The Sponge 80

By Ken Burdick

Have you ever had a really good flying combat wing? I mean one that did it ALL, and you knew inside and out. They usually don't last too long because they get used for what they were intended.

The ones that stay are those that don't fly well, they stall, May turn left and no matter what happens. You can't get rid of the things. Bumping noisily along behind you in the shop, taking up space in your car, losing whatever match you're foolish enough to put them in and come back in one piece to fight (you) another day.

I have experienced all of the bad planes and know that Murphy had an axiom about things like this. I'll quote the late Jerry Bangs, (ex-unlimited hydro driver and lawyer):

Bangs Law # 1 "Anything that starts f-up, stays f-up." He had others.

An airplane that shows the truth by contrast to this is the Sponge 80. It started out right.

We were all young and strong once

The Sponge 80 began life as an Allen Plane kitted by Greg Carter and built by me for the 1995 Nationals. I took nine of them and they all looked identical. The formula to make it a winner was tweaked over the previous year until I got the Allen Plane to really snap and turn and not hunt when level. Light covering and putting the C.G a bit farther back was the result of the work and it produced a really good flying wing that had manners didn't chase me all over the circle. The Sponge 80 was one that got hit at the Nats. It had made a few kills but got put away for rebuilding later.

After the Nationals, I rebuilt some of the 9 for fast and some were downgraded to 80 mph combat because they were now too heavy or just didn't fly as well as I wanted in Fast anymore. The Sponge was one of them.

I used it next in Richland and it did OK for me, I may have won there with it and it racked up a few more kills. I remember thinking that it had become one of those wings that wouldn't go away. However, it kept on winning and I kept on putting glue into the various joints, new elevators as required, chunks of leading edge and boom splices. Although it was just another wing in the fleet and flown in perhaps 10 contests since flying in 95.

The marks of use were showing many kill marks and tape patches with glue to cover them. The mounts had been shaken lose a few times and it displayed signs of the repairs. In spite of this, it had not yet reached its prime.

Prime time came at one of the NW Regionals in 2000 when I had finally run out of Fast ships and was down to just one of the old Allen Planes. "What the heck" I thought "it might hold together if I don't put a Nelson on it" so I used a Stells with 50% nitro. The night before, I spliced a new piece of tail boom on it and crammed an old F2D elevator in place crossed my fingers and eyed the old thing with a suspicious eye.

I somehow managed to win Fast using just the one old battle ax. It flew well as always but I could hear it moaning in the pits after each flight.

By now there were kill marks up and down the old and newly spliced foam, 5 min epoxy and tape covered the once pristine looking Allen Plane that had served me all these years.

The foam was getting spongy from fuel, the boom was cracking into splinters of fiberglass and the mounts were lose again. "Goodbye, Old Pain,t" I said, and threw it in the garbage can.

Never Say Die

Buzz Wilson, a man of many talents, and known for never -- ever -- ever -- throwing anything away, saw the blatant disregard for what I had tossed out.

As always a gentleman, he asked if I minded him taking the parts, he thought it might be rebuildable.

I said "not at all." "I may have more parts at home" and we each left the contest, me with another bowling trophy and Buzz with the half dead Allen Plane that was wheezing and gasping for air.

I didn't see the old relic until the following year. It still had the green triangular trim on it's center section, but had been reinforced, foam cut and spliced in many places and a new boom with elevator. "You fixed it?" I asked. "Yup. I call it the Sponge 80," he replied.

Jeff Buzz and I practice together whenever we can, it usually involves combat and 80's.

The Sponge was always around and seemed to keep racking up the score in our back yard brawls, the sponge 80 was flying well, Buzz really made some nice kills on both of us with it.

I'm not sure when it returned to active duty but the three of us decided we needed a road trip and went to Morgan Hills in 2002. I got DQ'd around the finals and was out. I used a new idea at the time and showed what F2D ships could do in speed limit combat, but had done a loop to space me and Willcox to 180 and it was considered a maneuver.

Buzz had gone out about the same time which left Jeff to defend the honor. He was out of airplanes and was in the semis.

This was a good contest and the first place prize a cool $1000.00 so he could borrow any airplane he wanted so he took Buzz's good looking "store bought" fast ship and was beaten by a much better flying foam home built. The contest was double elimination and Jeff still had one more life left. The three of us talked it over and Jeff decided he wanted to use the Sponge 80.

I was amazed, he could have borrowed any plane for the last match, but he wanted the thing that I had tossed and Buzz made back into a winner.

Long story short, Jeff won with 2-1 cuts (no kill rule at this contest) and we had a whole new respect for the once proud but now prouder combat wing.

Modern Times

The Sponge 80 has since flown several 80 mph contests and won a few more than perhaps it should have. It's mostly glue now, very wrinkled and worn.

It stands as a lesson in what you believe and what can be done with a good flying combat plane. I'm not sure, but could have sworn that last prop cut it sustained at Morgan Hills looked like a smile on the face of the old sponge.

Buzz keeps it in the shop and we mention it now and again, but it may arguably be the winningest single combat wing ever built, we simply can't remember all of the kills it has totaled over the years but it is in excess of 20.

For its record I'm submitting it to my favorite plane section in hopes you may read about this interesting old relic.

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This page was upated July 31, 2007