Bladder Grabber 2009

Triple-elimination fast combat tournament, Aug. 15-16, Snohomish, Wash.

The top two fliers at the 2009 Bladder Grabber, just after the final: Jeff Rein, champion (right) and runner-up Tony Huber. Flying Lines photo.

Jeff Rein wins Bladder Grabber XXXI
By Buzz Wilson

Bladder Grabber 31 is history. Time to start making plans for next year. As Hoyt Axton said, "The losers cried deal the cards again." After a week of showers, including thunderstorms, the weather turned into light breezes and low 70's - perfect for three days of combat.

Friday morning was spent setting up the field. Next came testing. Nelsons and Foras that have been dormant awoke from their hibernation, signaled to all who could hear that fast combat is alive, and well in the Northwest.

At 2:00 p.m., the Half Grabber began. There was no entry fee and first prize would be $100 and a Sonic Chicken donated by Jeff Dawson. At the pilots meeting, the pilots agreed to each kick in $10; $40 dollars would go to second and $20 to third. There were six entries. The event director was Mike Moreland who was in town on business from Tulsa Oklahoma. The pre-contest favorite was Jeff Dawson from San Antonio Texas. Jeff is the designer and maker of the half-A planes the Sonic Chicken and the Boomerang. Including Jeff, four of the flyers were flying his planes. The other two were flying RTF from GRS. Half the engines were Cyclons and half were Foras. After the first two rounds, Jeff Rein and Jim Green were eliminated. After three rounds, Buzz Wilson was eliminated. Don McKay had one loss, Robert Smith one loss, and Jeff Dawson with no losses. Don and Robert flew and when it was over, Robert was eliminated. This left Don having to beat Jeff twice to win first.

Don recently took second at the Nationals in half-A combat. At the Nats, he spent a lot of time flying practice matches with Don Cranfill. Since Jeff Dawson and Don Cranfill fly lots of half A combat in Texas, Don McKay was up to the challenge. First match of the finals saw Don and Jeff battle with Don winning. The final match saw lots of combat and Don "The Combat Monster" killing Jeff - both flying Sonic Chickens.

Final results for the Half Grabber (Northwest standings points in parentheses):

1. Don McKay, Redmond, Wash., (Broadway Bod Busters) (6)
2. Jeff Dawson, San Antonio, Texas
3. Robert Smith, Roy, Wash. (4)
4. Buzz Wilson, Belfair, Wash., (BBB) (3)
5. Jim Green, Bellevue, Wash.
6. Jeff Rein, Covington, Wash. (BBB)

Saturday began with Snohomish Valley fog and the sound of propane burners on the hot air balloons that launch from the field. Since we fly while these are taking off, it must be a blast for the balloonist to watch a fast match looking down. The fog broke early and this allowed the event director Chris Cox to land his plane. Chris Cox and his wife Joanie live in Vancouver, B.C. and built a beautiful homebuilt airplane. Chris is a former member of the Dreaded Canadian Combat Contingent who Howard Rush deprogrammed and turned him into a stunt flyer.

Thirteen flyers were there to fly in the best combat contest in the county. Bill Maywald, Don Jensen, and Lee Letchworth from California. Gene Pape and John Thompson (Beaver State Combat Team) from Oregon, Jeff Dawson from Texas, Mel Lyne "The Alien" from Canada. From Washington, Tony Huber (the H in the H&R Shutoff), Robert Smith, Jim Green, and the Broadway Bod Busters, Jeff Rein, Don McKay, and Buzz Wilson. At the pilot's meeting, Tony revealed the T-shirt and mugs that his cousin designed. These are rapidly becoming collector items.

The rust was evident throughout the day in that one start flips were few and far between. By lunchtime two rounds had been flown. The grill was fired up and everyone had hot dogs. In the fourth round, John Thompson appeared to be having shutoff problems. Start the engine, release, and 10 feet out the plane shut down. Jeff Rein went over and suggested some changes to the launch technique. None of these worked. This plane had considerable test time with the same setup. After the contest ended for the day, Gene Pape took it off and it worked fine. John put it up and finally figured out what the problem was. The case on John's Fora with 30-plus runs failed. This had been causing vibrations and activating the shutoff, or simply shutting down as the engine unloaded. When Gene got the successful flight, they had leaned the engine out.

Photo: Sunday morning test flying, with balloons going up in the background. Flying Lines photo.

At days end, four rounds had been flown. Robert Smith was undefeated and three contestants were eliminated. The fifth round was drawn and posted. Going into the fifth round, the BBB's each had two wins and two losses.

Sunday began with valley fog hanging around. The contest was to start at 10:00, but our event director was stuck in Bellingham waiting for the fog to clear. Chris stops in Bellingham to clear customs. Customs has to run a Geiger counter over his plane to make sure he is not bringing in nuclear material. Since I ride the ferryboats, and have to deal with security dogs sniffing my car I am always concerned that they will think I am carrying explosives if they get a whiff of nitro. I also worry that I may get charged for damaging federal property if I burn out the dogs nostrils if he smells diesel fuel.

