The old and the new

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Written by Gordon Buckland Rc Soaring As seen in the September 2020 issue of Model Aviation.
The western US is a prolific breeding ground for exceptional model sailplane pilots, and none more so than the two gentlemen upon whom this month’s column is focused. When I returned to the hobby in 2009, I searched for a good Thermal Duration (TD) sailplane to fly in the local Orlando Buzzards contests in Florida, and came across a competitive, built-up TD sailplane called the Big Smoothie that was for sale on I purchased the model but it was lost in transit. I discovered that the designer of this model was Harley Michealis, a prolific sailplane designer and extraordinary pilot with a passion for building sailplanes. Since then, we have exchanged emails about his line of Genie built-up sailplanes and Soaring. A big thanks to Augie McKibben for providing a summary of Harley’s exploits, found on Augie’s website: “A self-taught modeler and scratch-builder since age 8, Harley is an active retiree involved with RC sailplanes since the mid-1960s. He’s the oldest modeler in the Northwest Soaring Society [NWSS] and competed until 2008 when undeniable eye changes called for less-demanding sport flying with old friends. His League of Silent Flight (LSF) number is 023, Level 4. Level 5 competition requirements were completed in 1975, but thereafter frustrated by lack of witnesses and other local support. “When RC sailplane kits were a rarity, he started doing original sailplane designs, and from January 1969 had 17 construction articles published in the various model magazines. “First design published was in the January ’69 issue of Flying Models (FM). It had a hatch/power pod combo that interchanged with a separate hatch for slope/tow. It could fly [three] ways and was dubbed the TRI-BELLE. Wing was built-up, 100-inch span. “It was followed in the July ’69 issue of FM by the 150-inch wingspan MISKEET. See the Miscellaneous Pictures file for more about it and the music it made in flight. Harley used one to do the LSF 4-hour Level 4 slope task in very light wind. “The third pic is of the 110-inch wingspan ATRIX published in the December ’86 issue of Model Aviation. It’s in MA’s online archives. It had a balsa sheeted, three-piece built-up wing. It was the forerunner of the Jouster and the current Genie series of scratch-build ships. “Flying the Jouster (July 1993 MA) and Jouster 2M, at age 69 Harley was the 1990 NWSS Season Champion in both Open and 2M classes, Expert category. His normalized scores exceeded 99% average in both classes, competing against some 150 fliers. “After ARFs appeared, the model magazines became disinterested in articles for scratch-building sophisticated sailplanes. Harley later created the website about the Genie designs dedicated to the art of scratch-building. “Since 1992, Harley’s primary interest has been the development of the Genie line of scratch-built, state-of-the-art, thermal competition sailplanes. “Along the way, Harley developed the all-internal Rotary Driver System of actuating flaps and ailerons.” A few years ago, the name Jonathan Garber began to crop up at TD Soaring contests and on An exceptionally talented and enthusiastic builder and competitor, Jonathan is becoming a household name in Soaring circles. He quickly established himself as a first-class Soaring pilot while he was a teenager, winning many contests and performing to a high level in the new F5J TD electric launch class. He competed in the US Team Selection event and made the US team for the first FAI F5J World Championships for RC Electric Model Aircraft, which was held in Slovakia in 2019. Jonathan designed the TigRES 3.0 sailplane for the F3RES rule set, which mandates a 2-meter wooden, built -up airframe. The TigRES 3.0 has a much lower aspect ratio than most sailplanes and a fairly thin airfoil. He noticed that the higher aspect-ratio designs didn’t get very high in calm conditions, hence the lower aspect-ratio wing to get more out of the light F3RES regulation hi-starts. This also makes for better light morning air performance and improved penetration if the wind comes up. This sailplane has a wing area of 676 square inches and a flying weight of 12 to 16 ounces. I asked Harley and Jonathan to answer a few questions regarding their RC Soaring passions and their lives. Harley is 99 years old, while Jonathan is 22.
jonathan garber shows
Jonathan Garber shows off his new TigRES 3.0 built-up sailplane design. Photo by Curtis Suter.
Gordon Buckland: When did you first become interested in flight? Harley Michealis: Publicity about Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 New York to Paris flight triggered my fascination with aviation. Jonathan Garber: I have been interested in flight for as long as I can remember. Both of my parents are pilots and my dad is an airframe and powerplant /inspection authorization mechanic. I’ve been around airplanes since I was a couple of months old. GB: What is your first memory of flying a model airplane? HM: At age 15, with $3 saved over several months, I bought a kit of a Douglas Space Conqueror, a rubber-powered, stick-and-tissue Cabin model. It got into a thermal, was chased for an hour then went out of sight but was found intact in the backyard of my friend. I was hooked for life on thermal flight. JG: When I was around 6 or 7 years old, my parents got me an Air Hogs capacitor-powered Free Flight (FF) airplane and I flew it like there was no tomorrow. After they saw my interest in that, they got me several Guillow’s FF kits to put together and develop my interest in the hobby. GB: What inspired you to concentrate on sailplanes rather than powered airplanes? HM: I never liked motor noise, grease, or chasing FF aircraft, so when RC came along to return an airplane home, the logical thing was to get into sailplanes. I was full of original ideas, so I built my own and started offering my designs as construction articles to magazines. JG: My mentor, Jim