A Beginner's Guide to Control Line

Written by Allen Brickhaus
Learn more about the art of circle flying
As seen in the May 2014 issue of
Model Aviation.

The Control Line modeling community has seen an influx of young novice pilots come into the hobby, plus older adults who have either returned to the circles from RC or jumped into the fray from their newly found interest in the event.

This article is focused on bringing readers information about how to enter CL in whatever event you would like to join. The Aerobatics or Stunt community is the largest CL community, but the classes of Carrier, Combat, Scale, Speed, and Racing are avenues in which you can further your skills.

Common CL flying is the use of a handle with a pair of metal stranded or solid wires connected to a simple bellcrank. The bellcrank is mounted in the body or on the wing and a set of pushrods goes to all of the control surfaces.

Allen Brickhaus displays his Bob Gialdini Rayette, which is available as a laser-cut kit by Eric Rule of RSM Distribution.


Power plants run the gamut of ignition engines with either glow or gas for fuel, plus glow fuel in either a two-stroke or a four-stroke configuration. Electric motors have become an important aspect in CL. There are plenty of experienced modelers who can help you set up and run glow, ignition, or electric power plants.

The Stuka Stunt forums and Stunt Hangar are two Internet sources that can provide knowledge of a variety of venues, classes, and information about many forms of CL modeling. They can introduce you to many professional and home-based supply sources.

Magazines and periodicals to read include Model Aviation, the Precision Aerobatics Model Pilots Association (PAMPA) Stunt News, and Control Line World. These magazines will provide a vast amount of information and guidance and can lead to other connections and advertisers.

For those who use internal-combustion power plants, there are a variety of engine tuners, which will help make your engine run smoothly and reliably. Three-wire lines and electronic controls will also assist those who want to go into Scale and Carrier. The ability to control the engine’s speed and thrust is imperative in those venues.

The ARF and kit versions of the Flite Streak are sold by Brodak Manufacturing. This model’s electronics are explained in the article. Joe Daly and Kevin DeMauro hold a Flite Streak trainer.


Listen to experts concerning which fuels to use. The type of engine you use dictates which fuel to use.

All AMA CL events must use a handle thong attached to the pilot’s handle and the model and the thong will be “pulled” to ensure that the lines and the model are safe to fly. Most models are weighed and then a “pull” number is given to the pull tester. Different events have different pull-weight requirements.



Aerobatics is a set of maneuvers that is worldwide in nature and use. What you would practice in the US would be a viable “pattern” anywhere else in the world.

The FAI and AMA patterns are nearly the same. The number of laps before the Overhead Eight, the time limits, and how the landing is judged are the main differences. Local aerobatic pilots will be glad to help you interpret the set of maneuvers and guide you through the flight.

Old-Time Stunt and the Beginner Pattern are different and you should utilize the help of pilots who are more experienced in those fields.


Navy Carrier

Carrier is an event set up to emulate a carrier flight, complete with a semicircular wooden or concrete carrier deck. The models are encouraged to be similar in looks to the original aircraft the pilot has decided to copy.

The models are flown off the fore end of the carrier deck at full throttle and timed for seven laps. Then the pilot will slow the model, drop its landing gear hook, extend ailerons and flaps, and use the elevator offset to keep the model out on the end of the lines while being timed for seven slow laps.

After those two opposite speed sections are timed, the pilot must land the model on the deck on the first designated pass over the wires set up to catch the model. The sooner the pilot puts the model safely down, the higher the landing score.

The model should land with the engine still running. All of the landing gear should be setting on the deck and the aircraft’s attitude should resemble a full-scale landing to gain the most landing points.


Combat is an event that has been classified as more exciting than an armpit full of fleas. Two pilots attach crepe paper streamers to the end of his or her model and they simultaneously launch. Different classes have slightly different rules, but the idea is to cut the opponent’s streamer for points.

Unless you are flying in a Profile World War I or II Combat event, the models are normally nondescript wings with an engine pod and whatever tail feathers he or she needs to maneuver the model into position to cut the other airplane’s streamers.

Taking or cutting your opponent’s streamer, while retaining your own, is one goal of CL Combat. Not tangling your lines while flying Combat is a challenge.

Combat classes are designated by engine size and types of models allowed. Join the audience at the Combat circle for an exciting time.



CL Racing entails a variety of classes, depending upon engines, models, and local rules. FAI Team Race is the epitome of professional racing, with as many as three pilots flying slick-looking, diesel-powered models. Similar, lower-budget racing events include Clown Race, Foxberg Race, and a variety of others.

Races are not always won with the fastest airplane. Pit stops are required and the pilot/pitman team must execute their stops to refill the fuel tank and get the model back in the air in a minimal amount of time.


A CL Formula 40 racer is ready for its next flight.


If you enjoy Formula 1 or NASCAR racing, this similar type of activity might interest you. A model airplane costs less than an expensive race vehicle. I spent some time drag racing with my ’55 Chevy and do see the difference in overall cost!



Speed models are designed to do nothing but go fast. Most speed models begin as a magnesium-molded pan and the upper structure is generally finely finished, polished wood. Models are classified by engine size and include a jet category.

Speed models are set in a bent-wire frame with wheels called a dolly. The model is released by a pitman and the airplane accelerates. The pilot must put his handle in a U-shaped cradle at the center of the circle. This allows exact timing and keeps the pilot from illegally “whipping” his airplane to higher speeds.

