Passion is a disease that will drive one to perfection and it is no different for Jan Labuschagne who takes modest pride in the best radio controlled aircrafts that South Africa has to offer. In my opinion these are the best examples in the world, but Jan shyly corrects me and tells me that his Eindecker Fokker has only entered a South African event. It won 7 times in the last 8 years and when asked what happened the year he did not win, the answer is simple. He did not enter that year.
Jan contributes the key to his success to balance. I nearly interrupt him with laughter and an”I could have told you that”. After all you will not get a plane off the ground without balance, but Jan continues… Balance in life is the most important thing to remember. Building these wonders in the garage on a Saturday or late at night is only a small part of his life. Work and more importantly his family also play a big role. What would these impressive planes mean to him, if he couldn’t share the memories with his newborn grandson, two children and wife?
There is no doubt that these ventures take time, where every detail is thoroughly thought through and then custom built by hand. Jan does not believe in buying some expensive kit version from Europe, but rather chooses to study the history of a specific plane and then skilfully build it from the original planes’ specifications.
This is exactly what he did more than a decade ago, when he brought the Eindecker Fokker E III 358 to life. The Fokker (no, not the guy that drove in front of you this morning) came about thanks to a boy named Anthony Fokker who saw his first airplane at an Automobile show in Brussels in the early 1900’s. It is described that young Anthony had a way of manipulating his father, but on this occasion his wealthy dad point blank told his son that he will never buy him a plane. In his opinion flying high up in the air was far too dangerous. Anthony Fokker did the next best thing and started experimenting with paper and wood models, ‘till he finally found a way to collect sufficient money from his dad to build his own plane and so the Fokker aircraft was born. Fokker became the first man to loop a plane in Germany and was caught by surprise when World War One broke out and his services became more valuable than ever.
Jan chose the Eindecker Fokker E III 358 project after being intrigued by a famous German aviator named Ernst Udet. Oberleutnant Udet became the highest scoring ace to survive WWI at age 22 and his cocky attitude was well illustrated on the tail of most of his aircrafts. The phrase “du doch nicht” (you and who else) greeted the enemy that approached him from behind. The enemy did however bring Udet down, as he became one of the first pilots to be saved by parachute. Being a first timer with this new technology, Udet’s parachute first hooked onto the plane’s tail and finally opened 250 feet above ground. His lifestyle finally caught up with him in 1941 when he committed suicide.
Building these radio controlled planes from scratch is no child’s play as Jan found out after spending 1200 hours on the 14 ½ kg Eindecker E III Fokker. The plane sports a 3, 4 meter wingspan and is powered by a Zenoah G74 74cc engine. Jan felt so confident with his building skills and the way the plane handled that he decided to loop the Eindecker Fokker on its maiden flight, after spending over 3 ½ years on building this wonder. This is unheard of, but Jan is no amateur and pulled it off just like Anthony Fokker did almost a century ago.
True enthusiast will always be influenced by fresh ideas. This always results in “the next project” and with a WWI aircraft safely in the air Jan decided to look for a project that will represent WWII. The Bucker 133 seemed just the right project to prickle the “feel good” enzymes in the brain and in 2005 he started this 45% scale plane. Yes, you read correctly, it’s nearly half the size of the real plane. Unlike the Bucker 131, which can host two pilots, the bucker 133 only has one cockpit.
As you have noticed by now, these model planes have long since passed the stage of being toys and operate more like real planes. At the heart or should I say nose of this yellow bird, purrs a 5 cylinder, 4 stroke radial 215cc Moki engine that runs on petrol and pushes out 12 ½ hp to reach speeds of up to 80 km/h. The research that has gone into this project is mind blowing, as the thick files on the workbench and the posters against the wall confirm. Jan even visited a Museum in Lucerne, Switzerland to study a 600 kg full size original Bucker 133, seeing that South Africa does not own one of these beauties. The 131 twin cockpit Bucker does, however, exist in South Africa and with having access to two of these planes, Jan filled his notebooks with useful information.
To date Bucker U-51 has done some test runs on the ground and all that I can say is that I feel sorry for the competition at next year’s Swartkops radio controlled air show. With more than 2400 hours spend in the garage on this plane; I can also safely say that the balance he maintains and believes in has paid off, as he is still happily married.
Uberleutnant Ruald Hartzenberg looking over his shoulder at the enemy.
The Eindecker Fokker model uses the same wing warping system as the original plane. Subsequent airplane designs incorporate aileron control on the wings. The maxim 7,7 mm machine gun in the Fokker was the first synchronized machine gun used on a fighter aircraft in WWI.
The Fokker’s prop that Jan carved from Celigna wood one summer holiday. It took him 40 hours to make this art piece.
The Bucker’s shock absorber system can handle almost any obstacle coming it’s way.