Loughran, was really into sailplanes and wasn’t fond of powered airplanes. I suppose that rubbed off on me because I cannot think of anything that I enjoy more than going out, finding some thermals, and watching the day pass by. GB: What was the first model that you designed and flew? HM: A shop class project for which I first drew plans. The teacher was so impressed that he personally bought balsa and other things needed for me to build it as a shop project. It flew out of sight in a thermal on its first flight and was never seen again. JG: I designed (and flew) a FF model to have a removable wing and be shippable. After I moved to Montana and got really serious about model aviation, I was excited to show my hobby to my grandparents, who live on the East Coast! GB: Who was the biggest influence on you regarding RC Soaring? HM: My creative, subconscious mind. JG: Jim Loughran pushed me to explore the hobby, innovate, and push the boundaries of what I believed to be possible. Jim and I had a goal, which was for me to make the first F5J World Championship team. He passed away in 2017 and unfortunately, was not able to be here to see that goal achieved. Two years after he passed, we held the first F5J Team selections and I made the team. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that he had been able to come with us to Slovakia, and not a moment goes by that I don’t think about all that he did to help make me the person I am today. GB: How did you decide what construction method to use with your designs? HM: Envisioning “that looks about right,” learning by doing, trial and error, and improvement that comes from experience. JG: I chose stick-built balsa airframes because they are relatively inexpensive to put together. These airframes allow me to put into practice what I’ve learned about aerodynamics, and to develop my design techniques in a relatively inexpensive format. GB: Which of your model sailplane designs is your favorite? HM: Any of three of the bagged-wing Genie line of aircraft: the 10-foot LT/S, the 11-foot Smooth Genie Pro, and the 12-foot Big Smoothie, each with fiberglass-covered fuselages. They are beautiful, and the handling and performance are superb. JG: My favorite is the TigRES 3.0. I designed it in AutoCAD from line one to what it is now, and it is the first time that I also designed the airfoils using XFOIL and XFLR5. GB: Do you prefer Thermal Soaring or Slope Soaring? HM: Thermal Soaring. Every flight is different and can be challenging. Sloping is fun, especially with a fast, highly maneuverable sailplane like the ORCA, but repetitious. JG: I prefer Thermal Soaring. It’s hard to explain, but I enjoy it more than almost anything else in the world. GB: What do you think of the current crop of molded F3J and F5J models? HM: ARFs are sure pretty and well made, but modelers who used to be creative designers/builders and made valuable new discoveries to pass on to others have essentially vanished. The erroneous notion that only a costly ARF can do well in competition has greatly increased costs. JG: The current crop of F3J and F5J models is truly impressive. The improvements we have seen in the last couple of years have been astonishing when it comes to performance and construction techniques. GB: What are your thoughts on the regulations being imposed by the FAA? HM: It looks like FAA is indifferent about taking the fun out of flying and killing a hobby that prompted many pilots to become aviation engineers. JG: I think the FAA is shortsighted, and I believe that FAA officials are forgetting where most of aviation’s roots lead, which is model aviation. If you look throughout aviation history, you will see that without model aviation, many of the great advancements that we have seen in modern aviation would never have come to fruition. GB: Tell us about your fondest memories with RC Soaring. HM: It was a Saturday and I took a just-finished, 12-foot wingspan Genie out to the Prescott, Washington, schoolyard for its maiden flight. This Genie was built full strength and from launch altitude, I quickly got into a thermal. Lift was everywhere. With the sun at my back, I flew out and lifted close to 1,000 feet then reversed course to fly right across the area, gaining altitude all the way. After getting to roughly 2,000 feet, I didn’t want to get higher, so I began to fly nose-down between passes, which kept increasing the airspeed. Streaking across the sky, I anticipated fluttering and an explosion at any moment, with Genie parts falling from the sky. I kept traversing the sky for a half-hour or so and getting to approximately 2,500 feet. I then positioned the Genie overhead, stalled it to slow it down, and deployed the flaps to descend straight down and land near my feet, fully controlled. It’s an experience that I can still visualize. All other flights are a big blur. JG: My fondest memories come from all of the times I’ve spent with the wonderful people within the RC Soaring community—spending time with my friends at events, goofing off, and having the time of our lives making memories that’ll last a lifetime. I hope you have enjoyed this contrasting story of the “old and the new” as much as I have in putting it together. Harley is an amazing inspiration to all of us, and I am sure we will see a lot more of Jonathan Garber in RC Soaring in the future. Go downwind and soar!
harley michealis and his big smoothie
Harley Michealis and his Big Smoothie Genie in 1981. At 1,260 square inches and 87 ounces with a 12-foot wingspan, it is the largest of Harley’s Genie line of scratch-built sailplanes.


Harley’s Genie Line of Sailplanes

Orlando Buzzards


League of Silent Flight (LSF)


Harley is now 99 years old and is still mentoring new builders like me. He is a strong Christian and lives in Walla Walla, Wash. I ran across Harley’s Orca written up in the Nov ‘89 MA magazine. I mailed it to him for Christmas in 2019. Our hobby needs more determined visionaries like him. Thanks for the article.

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