Signal Hill has long been a communications point on the Southern California landscape. In an earlier era, Native Americans signaled their brethren with fire and smoke, from Santa Catalina Island to the foothills of the Coastal Range bordering what is now L.A.

Today the signals are electronic, connecting us--at the click of a mouse--to vast, new worldwide networks.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Aviator Performs Flying Filagrees Over Signal Hill

"I've tried almost everything," says Dr. Brian Pham, "speed planes, jets, sail-planes, helicopters, war birds, etc., but the thing that gets the adrenaline pumping for me is aerobatics.  It never gets boring."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       This was pretty clear the day we had our Pleasant Encounter on the Hilltop.  

After performing a fantastic filagree of spins and loops and rolls, he brought his plane down to eye level, directed it into the wind, turned the nose up to vertical, and let the breeze gently guide it into his waiting hand.  "Nice landing," I said. 

Brian is an optometrist with his own practice in downtown Long Beach, a business he started five years ago, upon completing his studies.  In addition to his profession, his "passions" in life are aviation (full-scale and radio control), racing cars at a track, and Transcendental Meditation.

The light-weight, styrofoam plane Brian holds in the above picture, he built, and is his "fly anywhere, practice plane," one he can take to small parks, the beach, and Signal Hill.  But what he enjoys most is performing giant-scale aerobatics, flying planes that are typically 25-50% scale replicas of their full-size counterparts, and require a runway.

One of these is Brian's Sbach 342, shown here.  It is 36% of the size of the real thing, having a wingspan of nine feet, a fuselage the length of a minivan, and weighing in at a very light 27 pounds.  It is made primarily of balsa wood and is powered by a 111 cc twin cylinder gas engine, making about 12 horsepower.   (Brian participates in a forum dedicated to these Flying Giants.)
To perform aerobatics with these behemoths of the radio control world--as well as with the smaller planes--takes a lot of hand-eye-brain coordination.  He described these complexities, saying the controls required are each time reversed, depending if the plane is approaching or going away; whether it is ascending or descending.  "You need fast reaction, and most importantly, good visual-spatial skills for higher-level aerobatics," he said.  

Here's a link to a short onboard video of Brian performing aerobatics with one of his smaller balsa planes.  Be sure to turn up the volume.

Our Pleasant Encounter on Signal Hill introduced me to the aviation sub-culture, which seems more inclusive than I had imagined.  Brian told me of meeting many of his fellow enthusiasts who are  pilots of both full-scale, as well as remote control aircraft.  Some have invited him to fly with them on the "real thing."

I'm looking forward to seeing more flying filagrees above the Hill.




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