History of R/C Soaring in Hong Kong

A perspective view from a HK pioneer glider pilot - Robert Yan


My Acquaintance of Radio Control Equipment

It was about 1970 winter in Hong Kong, a friend visited our house while I was building a four-foot Billing Boat model, the Cutty Sark, from scratch. I was planking the boat and tying ladders with a spool of strings. He saw my half finished boat and complained that I should build something that could move and not just for display. As I did not appreciate powered model planes, cars or boats, we decided that RC Helicopter was my choice. There was a very limited choice of helicopter models available at that time. Those available were the Graupner’s Twin Jet and Kavan’s Jet Ranger. I ended up building and flying 2 Graupner’s Twin Jet 212, and one Jet Ranger. At that time, the design and construction of these early helicopter models were quite primitive and spare parts were not readily available. The radio frequencies allowed by the authorities were among the AM frequencies. A license will be required when we flew our models. I used to fly at the deserted play ground which is now the tennis club at Wong Nai Chung Gap Road.

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Picture of RC helicopter flying at Hong Kong side. Time : 1972

When I went to fly my helicopter, I used to go with my family. In order not to bore my family, I built an 1.8 m hand launch free flight glider without radio control for the family members to throw around in order to kill the time. It was the Graupner’s Nancy. One day as I was hovering my Twin Jet a gentleman came approaching me and introduced himself. His name was Lim and he was interested in flying helicopters and was learning to fly at that time. He asked if I could shared with him some experience. I agreed with much pleasure. As he saw our hand glider, we had lengthy conversations about the RC hobby and he had many years of RC Glider flying back in his home country, Malaysia. He also told me that he brought from his home town some gliders and was flying alone in Hong Kong. It was finally decided that I would teach him how to fly RC Helicopters in exchange of his knowledge of flying RC Gliders. We became good friends including our families.


The birth of HK RC Gliders.

I saw his RC aerobatic glider in his home and never believed that it could fly without an engine in this weight, which I gathered was over 5 lbs. Then I started building my first RC Glider which was the Groupner’s 2800mm Cumulus. Another prospective glider pilot whom I met in the shop joined our glider group. We were very active in the slopes of Kowloon Peak. We did not form any clubs although there was a RC Powered Club. In 1975 there were about 5 active members flying during weekends in Kowloon Peak. The planes flown were mostly of British design in kit forms or from magazine plans, and were of high wing locations and high dihedrals. Over Kowloon peak we could catch wind from many directions, East, South East, South, South West and West. Although the Kai Tak Airport (The Hong Kong International Airport) was quite close to our flying site, and the flying of RC Gliders was of elementary standard at that time, plus the fact that during each afternoon of our flying there were rarely over 4 commercial flights landing or taking off, our soaring close to the airport was never considered inconvenient to the commercial flight path. Later when the airport was getting busier each day, we started to look for new sites. We did find a few. During our search for new sites, we designed and built suitable gliders for test flying. They could be taken apart in small components for ease of carrying. They must be capable of coping with light and strong wind conditions and different landing ground.

Picture of the RC family groups. In the old days no blue jeans were found!
You can find 2 Cumulus, one Impala and 2 Dandy in the above picture.

The most popular planes we flew were of British design either from kits or scratch-built from magazines and plans, such as the English Impala, the Graupner’s 2800mm Cumulus and 3000mm Cirrus. Other planes were Graupner’s Amigo, the UK Middle-Phase, Phase 4 and 5, scratch built Ridge Runner, Mijet, and a few self-designed models. The Cumulus 2800 proved to be the "Rolls Royce" for beginners. It would stay up balancing itself if we ran into trouble by just letting the hands off the transmitter.

We had so much fun and good exercises in the hills on flying RC Gliders that we all forgot about flying RC helicopters. We would fly all day long during holidays with our families and we erected a boy-scout tent in the ridge of Kowloon Peak and brought our portable B/W TV set and food too. Other families and members had their own social gathering in the hills.

Our Malaysian friend left HK for his work but our activities continued.

