in the Midlands league, taking his wife as timer/spotter leaving his son Paul to stay with me and my family for the weekend.
Al eventually moved up north, I assume with his job and he eventually settled in the Bolton area. By then my job was taking me to South Asia for long periods of time so I lost touch with him. I did however manage to make contact with Al in September this year as I was at the time writing an article for the Thames Valley Silent Flyers (TVSF) magazine about Norman Elliot who flew in free flight competition with Al many years previously.
Declining health over the last ten years meant that Al was unable to fly as much as he would have wished, and he died in mid-December, 2012. He leaves a legacy which means that he will not be forgotten.
ThamesValley Silent Flyers