Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson

ben wilson This is the blog of a one Ben Wilson, a Louisville, Kentucky native who enjoys baseball, beer, music, bikes, things that fly and good food. By day he pushes pixels and makes the Internet happen for a local advertising agency. His wife, Kelly is an Ironman, and his baby Amelia is the cutest thing ever.

The 2008 World Soaring Masters is this weekend! It’s a huge, multi-national remote-controlled soaring contest held once every two years up in Muncie, Indiana.  You may remember that I covered the World Soaring Masters in 2006 and had my updates published in the November 2006 issue of RC Soaring Digest (pp 4-16). This year, I’m headed up there to compete in what should prove to be a fun and exciting event. Looking forward to meeting some of the great international competitors.

This year, I’ll be covering it again – but this time I’ll be LIVE BLOGGING it over on the Louisville Area Soaring Society website. The contest runs Friday-Sunday, so keep hitting “REFRESH”:

2008 World Soaring Masters Live Blog @

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Sep 18 2008 ~ 1:34 pm ~ Comments Off ~

Lotsa wind on Sunday, as you might have heard. Kelly and I had a day planned that got slightly crazy and ended with us snapping photos and biking around our tree-lined and tree-felled neighborhood, returning home to a darkened abode.  More after the jump.


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Sep 16 2008 ~ 10:56 am ~ Comments (1) ~

Ben on the Backswing

Last weekend I drove to St. Louis to fly my remote-controlled sailplanes at the 2008 Mississippi Valley Soaring Association‘s “Gateway Open” content.  Friday was handlaunch, and Saturday and Sunday were the “big ships” – thermal duration. It’s a part of the Ohio Valley Soaring Series.

I managed 3rd on Friday and on Saturday I managed 10th out of 26th in a really tight contest.

Read more about the contest here: Flying Report – 2008 Gateway Open @

St. Louis soaring buddy Chris Lee took some excellent photos:

Me flying at the 2008 MVSA Gateway Open

Bruce is a hot dog with them upside down catches.

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Aug 26 2008 ~ 10:27 pm ~ Comments Off ~

On Saturday, Kelly and I rode 100 miles on our bicycles along the 2008 Louisville IronMan route. I had originally only intended to do 80, which Kelly amended to 87. And if I’m going to be spending 6 hours on a bike saddle then I might as well make it worthwhile and go 100, right?

New, previously unexplored thresholds of pain and exhaustion were met and exceeded. That was the longest time I had ever been on a bike or constantly moving in my entire life. According to MapMyRun, a man for my height/weight/age running at a 16 MPH pace for 100 miles would burn in excess of 5000 calories. 5000!  That’s 9 Big Macs or nearly 32 cans of soda. I ate 3 PowerBars, 3 Gu Roctane packets, one bottle of Ale-8-One and one 12oz can of Coca-Cola. This adds up to a calorie deficit of somewhere between 3000-4000 calories. Insane!

The course we followed was essentially the IronMan course that Kelly will be riding for some 7-8 hours at the end of August. It was extremely hilly for the first 50 miles, with a combination of steep climbs, screaming downhills and a heinous grade on KY-393 that just goes on and on and on.  The last 30 miles back to Louisville along US42 is rolling, but generally downhill.  As I predicted to Kelly the week prior “I will be able to keep up with you up until mile 50 or 60, and then please just don’t leave me out on the course”. I hit 60 miles on the nose and was just wiped. All climbs were painful and punctuated with my muttering a single, choice curse word at the top of each hill. Recovering on the downhill only to repeat multiple times.

You can check out the course on MapMyRun’s nifty course widget:

There was a group of maybe two dozen out-of-state IronMan trainees there to ride the course on Saturday, and we had a number of pleasant chats here and there. We stopped at the mini-marts along the course and made sure to spend a little dough at each store on water and such. We didn’t have many problems with the auto traffic, but we did have an SUV full of kids throw a beer at us while on the return trip down US42. Seriously, license plate KY 163-GDV?

Along that save vein, Todd Heady over at has written a thought-provoking article on “Cycling Problems“. Timely as he talks about road-closures, the people who live and work and own businesses along road courses and the relationship between them and those who bike on the courses. Todd’s a certifiably insane athlete, but when it comes to organizing races or giving his opinion on tough matters he’s pretty darn reasonable.

And then, the next day….