It was around 1977, words spread in two large model shops in town about r/c gliders flying in HK. The shops wanted to sell more by introducing people to watch and contact us in the hills. There were a few fliers joining us and we helped a few beginners to start the hobby. Eventually there were about 10 active fliers during this time. Shops started to stock glider kits and more people wanted to try this new hobby. Two or three full size commercial aircraft pilots joined us and they were quite active. One indicated to me that flying the real commercial aircrafts was easier than flying the RC Glider as these are often flown in automatic mode, and anything can happen to their models during a landing.

Our group was very active and we would fly whenever weather permitted us to do so. We wanted to recruit more people to fly in the hills and we made enquiries to the "Powered RC clubs", model shops, and offered to help beginners. We were interviewed and filmed by three local TVs as a promotion to a healthy sport by ATV, TVB and the "Commercial TV" ( which was closed later.)

Radio equipment was on AM frequencies. Planes were mostly self-designed or British kits.

The radios used were of AM frequencies and a license had to be acquired at the HK Post office which cost HK$20 per year. When a transmitter/receiver set was sold the shop would request a registration formality and details of the person buying it. A new license would be issued to the new owner. Each year the owner must take the transmitter set to the Post Office and have the frequency checked by the Post Office before a new license was issued. There was only one allowable frequency for RC flying which was 14.7 MHz. RC License was not required during later years around 1977 when Japanese radio control toys were selling all over town. There was no way that the Government could control the use of it.

When we flew at Kowloon Peak around 1974 to 1977 over looking the Kai Tak Airport, watching the landing and taking off of the commercial plane was one of the highlights of our day’s outing. During the whole afternoon of our flying for 3 hours we might have the chance of seeing only 4 or 5 landings. Air traffic was quite relaxed and it was safe to fly close to the airport. As the Kai Tak Airport was getting busier and the government announced that flying kites close to the airport was not advisable, we began to look for new sites. New sites were found, namely, Shek-O (E/NE-winds), the ridge behind Shaw’s Studio near Sai Kung (SE/E/NE-winds), and some location near Sai Kung for North wind. One of the most beautiful spots in terms of lift, scenery and landing ground is Tai Mo Shan. It is ideal for North-West wind direction. In those days there were practically no visitors to Kowloon Peak. In one occasions a fellow pilot left his bag in the road side during a Saturday he would recover his bag the next week when he returned to the spot. The bag was practically untouched.

Before 1980 the road leading to the Clear Water Bay Country Club was not opened to the public and we had to enter with some CWB Country Club members in order to fly in the place which is now popular for many. The road was opened to the public around 1982 and the main gate was shifted to where it is now located. The CWB spot was getting popular as it can be reached by public transport and practically no hill climbing is needed. When in rain one can fly staying inside the car, and land it when the rain stops.

Around 1985 to 1990 there were about 4 groups of RC Soaring pilots. One group was flying in Shek-O, one group flying in Kowloon Peak, one group flying at the road side of CWB and another group flying over the hill of CWB. There were isolated pilots flying in other remote places such as Lantau Island, and the New Territories.

As far as I can recall, there were no official clubs or organizations for RC Soaring Pilots in which experiences can be shared and ideas exchanged. This is probably one of the reasons pilots do not realize the importance of disciplines to be observed by fellow fliers.

Many new models were designed and tried. Flying wings were popular. Some people preferred the fast aerobatics models and others the bulky vintage models with gull-wings. New radios and new frequencies were marketed by Germany, Japan and the USA.

From 1983 until now large scale models were seen flying over the sky of Hongkong. These were mostly imported from Germany. Their wing-spans were over 4m, such as the Discus, Alpina, Grob, DG300 and Twin-Astir.

It has been found that this hobby is healthy in the way that it is to be carried out in the open air. The planes are quiet and flown without the mess of petrol. It is very enjoyable to fly your model at a slow speed about 10 feet away horizontally from the pilot. They are graceful, and colourful.


Robert Yan
Hong Kong, April, 2001

Please contact Robert directly for matters related to this article