Coach Bob 'Ike' Isaacson and Norm Furutani
Are Going to The Olympics...
Teachers' Flights of Fancy Qualify Them for World Model Plane Event By Kim Kowsky - Los Angeles Times, Oct 11 1990
Two Leuzinger High School teachers are going to the Olympics in Yugoslavia next July - but not the games that glue sports fans to their television sets every four years.
The occasion is the Federation Aeronautique Internationale's Free Flight World Championship, the highest-level of competition for free-flight model pilots.
For Leuzinger's Bob Isaacson, 55, chairman of the physical education department, and Norm Furutani, 44, head of the fine and performing arts department, winning spots on the nine-member U.S. team was the ultimate reward for years of hard work.
'For me, it's fantastic,' Furutani said. 'It's like a dream.'
Geoffrey Styles of the Academy of Model Aeronautics in Reston, Va., described the championships as 'the pinnacle for people who fly in this category, the Mt. Everest of free flight.'
'This is it. You can't get any higher,' he said.
Unlike remote-control forms of the sport, free-flight aviation consists of model pilots relinquishing all control over the craft once it is launched. Free-flight modeling is the oldest form of the sport, and free-flight pilots are considered the purists of model aviation. The first world championship for free-flight aviation was in 1928.
The Free Flight World Championship, often called the Olympics of free flight by enthusiasts, takes place every two years and is expected to draw teams from more than 30 nations. Trophies are awarded in three classes of free-flight aviation: gliders, rubber-powered models and engine-driven planes. Regardless of the class, the object of the sport is the same: to keep the miniature planes in the air for at least three minutes, a task that requires not only good craftsmanship but also a knowledge of air currents.
In a competition last month in Lost Hills, Calif., that drew about 100 model aviators from around the nation, Isaacson and Furutani won 'fly-offs' in their categories to make the U.S. team.
Isaacson, who flies gliders, competed in one other world championship, in 1975. He qualified for the current team last month by posting a perfect score in 13 three-minute flights.
Furutani, who flies rubber-powered models and has never competed in a world championship, was one of four pilots who posted a perfect score in 12 three-minute fly-offs. He made the team after finishing among the top three in a final four-minute fly-off.
Gliders are lofted into the air like kites at the end of a 50-meter-long string. Pilots then disengage the string to set the plane free.
Rubber-powered models are thrown into the air like a javelin. Before launching, the pilot must twist large rubber bands with a winding device to spin the propeller after the plane is airborne.
With engine-driven models the motors are used only to get the planes into the air. Pilots can either throw the plane like a javelin or launch it directly from the ground, a method that earns extra points.
In all three techniques, finding a rising air bubble in which to launch the plane is a key. Whereas glider pilots can feel air currents on the end of the string, rubber-model and engine-driven pilots blow soap bubbles or set up banners to test the wind.
The planes are all equipped with timers that trigger the tail to flip down when it is time to descend. They are usually programmed to circle a field, but are often fitted with tracking devices in case an air current takes them off course. It has been 11 years since members of a U.S. team took home a trophy from the world championship. One of the difficulties, model pilots say, is that the sport isn't taken very seriously in this country. Although model aviation is regarded as a professional sport in many countries, it has never enjoyed the same prestige in the United States.
Open flying fields in urban areas of the United States are getting harder to find, and complaints about noise and occasional incidents-like one in Carson Sept. 30 in which a radio-controlled model plane punctured a Goodyear blimp-have tarnished the sport's image.
Whereas American model aviators are regarded as hobbyists, their European and Soviet counterparts are treated 'just like they were professional athletes,' Styles said. And Eastern European modelers historically have received salaries, housing, training and coaches, but American model pilots 'have to fit it in between going to work, feeding the baby, paying the mortgage and all that stuff,' Styles said.
Isaacson and Furutani both grew up in Gardena and attended Gardena High School, but they did not meet until six years ago when Furutani started teaching at Leuzinger. Both had been flying model airplanes since they were boys and each had fantasized about being airline pilots before deciding to pursue careers in teaching.
A former USC football fullback, Isaacson said he became serious about model aviation in 1972 when he entered his first competition. Furutani, whose father was a model aviator, said it never occurred to him to fly competitively until he met Isaacson six years ago.
Both men said they never tire of the sport.
'I enjoy seeing (the planes) up in the air,' Furutani said. 'It's an extension of yourself when you fly these things. It's like an escape.'
Isaacson agreed: 'If you see 10 of them in the air at the same time, it's incredibly graceful. It's a beautiful thing to see.'
Today, Isaacson and Furutani have a network of friends around the world who are model aviators. The Leuzinger teachers, who schedule their lunches and free periods together to work on their planes, devote about 30 hours a week to the sport. They usually meet on weekends at a flying field in Lost Hills to practice.
They also sponsor their high school's Air Model Club. Because the sport requires a high level of patience, technical skill and a knowledge of aerodynamics, they aren't always successful in attracting students. This year, in fact, only one student signed up for the club.
'It's hard to compete with video games and things that kids get into nowadays,' Furutani said. 'It can be frustrating because you can't fly them right away.'
In preparation for the world competition, Isaacson and Furutani have begun constructing new versions of the balsa-wood birds that won them spots on the U.S. team. Isaacson's model will be similar to the one he's been flying for the past 11 years, but it will contain a few structural improvements. Furutani's new plane will undergo some design improvements.
Because glider pilots sometimes have to run with their planes for up to 30 minutes in search of a rising air bubble before launching, Isaacson's training for the world championship also includes a bicycle-riding regimen of 150 miles per week.
'Most of the serious competitors who fly gliders do a great deal of cardiovascular work,' Isaacson said. 'In the other two classes (of free-flight aviation) it's not a physically demanding sport.'
Isaacson, whose 'Wishbone' and 'RI-14' models have won two design awards, is 'probably one of the best craftsmen around,' Furutani said. 'His building is real meticulous, more than anyone I've ever seen in neatness and exactness and the way the joints come together. His workmanship is just very, very good.'
Isaacson also has praise for Furutani, who he says 'learned to pick air (for launching) overnight. He has an aptitude for this stuff!'
Although neither of their wives participates actively in the sport, both wives said they have grown to appreciate their husbands' accomplishments.
'At least I know where he is every night. He's not out getting into trouble,' said Furutani's wife, Ginny.
Isaacson's wife, LaVera, who also works as a teacher at Leuzinger High, agreed: 'Many people say `How can you stand it? He's always busy.' But to me, everybody needs something they enjoy to get his mind off work.'
Besides, she added, his triumphs in air modeling mean, 'I get to go to Europe.'
*** 'The Pylon Staff is pleased to dedicate the 1985 yearbook to Mr. and Mrs. Bob and LaVera Isaacson. Throughout the years, they have been among the most energetic and enthusiastic Olympian supporters. Both bring a spirit of professionalism and excellence to their teaching assignment. Congratulations to The Isaacsons, and thank you for the positive influence you have been for all these students for whom you have bade Hello ... and ... Goodbye.'