This article was originally published in RC Heli Pilot February/March 2016 issue.
Story & Photos By James Wang
As one can expect with anything from the Swiss, the event is well organized. The officials provided a pilot tent with work benches and power outlets. The fullsize aircraft hangar at the airfield was converted into a canteen for people to relax, eat and chat. There is a permanent café at the heliport that serves genuine Italian espressos and drinks, but outside caterers were also brought in for hot food. Because this is a heliport, there is also a true bathroom and not just an outhouse … huge bonus!
The fun fly always starts on Friday morning and ends on Sunday afternoon, along with night flying on Saturday night. In the daytime I could enjoy the fun fly and meet up with friends and around 5pm I could head to the Autumn Festival at Lugano, which is a beautiful small city on Lake Lugano about 15 miles from Lodrino. At the festival there is an outdoor celebration in the town center and there are tents cooking and selling delicious Ticino regional food. I really like this fun fly and have attended four out of the last seven Swiss Alpine Smackdowns.
The Swiss Alpine Heli Smackdown is the last fun fly of the season in Europe. Usually 150 to 200 modelers come by car from Switzerland, neighboring Germany, Italy, Austria, and France. Dave Djikerman who helps manage a hobby shop called Area 51, drives 1,000 miles from Spain to attend this fun fly each year. This year, the pilot turnout was smaller than in the past because the forecast was for rain, but in the Swiss mountain region, it is very normal to have low clouds and light drizzles that come and go. This Swiss weather pattern is what produces that beautiful, misty alpine scenery shown in the pictures. On Friday and Saturday, it rained on and off, but it never poured and hardcore pilots flew in the light drizzle. Amazingly, there were no crashes due to electronic or mechanical failure from the dampness. Luckily, Sunday brought nothing but beautiful sunshine.
I highly recommend attending this event because it is big enough to be interesting to see many different new helicopters that are popular in Europe, yet small enough to be very intimate. English is the common lan- guage, although the pilots may have driven from half a dozen different countries nearby and everyone has a different mother tongue. There are direct commercial flights from the U.S.A. to either Zurich International Airport, which is 2.5 hours north of Lodrino, or from the U.S.A. to Malpensa International Airport, which is the airport of Milan, Italy. Malpensa Airport is 90 minutes south of Lodrino. If you bring the family, I recommend finding a hotel in Lugano because it is a picturesque town with a population of 55,000 and has wonderful restaurants, shops and a lake that looks as picturesque as a postcard. You can drop the family at the Lugano Autumn Festival, then go enjoy the fun fly. The city of Lugano even provides free sightseeing boat rides on Lake Lugano on Saturday and Sunday because of the festival. Just be aware that on Sundays the stores are closed in Switzerland and in Germany.
October is considered the shoulder season in tourism travel, so the airfare from US to Europe can be half the price of summer peak season. Most airlines offer a discounted air- fare if you are staying over the Saturday night. When the English philologist and University of Oxford professor, J. R. R. Tolkien, wrote the epic fantasy books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, between 1937 and 1949, he derived inspiration for the scenery of the fictitious Rivendell in the books based on his trek through the Swiss Alps of Oberland in 1911. J. R. R. Tolkien did a 290 kilometer walk with his brother and 10 other friends, starting from Interlaken, then trekking eastward through Scheidegge Mountain Pass between the Eiger and Lauberhorn peaks. Then from the beautiful Jungfrau region, they went south to the famous Matterhorn Mountain at Zermatt. Thanks to a modern roadway, instead of trekking through mountain passes, we can do the adventure by rental car. I usually use the opportunity to take a short holiday. I brought my Thunder Tiger Mini Titan e325 electric helicopter and a TSA Infusion 600E Pro and flew them above the Scheidegge Mountain Pass at 7,000 feet altitude. The 450 and 600 class electric powered helicopters had no shortage of power for doing 3D even at that altitude because electric motors require no oxygen.
There seems to be a comeback of glow engine powered helicopters though. There were quite a few 90-size nitro powered helicopters, which included the TSA Infusion 700N, Align T-Rex 700N and JR Vibe 90. The introduction of the Gaui NX7 and the Synergy N7 have also helped stimulate a glow helicopter come- back. Lodrino is 1,000 feet above sea level, so the 90-size engines did not seem to suffer from the altitude. However, the challenge of flying engine powered RC helicopters is that the car- buretor must be re-tuned when one goes to a new flying field with different altitude, humidity and temperature conditions.
Those who were lucky enough to make the trek by car were able to bring all the fuel and batteries they needed. For others like me, however, traveling via commercial airlines with Lithium cells or nitro fuel can be a risky subject. No airlines (that I know of anyway) allow LiPo batteries to be checked.
Be sure to contact your airline before the trip to make sure you know their specific regulations regarding carry-on batteries. Most carriers have a limit to the amount of runtime and number of packs you can bring with you and exactly how they should be packaged. If all else fails, check with a fellow pilot before the event to see if borrowing flight packs is a possibility. There are also loads of vendors at the event as well as other local resources for buying new packs once in the country.
Throughout the weekend, there were all sorts of fabulous models in the air and on the flight line. Rather than going too deep into the description for each, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Despite the misty weather, the spacious site with the Alps as the backdrop and the Autumn Festival at Lugano made my fourth visit to Swiss Alpine Heli Smackdown a great holiday. Hope to see you at the 2016 AHS.