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Buckminster Tether Car Track

From our early discussions with the BMFA at Alexandra Palace it was planned that tethered cars would be able to be run at the National Flying Centre, but on a control line circle that was extended inward to allow for the shorter car cables. Thanks to a great deal of work and negotiation, the plan was amended to allow for a purpose built car track. As you scroll down the page the story of the car track unfolds with Steve Betney and Oliver Monk providing the reports.

Steve Betney, work begins

Digging work started on the construction of the tethered car track at the BMFA National Flying Centre at Buckminster on 12th September 2019.  The image here, lifted from the BMFA’s Buckminster NFC’s blog  shows the results of the initial digging works. We identified a contractor to lay the foundations and pour the concrete to get the basic track constructed and maturing, before any hard winter frosts set in.

Since Dick Roberts and I made the initial contacts with very receptive and helpful BMFA representatives some 3 years ago, much planning and design work has been done, but activity has really accelerated since May 2019. Oliver Monk and I have been working the design and project planning activities for the car circle, recently joined by a very proactive Alex Phin and also abetted by Kevin Richards, so your SAM 35 Committee are very well represented. The image here shows a line up of the usual villains, at the very epicenter of the plot, marked by the white stake in the ground, shortly before digging work started.

Manny Williamson, BMFA Buckminster’s Development Official, and the Buckminster volunteers led by Richard Phillips were most actively involved. Indeed, Manny operated the digger himself between his myriad other duties to do the circle site preparation work, and Richard and the volunteers continued their stalwart works at the Centre to help with the construction phases. It was amazing what they achieved on the various building development projects there, which is very much to be applauded.

Just to get your imagination racing regarding possible car projects, articles on suitable car designs and constructional ideas can be found through the following links. Aircars, traditional and more modern designs. Russian commercial cars, freely available via eBay. Scale Cooper using Russian twinshaft motor. D type Jaguar using a standard aero engine. Harold Pratley D type ERA from published plans, also available as a kit. More advanced builds including a Galeota beginners car, a lovely GP Austin a true Pioneer, Lotus 49, Lotus Mk IX and an Oliver Busy replica. A wonderful alternative is a steam car, yes a scale Stanley steamer. John Goodall has also published details of his many scratchbuilt projects on dedicated pages.


Oliver Monk  relates how The Buckminster Tether Car Track evolved

It seemed a long time ago when I was asked to represent SAM 35 on a committee that was looking into building a hard surface control line circle. Part of the build would include a tether car circle. I attended several meetings where I had quite a few hats to wear along with SAM 35, my FEMA Technical Secretary and the last one, The British Tether Car Racing Club. The surface was going to be tarmac not very good for cars nor I learnt was it much good for team racing, the diesel fuel attacked the tarmac. The other problem was a lack of funds.

At the 2019 Free Flight Nationals I met a very disgruntled SAM 35 member. We had been removed from the control line circles project but Manny Williamson, the Manager of the Buckminster site, had found us a piece of ground that we could have our own circle on. Great news I thought, what was the problem, everything was a plus.

A week or so later I went to Buckminster armed with tape measure and the FEMA drawing of a track.

This is the piece of ground Manny had found for us at the back of the events building. The white peg is the centre of the track and the line in the foreground is the edge of the track.

Early June 2019 when I marked the circle out, it was a tight fit in a couple of places. This is how close it gets to the building and the other view shows the edge of the track about half way down the picture.

We had a site for the new tether car track, next task was to find a contractor to build the circle, which didn’t prove to be easy, but to cut a long story short we found a company that could, and within our budget. In early December 19 the first pour of concrete took place, not the best time of year, cold and wet and short days not much fun for me and Alex Phin overseeing the work, it was a steep learning curve for all of us.

This is Russell, he did all the work in getting the running surface flat and smooth, he worked until after dark. He is a marathon runner and was planning on a training run that evening but decided to give it a miss after spending most of the day bent double.

This early January and it’s the first time I saw it in daylight it looks really good, they are now doing the shuttering and stoning up for the apron.

The final pour of concrete going in

What it looks like after first trowelling

This is what the track looked like on the 23rd January 2020, a little remedial work to be done, site to be cleared of all the rubbish, old shuttering mainly.

March 2020 progress on the track with a photo from Manny Williamson showing the current state of the site. Remarkable that so much should have been achieved, given the rotten weather that has dogged the project almost from the start.  Heroic work continues under lousy weather conditions by Manny, Richard Phillips and the volunteers. As you can see, the stone for the peripheral surround to the track is now laid, ready for the top finishing layer of road planings shortly.

This is what it looked like in May of this year, it’s taken a lot of work from Manny the ace digger driver and his team of volunteers. The picture was taken from the top of the mound that will be where the timing hut will be sited. At the left of the picture is the spectator bund that was made from the spoil when digging the footings and levelling the ground for the track.

June 2020. Oliver Monk, Action at Last

Photo by Manny Williamson

This was the first run on the track Friday 29th May 2020, this is a year and one week from being offered this piece of land. The first car to run on the track was my trusty old Cobra I was assisted by our new horser, Neil Tricker, a team race flyer.