Jeff took over event director duties and round five was under way. At the end of round five, a few more were eliminated and Robert had his first loss. As the contest wound through the pairings, the engine starting form had returned. The airstrip was active with airplanes and skydivers overhead. There were two floatplanes that took off from the runway and a beautiful restored Staggerwing Beechcraft. One of the skydivers did not do a good job packing his main chute and had to go to his reserve. Helicopter training was going on at the far end of the field.

The only shutoff that can be used is a line tension type. Several years ago, there were flyaways where the swing arm type failed and the engines did not shut down. This year there were four types of line tension in use; the H&R, Don Jensen's spring type, the Maywald, and the music wire type. We had one flyaway as the result of a line tangle. The line broke about four feet from the handle. The plane shutdown before it left the circle and glided out made a gentle right turn and a perfect landing towing 55 feet of lines.

The broken fog layer cleared and Chris was able to get to the field around 11:00. Combat continued up until the lunch break. The grill was fired up and hot dogs cooked. At this point, there would be no repeat for Mel; he and Lee flew and the Alien had secured seventh place. During the lunch break, everyone signed a T-shirt and card for Ron Enos. Ron has come over from Hawaii for the past several years to judge. Medial problems prevented it this year.

Don McKay and Lee would fly for fifth and sixth. Don, fresh from his first place win at the Nats in fast had just flown fellow BBB Jeff Rein and lost by three points. Lee prevailed and got fifth and Don sixth. Robert, who had started the day with no losses would fly Bill Maywald for third and fourth. When it was over, Robert had third and Bill fourth. This meant that the finals would be Jeff Rein, who started the day with two losses and had won his last four matches, would be flying Tony Huber, who also had two losses, for first and second.

Jeff had Bill Maywald starting his engine and Buzz launching. For Jeff's last three matches, they were getting Jeff up first. When the signal was given to start, one flip and the engine roared to life, the glow clip removed and the plane released. There was no question about who was up first; Don Jensen's wife captured it on her digital camera. The match ended with midair as Jeff went for the kill and took the rear of Tony's plane.

Photo: Winner Jeff Rein gets the traditional dousing. Tony Huber photo.

Final Bladder Grabber results (Northwest standings points in parentheses)

1. Jeff Rein (BBB) (13)
2. Tony Huber, Renton, Wash., (12)
3. Robert Smith (11)
4. Bill Maywald, California
5 Lee Letchworth, Rodeo, Calif.
6. Don McKay (BBB)
7. Mel Lyne, Garibaldi Highlands, B.C.

More Bladder Grabber photos

A sequence of two photos (above and below) show what a difference a second makes. Above, Don Jensen launches Bill Maywald's plane as starter Jeff Dawson jumps out of the way, just before (below) Mel Lyne launches Bob Smith's plane with starter Lee Letchworth standing aside. You can see Bill's streamer overhead.. Flying Lines photo.

Bill Maywald (left) and Bob Smith wait for the start. Flying Lines photo.

Now they're in action! Flying Lines photo.

Plenty of weapons for a weekend of combat: the Beaver State Combat Team's airplanes. In the racks, Gene Pape's Millennium Underdogs (right) and John Thompson's Sonic Chickens (left), with a couple of John's Mejzliks laid out on the ground for testing. Flying Lines photo.

Don McKay's plane takes off as Mel Lyne starts Lee Letchworth's plane, with Bob Smith holding. Flying Lines photo.

There were some midair collisions -- this is a piece of Bill Maywald's plane, still floating down from a bash. Flying Lines photo.

An intact Maywald Allenplane, with Nelson power. His is always the red one! Flying Lines photo.

Jeff Dawson works on one of his Sonic Chickens (others in the rack), as Maywald's plane glides in from a test flight. Flying Lines photo.

Tony Huber (right) and his pit crew wait for Jeff Rein's team to get ready for the final. At left is starter Gene Pape; holding the plane is launcher Bob Huber. Flying Lines photo.

Bill Maywald starts and Buzz Wilson holds for Jeff Rein in the final. Flying Lines photo.

Lee Letchworth's planes have some personality. They're called "Sasquatch." Flying Lines photo.

Shutoff tests are a preliminary to every match. Above, Lee Letchworth demonstrates his shutoff as Mel Lyne holds, with judge Mike Havenick (center) watching, along with pit crew member Bob Smith. Flying Lines photo.

Interesting crash damage on Don Jensen's Cleveland Fast. Note elevator broken on both sides of the reinforcement. Flying Lines photo.

Can't have a combat contest without judges. Chief judge Chris Cox (right) works closely with Mike Havenick (left) and Mike Moreland, on Sunday. Flying Lines photo.

The winners. From left, Jeff Rein, first; Tony Huber, second; Bob Smith, third; Bill Maywald, fourth; Lee Letchworth, fifth; Don McKay, Half Grabber winner. Photo submitted by Tony Huber.

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This page was upated Aug. 18, 2009