2008 AMA/LSF Soaring Nationals Handlaunch

I awoke at 5:00am to drive back up to beautiful Muncie, IN for the 2008 AMA/LSF Soaring Nationals to compete in the handlaunch competition!  Much to my surprise I was ambulatory and did pretty well at the competition until the last two rounds, as is my custom at the NATS.  I placed 6th out of 22 and returned home with a plaque (“getting wood” as it’s known in the hobby).  You can read up on my exploits here in the AMA’s NATSNews coverage for July 28th.

You might remember that I covered the 2007 Soaring NATS last year, writing the NATSNews coverage each day. Unfortunately I couldn’t do it this year partially because of our Fall ’07 trip to Barcelona, but also because I wanted to be around to help Kelly train for her IronMan race.

Did I mention that I’ve got the 2008 E. P. Tom Sawyer Triathlon coming up this Saturday? Yeah, ’cause I do. Oh, and Power Creative has a softball game on Sunday versus the delightfully-named Got Balls? softball team.

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Jul 29 2008 ~ 2:25 pm ~ Comments Off ~

Keeping with the previous two posts about quiet flight, I bring you the OpenSky Aircraft Project – the best anime-inspired jet-powered personal sailplane project I could find on the Internet.

OpenSky Aircraft Project

You can find a couple of test-flight videos on the YouTube:

June 2006

September 2006

But I think the most compelling video is this one: How to Make OpenAircraft M01, a compilation of hundreds of photos of the design, prototyping and testing. It’s a QuickTime file, so you can load it and hit pause and use your arrow keys to flip between the frames. Awesome stuff!

OpenSky @ Wikipedia

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Sep 11 2007 ~ 7:19 pm ~ Comments Off ~


From the article Solar plane en route to everlasting flight:

For the first time a solar-powered plane has flown through two consecutive nights, UK defence research company QinetiQ claims. In a secretive weekend mission, their craft Zephyr took off from a US military base in New Mexico and landed 54 hours later.

Check the handlaunch!

Simpler, lighter, more efficient. Exciting stuff. Soon I think we’ll see one of these things fly ’round the world, following the sun, perhaps… but then again, maybe not!

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Sep 10 2007 ~ 8:40 pm ~ Comments Off ~

The late 1970s were an interesting time for alternative methods of flight. The day before I was born, August 17th, 1978, the first trans-Atlantic flight by balloon was completed. One year earlier in 1977, Paul MacCready had won the Kremer Prize by creating the first-ever human-powered airplane, the Gossamer Condor.

Two years later in 1979, MacCready would make aeronautical history with the Gossamer Albatross by crossing the English Channel. The achievement was substantial, but not in the same direction as previous achievements of “bigger, higher, faster”, but “lighter, more efficient, stronger”. MacCready studied the flight of birds and was himself a sailplane champion, and this informed his designs. In an age of fighter jets and big airliners, he showed that flight could still be a very personal achievement.

NPR Obituary w/ pilot of the Gossamer Albatross

Paul B. MacCready @ Wikipedia

Excellent short bio @ MIT, with video

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Sep 1 2007 ~ 9:26 am ~ Comments (1) ~

Last weekend my soaring club, the Louisville Area Soaring Society, held a contest – the 2007 Mid-American Soaring Championship. Normally it’s held in Lexington (as has been so for the past 30-plus years), but they’ve had some issues with their flying field and we stepped in to give them a hand this year.

Lil' Lee Atchison

The Mid-Am (as it is known) is also part of a “series” of soaring events located around the Ohio Valley – called the Ohio Valley Soaring Series, in which model sailplane pilots from all over the midwest travel to different cities and compete to become the OVSS champ, and win a new radio or plane donated by a sponsor.

New guy Todd Jurhs is a nut

The Mid-Am was the only contest out of the 8 or 9 held that wasn’t “man-on-man” style. This is widely considered to be the gold standard of flying competition, in that each pilot is flying in the same conditions as the other pilots he/she is scored against. The “old” way, known as “open winch”, allowed pilots to wait for good conditions to launch. Man-on-man forces everyone to fly in the same air – good or bad. Soaring is a very competitive hobby and while it might seem like a simple thing, this has a big impact on drawing people to a contest.

Ben Wilson and his Onyx JW

I flew Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I did pretty well each day (by my standards) and placed 3rd on Friday and Saturday, but ran into some bad luck on Sunday. All in all a good weekend. As happy as I was about my performance, it makes me happy just putting on an event like that.

