It is with great sadness that I report that Ron Sabey passed away on Wednesday 17th May. Ron was a true gentleman and he was well respected by all. He was dedicated to the sport of aeromodelling and a very successful free flight contest flier. His main love was free flight gliders with which he won the SAA Glider Championship on numerous occasions, but he also enjoyed flying power models, rubber models, radio soaring, and control line models. He took great pleasure in building his models to a very high standard, as one might expect from someone whose profession was engineering and quality assurance.
Ron gave his time readily to encouraging juniors in the sport. When he was secretary of the Hamilton Club in 80’s, he gained access to a woodwork room in the Academy. There, under his guidance, a chain of models were built by juniors, mainly Mini Goodyear and British Goodyear. These were then flown in Strathclyde Park on Saturday mornings. After he moved to Dumfries in 1987, he undertook a similar role with the Air Cadets in Castle Douglas for many years. Several of his students went on to win trophies at the British Nats and Scottish contests.
Ron was the SAA’s Free Flight Contest Director from 1975 to 1987 and his contribution to the sport was recognised by a Fellowship award from the SAA.
Ron was brought up in Cambuslang near West Coats School, where one of the teachers, called Jim McDowell, ran an aeromodelling club, in his handwork class. He joined the West Coats Club in 1959 at the age of 12. When Jim McD transferred to the East Milton School in East Kilbride, Ron followed and joined the new Merlins Club. They flew control line and free flight models. From 1963 to 1965, Ron flew 1/2A Team Racers competitively with Scott Pearce, Kerr Crozier, and Ian McAlpine. He also built a couple of Inchworm A/2’s and flew those at Abbotsinch. Like many of us, Ron then had a break from aeromodelling to investigate the world of cars, motorbikes and women. It took a broken collarbone ( from a motorbike accident not a woman ) and the need for a therapeutic quiet hobby to bring him back to modelling in 1973.
In 1978 when I stayed in East Kilbride, there was one day when I heard the unmistakable noise of control-line models circulating in the distance. I homed in this noise and it led me to a Team Race meeting, where I was given the phone number of the Hamilton Club secretary – Mr Sabey. I phoned Ron that night – I guess it is a bit like someone contacting Alcoholics Anonymous – admitting they are an aeromodeller. I had been on the wagon for fourteen years, but I still had the addiction and I wanted to get started again. Ron was very encouraging, especially when I said that I liked free flight contest models. From being the only Hamilton club member flying free flight, Ron now had a flying buddy, and we have been best friends since. In our contest flying together there were many highs and lows, but it was a privilege for me to share these experiences with a great friend. We took enormous pleasure from each other’s successes and when things went pear-shaped, we were on hand with a vicious humorous castigation to lighten the mood.
Ron was most comfortable competing with well tried and tested models in which he had complete belief. When he found a design that worked for him, then he gradually refined it to make it even better. The Wichita A/2 was the foundation on which he built most of his early success. Between 1976 and 1991, he built a series of variations of the Wichita and Ron was consistently the top glider flier in Scotland over these years. His win at the Scottish Nats in 1999 was a good illustration of the model’s capability. Ron was in the fly-off against a very modern circle tow model. Both models were launched together into gentle lift but Ron’s straight tow Wichita started well below the carbon model. As the flight continued the Wichita found the centre of the thermal and crossed over to be comfortably the higher of the two and won the event. Ron’s smile was as wide as the moor. Although he had carbon models and flew them successfully, Ron always favoured a model which held thermals well and in recent years the W-Hobby Junior design was his favourite.
You can keep you carbon F1a’s
“ I’ve got wood ! ”
Ron with W-Hobby Junior F1a
Although consistently very successful in Scottish contests throughout the decades from 1973 onwards, Ron did not have any luck at major British contests until late in his career. In 2010 the breakthrough came when he won the Classic Glider event at the British Nats with his Seraph glider. Later the same year, he won the Classic A/2 at the SAM Championship at Middle Wallop with his Straka. In 2011, flying the Straka he retained the Classic Glider Trophy at the British Nats in resounding style. In 2012, Ron won the Vintage Glider at the British Nats with his Majestic Lunak glider.
March 2014 was the start of Ron’s medical problems when a malignant brain tumour was diagnosed. Following surgery and the debilitating chemotherapy afterwards, Ron recovered sufficiently to start flying again, and winning again, that Autumn. In late September, with the assistance of Calum as chauffer and fetcher, he won the Steel Trophy for the umpteenth time. As his strength continued to improve, Ron felt able to go to the British Nats in May 2015. He reached the fly-off in both Classic and Vintage Glider, finishing 4th in Vintage with his Odenman A/2.
Ron with Odenman Vintage A/2
In September 2015, Ron had a major set-back when he suffered a stroke which left him paralysed down his right side. He fought this with his usual determination and positive outlook and regained quite a degree of mobility. By December 2016, we were discussing how he would get to the British Nats in May 2017. But then the final straw was the return of the brain tumour. The consultant advised that this time there could be no treatment without major brain damage. Ron died peacefully and without pain on Wednesday 17th May at the age of seventy. This outcome was inevitable and had been anticipated for some weeks, it is none the less distressing when the moment arrives and our thoughts are with Ron’s wife Janice, daughter Lesley, son Calum and his wife Carine, and Ron’s granddaughter Isabella.