Since then the track has required some more testing along with cars that have been dragged out from under the bed and run for the first time this one is my Alfa 158 my son Aaron horsing. Me with the Cobra, Aaron with his Russian school car. We have run a variety of cars on the track, from the Russian schools’ car of Jan Huning's, who managed just under 70mph which is pretty impressive for a real twitchy car, to a FEMA Class 2 car that had a steady stroll round at 92 mph.

 Steve Betney

Cables will be provided by the organisers for official, booked events. Individual track users at other times will need their own cables and connectors, just as you would need your own control lines and handle for flying a C/L model. These cables will  be required to be made to an approved specification with a specific, high quality of piano wire and connector materials, and will be subject to periodic inspection and testing for safety considerations. A supplier has now been found for these cables.

Donations for further infrastructure and track projects are still needed and can be made by cheque payable to the BMFA and with "Buckminster Tethered Car Track Fund" written in the back and sent to Sian Sargeant at BMFA Chacksfield House, 31 St Andrews Road, Leicester LE2 8RE, or to me at 20 Fairfax Road, London NW6 4HA for me to send on if you prefer. For bank transfer payment details, please contact Sian at sian@bmfa.org.

The BMFA’s charge for using the track is currently £8 per person per day, the same as for model flyers using the site, whether in an official event or for individual use, but there will be no charge for spectators or family members, or for those holding Buckminster season tickets.

Track users who have current BMFA membership with flying insurance will be covered to use the track, as this is included in the standard policy. If you are not a full BMFA member with insurance, there is a low cost option available to obtain the required insurance cover, which covers only model car and boat operation, and not flying models. This is only available by telephone contact to BMFA head office on 0116 2440028, and explaining the cover you require, which costs £17 per year.  This just gets you acceptable insurance to use the track, and no BMFA membership or receipt of the BMFA News magazine, and you should bring your proof of insurance card with you when you visit to run.

2020 Gallery of events

The new timing unit is on top of the pit protection wall and the sensor is  at the edge of the track.

L009 is the run reference, R024 is the number of laps, 147.73 is the average speed in kph over the timed 500 metres (8 laps). V is the current lap speed and finally Vm is the fastest lap It is capable of storing 15,000 laps a maximum speed of 450 kph and a minimum of 28 kph all the data can be downloaded onto a computer and viewed lap by lap.


Buckminster Open for business
Inaugural Open Weekend Aug 8th / 9th

The opening of Buckminster track was restricted by Covid restrictions to just 30 people on each day. As well as the first chance for most to run a car in 2020 there was a fascinating selection of cars, newly built, vintage, modern, wheel driven and propeller driven.  After a free day on the track on Saturday, Sunday were ideal for the introduction of a European staple, the horsing car. Several people had a go at practising horsing with this engineless car, most getting the hang of it very quickly and clearly showing why horsers wear sleeves on the arm that wraps round the pylon. The morning was again given over to practice with a nominated speed competition for the afternoon.

Horsing car Martin Coe getting to grips with horsing Manny Williamson in full flight
David Giles' 3B Papagai and Borden teardrop Oliver cars, original and replica KMD aircar recorded 136kph
Original Oliver twin and car Two Dooling F cars Peter Fox's 'mite car'

Track Day, 5th September

Following the very successful inaugural meeting at Buckminster in August the first informal ‘track day’ was held at the beginning of September. This format is ideal for trying new cars and there were at least half a dozen of these that had not turned a wheel in anger, as well as a number that had received attention after the August meeting. The range of cars was extensive from current FEMA and 3B cars through to Russian school 2.5s, several Oliver replicas with a variety of motive power, a couple of Redfin powered modern cars and a Dooling 29 ZN replica. Apart from a break for lunch, track action was almost continuous, Aaron Monk kindly horsing all the FEMA cars with the Jan, Martin and Hugh managing the rest.

The informal nature of the day extended to a swap meet come rationalisation where cars and bits were seen to change hands, including a complete E1 1.5cc car. Oliver Monk had obtained a supply of parts for Lev Shprints’ 2.1cc junior car and there is the possibility that GRP bodies for this could be available, making it an ideal and relatively cheap option. Plans for the car and all parts are available from Lev’s online shop. There was also a 3B that that had recently arrived from Germany, no longer entirely competitive, but perfect for running at Buckminster  and this could also be a source as there are 100s of relatively modern cars no longer being used that are out there if only they could be located.

FEMA 3B 3.5cc car Chassis under construction for 2.1cc Junior car

Another bite of the cherry. 27th Sept

Aaron Monk's E1 Pete Hughes' Oliver Alfa Lynn Blowers' Stelling 3B
David Giles reaching for the brush Original Howlett/Oliver Alfa Jan's Tiger Two-Five in mid flight

SAM Octoberfest

Sales table, cars, castings, motors Oliver pushes the Slabang off Jan Huning with the stopping broom

In retrospect, and in light of subsequent restrictions, we must consider ourselves lucky that it was possible to organise all these events during a much curtailed season.

See YouTube for some live action throughout the year  Onthewire tether cars