Read more here: 2007 Mid-Am Champs in the books! @

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Aug 29 2007 ~ 11:24 pm ~ Comments Off ~

Kelly and Ben at the 2007 NATS

It’s just model planes, it’s just model planes… That refrain is constantly bouncing around my head a lot of the time. Isn’t there something bigger and better I should be doing? I’m no doctor, so that’s out. I’m not equipped to be a philanthropist, so that’s a scratch. Failing medicine and philanthropy, I’ve got a drive to help people it would seem. It’s not something I necessarily decided upon, but it’s certainly there. What is truly strange is that I can really, really stress myself out after I’ve committed to something – but it’s like a hardening process. I end up a better person for it in the end, but there are times when that refrain of “it’s just insert inconsequential thing here” comes in.

That, in a nutshell is what the run-up to the Soaring NATS (for which I covered the Soaring events in the NATSNews publication (July 22-30)) was like. Why put myself under such pressure to write about the events and compete at the same time!? You might not consider it a tough job, but the NATS is serious business. 130 pilots from around the country and I did it for-pay for the largest aeromodelling organization in the world. Not to mention that the Soaring crowd (like an hobby) is filled to the brim with opinionated (you could say cranky) dudes who are as passionate about the multi-faceted hobby as I am. I’ve got to take all that into account.

Robert Samuels and Chris Lee at the 2007 Soaring NATS

After I got the first article out, it relieved a fair bit of the pressure I was under. I had most of it pre-written and by that time I was already encamped in Muncie, IN (where the AMA HQ is and where the NATS are held), which is absolutely gorgeous and completely stuns me with silence at night. I got up every morning at 6:30 and went to sleep every night at midnight. I never have more energy, I never eat less and I never more focused than I am at the NATS. It’s like being fired out of a cannon through a week of soaring, and it never fails to inspire me to delve deeper into this hobby.

Despite my focus being elsewhere, I actually managed to do pretty well in the competition at the NATS. I got 5th out of 19 in the handlaunch soaring event, and I placed 6th out of 58(!) in the Rudder/Elevator/Spoiler contest with my EZ Bubble Dancer. RES is one of my favorite events (aside from handlaunch). I got middle-of-the-pack in the Unlimited contest as well, thanks largely in part to a pop-off launch (in which you don’t stay on the towline for very long, leaving you with maybe 75 feet of altitude, as compared to 600-800′, and you don’t get a re-launch!) in the fourth round.

Those successes were good for me, but I count as my greatest success the NATSNews coverage, for which I received universal acclaim. Never was heard a discouraging word from any of the some two dozen guys that came up to me over the week. That’s awesome.

I tried to take a bit of a different tack on the coverage for the NATS, so it was encouraging to hear that so many guys enjoyed my coverage. Soaring has a very committed following, but thanks in large part to the crazy advances in technology, it has become a bit elitist in it’s design. Competition has always been in soaring’s blood, even from the very first years – but now when a competition-level sailplane and gear can set you back $2000-$3000, that raises the barriers to entry considerably for most guys. The NATS is larger than just competition, though, so I thought it crucially important to focus on the “new guys” and let those staying at home for the NATS know that it’s not all about the competition. Doug Pike, a Canadian soaring enthusiast, likened it to “summer camp for sailplanes,” which I think hits the nail right on the head. You’ll never learn more, have more fun or meet more soaring pilots than the NATS. NEVER. If my coverage gets just one more “new guy” to the NATS or interested in soaring, then I’ve done my part.

NATSNews @

The Road to the 2007 NATS @ RCGroups

Gallery of Photos @

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Aug 3 2007 ~ 9:55 am ~ Comments (2) ~

Onyx JW Sailplane

I finished up my newest sailplane last week and got a chance to fly it on Sunday. It’s an Onyx JW from SoaringUSA, which I purchased with the aid of the 2006 “Rookie of the Year” award from the Ohio Valley Soaring Series.

It’s my first “molded” ship coming, made in the Ukraine and imported here by SoaringUSA. It’s really a thing of beauty – beautiful, immaculate white wing with red tips and really strong to boot. The wing and fuselage are full of carbon fiber and kevlar for strength… It’s so strong and so quiet when it flies! I’m really excited about it.

My next contest is the 2007 AMA/LSF Nationals (aka the NATS) in beautiful Muncie, IN. I’ll be flying handlaunch, RES (rudder/elevator/spoiler) and unlimited class (which the Onyx JW falls into). I’ll also be towing for F3J (link is YouTube), and writing the soaring coverage for the NATSNews. I’m sure I’ll have my hands full…

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Jul 16 2007 ~ 8:47 am ~ Comments (1) ~
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