This CL Speed model uses a bent-wire frame with wheels called a dolly to launch the aircraft.


The goal is to achieve the best speed with the same length of lines. Three sites—California, Buder Park in St. Louis, and the AMA site in Muncie, Indiana—have speed cages in which to safely fly these models.



Scale modeling is self explanatory, but classes are separated by skill levels. The models must represent a full-scale airplane that actually flew. Documentation is needed to achieve the best static scores in the initial scoring. The pilot must give the Static judges drawings, color pictures, color artwork, and single-view up to five-view drawings of the model he or she will fly in the event.

Documentation experts suggest that you should present whatever evidence you have for the model, but not to present documentation of features that are not on the model so it is as close to scale as possible. Static scores are typically not posted until the pilot has completed at least one flight.

Flight scores are achieved by setting up a series of maneuvers, dropping bombs, lowering and raising the landing gear, pulling streamers in the air, or other scalelike details in the flight pattern. How well the pilot performs his or her designated flight pattern determines the flight score.

The static and flight score are combined to determine the winners.


Finding a Club

I suggest using the model club locator on the AMA website and searching for a CL club near you. I encourage you to visit a club, watch the club members, decide what type of flying you might enjoy, and ask advice to improve your knowledge and gain guidance in your choice of CL flying.

Find a working combination of model, engine or motor, fuel tank, and choice of fuel and controls, as well as building and finishing skills that impress you, and copy the example you like to the best of your ability. Taking advice from different people is wonderful, but you must be careful to not gather “this” from one person, “that” from a second modeler, and “the other” from a third. Different perspectives may not work in conjunction with other ideas.

Jeff Witt’s beautiful JNA-D2 Jenny competed in CL Scale at the 2011 Nats. Ted Kraver photo.


Until you gain more experience, try to copy a successful process. After you have accomplished this goal, branch out. Be careful to not experiment too much and waste time going down a dead-end avenue.


Electric Power

William DeMauro has shared his insight for those interested in using electric power to re-enter CL. He and other CL fliers in the New York City area have been using a profile electric ARF Flite Streak to teach interested young pilots how to fly and to reintroduce older pilots who have been away from CL for a number of years.

The Flite Streak makes a good training airplane for a number of reasons. It is easily obtained from Tower Hobbies for $80, or even less if you have a coupon or catch it on sale. Flite Streaks are well built and assembly only takes an hour or two. The controls can easily be detuned to make the airplane less sensitive for a beginner or a person with slower reflexes.

The model’s only fault is that some seem to come with no outboard tip weight in them. It is easy to slice the MonoKote at the tip and check to see if it is there. If not, add roughly 3/4 to 1 ounce of weight to the outboard tip.

The Flite Streak is an easy airplane to convert to electric power using inexpensive LiPo batteries and outrunner motors. The conversion process has been thoroughly discussed on Internet forums such as Stunt Hangar.

Will’s son, Kevin, used an electric-powered Flite Streak for nearly three years while learning the Stunt pattern. He would set the timer for a 1-minute flight to get accustomed to flying. His enthusiasm grew and by the end of the first year he was making 5-minute flights and doing loops.

Perfect motor runs made it easy for him to concentrate on his flying and by the end of the second year with that airplane, he was flying inverted and doing outside loops. In his third year, 2011, he placed second in the Nats with the model. Kevin wanted a bigger, more-advanced airplane and moved on to a Banshee. His Flite Streak was set aside for training purposes.

During 2012, the Flite Streak was used to teach Will’s nephews and a few other children the basics of CL flight. Will’s father, Harry DeMauro, decided that he wanted to try it and flew for the first time in roughly 15 years!

“He really enjoyed it and ended up flying about 15 flights in 2012,” said Will. “He has some problems with dizziness and with the E-power, but I was able to slow the airplane down to a speed he could handle. He has already been out flying a few times with us, and he has really enjoyed the plane.”

In 2013, Will met Joe Daly who had flown CL from the 1970s until approximately 1991. Will saw Joe’s posts on the Stunt Hangar forums and realized that he lived less than 10 miles away. “I reached out to him and invited him to Flushing Meadows Park [FMP] to fly with us,” said Will. “He came out with a gas-powered Mustang Stunter that was built 25 years ago. It had a motor that simply would not run properly. When he saw that most of us were flying electric-powered airplanes, he started asking tons of questions and reading everything he could on electric-powered CL planes.”

Joe had a Forerunner that he wanted to convert to electric power. Will told him to get in touch with Ron Heckler and to copy his system exactly and showed him the mounting system used on the Flite Streak. “I told him to copy it to his profile model,” stated Will.

“Joe is having lots of success with his electric Control Line airplane. He is now flying regularly with us at FMP. Joe’s son, also named Joe, got reintroduced to Control Line flying when he flew his dad’s electric Forerunner. Before that he hadn’t flown a model in 25 years.”

As a result of that experience, Joe bought an ARF Flite Streak and electric power setup. He will fly that and teach his 10-year-old son, Joe, to fly with it.
“If it weren’t for these power systems, it is likely that Joe would have become frustrated and given up CL flying again,” said Will. “Thanks to these power systems, we now have been able to add a person to our regular flying sessions in the New York City area.”

—Allen Brickhaus



Stunt Hangar


Control Line World