Extracts from Free Flight Newsletters - A few of Ron’s BIG SMILEY Days
May 2010 British Nats
Ron flew his Seraph in Classic Glider and after three textbook flights he was into the fly-off. Three qualified for the fly-off. Colin Foster with a Sans Egal and Ian Wilkinson with an Inchworm, were alongside Ron. Ron picked his time, towed the Seraph up smoothly and gently released it into its glide. The air was not helpful and the Seraph did well to hang on for a 2:15 time. We were confident that this was enough to beat the Inchworm flight that we had seen, and we waited for Colin’s time to be returned to control – it was 2:12 – Ron was the winner. After 35 years of flying at the British Nationals, Ron has won an event. The first of many for sure.
Aug 2010 SAM Champs
On Monday, Ron and Jim were competing in the Classic A/2 Glider event for the Rybak Trophy and Allan was competing in Vintage Power. The day did not start promisingly as there was a cold 15mph wind blowing from the museum toward Middle Wallop village of the South edge of the airfield. 2:00 minute maxes were again the target. Ron and Jim walked as far as possible upwind before flying and completed their flights comfortably within the airfield. Ron maxed with the Straka, while Jim had a 1:50 flight with his Marauder. Ron made another two excellent flights with the Straka to qualify for the fly-off. It was Ron’s turn to stalk the Scorers as the only flier with a full score returned. We watched other contenders fail to max, but the weather was improving all the time and in the last few minutes before the contest closed, Peter Tomlinson and Terry King achieved their final maxes to join Ron in a three way fly-off.
By the time of the Rybak fly-off , the weather was superb – a light 10mph breeze which had veered to the Northeast giving 1.2 miles of airfield to fly across. Ron was first to tow. The Straka climbed steadily to the top of the line, but it was not pulling up so Ron was off , jogging upwind looking for better air. He towed through a poor patch where the Straka fell well back from the top of the line. He then came into more positive air. The Straka climbed back to the top of the line and Ron released. It was gliding very well but gradually losing height for the first two minutes. Then it was holding height at around 60 metres and then it started to climb. Slowly at first, then faster. After six minutes we were asking it to stop climbing as it headed towards the low cloud base. It stayed in clear view, d/t’d after 8 mins, and landed at 9:05. It was a fabulous flight. It was the best of times – literally as Peter returned a 6 minutes flight for second place.
The model travelled around a mile and a half in the light wind and Ron had a signal from its beacon before he reached the boundary of the airfield, which hinted that it was going to be hung up in a tree. As he passed down through Middle Wallop village on his way to the model, an affable young man took an interest in what he was doing and offered to help him search. Together they followed the signal out of the village and into dense woodland which was part of the estate surrounding a Nursing Home. The model was eventually found, well hidden in a small tree, but Ron would need the poles to knock it out. They left the model, Rick returned home and Ron walked back over the airfield. Ron, Tommy and Jim then drove round to the nursing home car park and returned to the tree to find that the model was no longer there and there was no signal in the area. ( Rick, what have you done ! ) We drove up to Rick’s home expecting him to have the model. He said that he was astonished that the model was gone and came back to the woods with us to confirmed that it had indeed gone. Rick promised to ask around the village and would try and find out what happened to Ron’s Straka. . It was the epoch of incredulity. ( One week later, Rick phoned to say that a boy in the village had found the model, that the boy’s father had brought to Rick and he had it stored safely )
2011 British Nats - Classic Glider
The F1h and Classic Glider fly-off ran in the same 10 minute slot with the Classic Power/Rubber following after. David’s Caprice returned a very respectable 2:42 flight. Chris who started towing his F1h at the start of the round and was comfortably circling upwind, sampling the air and waiting for a good patch. There was nothing encouraging during the first five minutes, then Ron started towing his Straka which climbed on the line well. A little further upwind Chris now felt the good patch and made a nice bunting launch into it. Ron continued to tow the Straka upwind and released it into the same area. Both models were gaining height very gently as they circled together – The 1950’s Straka flying alongside the 2010’s F1h were like chalk and cheese but they both equally enjoyed this patch of air and they flew on to win their separate contests by comfortable margins. Chris’s F1h d/t’d down at 5:54 to be three minutes ahead of Gary Madelin in second place. Ron’s Straka d/t’d down for a 6:55 time to also be three minutes ahead of Colin Foster’s Sans Egal in second place
2012 British Nats - Vintage Glider
Ron started his day flying his Lunak in Vintage Glider. The large model made a very impressive sight as it turned in three majestic maxes to book a place in the fly-off. Maurice flew a 50” Lulu vintage glider in the same event and achieved two maxes and a 1:18 flight. Ron’s score sat at the top of the leader board all day and he waited to see if anyone would match it to force a fly-off. It was uncertain until the closing horn blew, the scores were returned and the fat lady sang. No one else maxed out and Ron was the clear winner.