Trans-Atlantic Model Flight Equipment

In August 2003, Maynard L. Hill flew a model airplane, referred to as the TAM 5, from Newfoundland to Ireland.  The total flight took 38 hours, 52 minutes and 19 seconds and covered 1,881.6 miles.  To make the flight possible, Maynard spent years researching aeromodelling design and engine fuel mixtures.  He also got input from electronics and computing experts to assemble an electrical system that could have the model remain in level flight as it tracked and maintained its path to Ireland.

A cut-out in the shape of an airplane has a battery, servos and a GPS and other electronic equipment attached to it. This is the equipment from the TAM-5, on loan from the National Electronics Musuem.
Equipment installed in Maynard Hill’s Trans-Atlantic Model.  Display on loan from the National Electronics Museum.

In the January 2004 Model Aviation article “Two Sunsets and Still Flying,” Maynard first notes that there was an “Aveox brushless motor core was used as an alternator to provide power for all of the electrical components.”  Those components were not just the traditional receiver and servos for ailerons, rudder and throttle, but also a “custom-designed autopilot, its harness, its piezoelectric gyro, its pressure sensor and a GPS receiver.”  The specialized equipment all together only weighed 8 ozs.

The GPS system is installed in two levels right at the junction of the fuselage and wing of the Trans-Atlantic Model. Display on loan from the National Electronics Museum.
A close-up of the GPS system installed in the Trans-Atlantic Model. Display on loan from the National Electronics Museum.
The cord for the gyro is clearly marked in this close-up of the Trans-Atlantic Model equipment. Display on loan from the National Electronics Museum.
A close-up of the gyro installed in the Trans-Atlantic Model. Display on loan from the National Electronics Museum.

The TAM 5 has been on exhibit at the National Model Aviation Museum since it was donated by Maynard in December 2003.  It is now joined by an exhibit showcasing equipment from another TAM that has had its framework and covering removed so interior workings can be clearly seen.  Also included is one of the four transmitters that were involved with the flight.  This exhibit is on loan from the National Electronics Museum and will be available at the NMAM for at least a year.

A Futaba FP-T8UAP transmitter used during the TAM-5 flights. One of the four transmitters used during the Trans-Atlantic Model 5 flight. Display on loan from the National Electronics Museum.
One of the four transmitters used during the Trans-Atlantic Model 5 flight. Display on loan from the National Electronics Museum.
Maynard Hill's information on the underside of one of the four transmitters used during the TAM-5 flights. One of the four transmitters used during the Trans-Atlantic Model 5 flight. Display on loan from the National Electronics Museum.
One of the four transmitters used during the Trans-Atlantic Model 5 flight. Display on loan from the National Electronics Museum.
The Trans-Atlantic Model 5 hangs in the Models at Work gallery in the museum. The equipment display, on loan from the National Electronics Museum is below it.
The Trans-Atlantic Model 5 on exhibit at the National Model Aviation Museum with the TAM equipment display on loan from the National Electronics Museum below.

We’re thankful to the National Electronics Museum for helping our AMA members and other visitors develop a better understanding of the knowledge and work that went into making the transatlantic flight possible.

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For more information on the National Model Aviation Museum, including our location, hours and admission fees visit: www.modelaircraft.org/museum

24 comments

  1. It’s great that Maynard Hill’s record setting model is on display, along with a mock-up of its equipment. It’s just too bad the alternator he made from a brushless electric motor is labeled as a landing battery. I see the mock-up is on loan to AMA, so you can’t just fix it. But, I would hope the organization that owns it would want to correct the label.

    1. The museum director went out and checked the display and says that the alternator is actually not labeled at all, and the battery pack is correctly labeled. The problem is that the model is misaligned with the backing. We’ll get in touch with NEM and see what we can do about that. Thanks for pointing it out!

  2. Years before Maynard made his historic flight, I met him when I
    was working at RS Systems in Beltsville, MD with Steve Stricker, Chris Lash and Bob McDaniels among others. We were looking for an autopilot for our US Army target drone and went to talk to him about his electrostatic autopilot that he had invented.
    Fast forward to around 2001. I am now working for Hobbico running their Service and Support Division. Maynard called because he need parts for the discontinued OS four stroke engine that he was using for his record attempt. While OS had long since stopped making the parts he needed, I was able to find multiples of everything he needed in our parts bin. We had a long talk about his plans for the flight. He called a second time for a few more parts 6 months later.
    After his success, I got a nice letter and Certificate from him thanking me for my help. It was a small contribution that I did for him but I like to think that maybe a part or two that I sent him were in the TAM that made it across the Atlantic.
    Maynard was an amazing man!
    Art Pesch
    AMA 2964

    1. What is the name of the cooking oil that was used for the fuel? I also have read that the fuel was coleman mixed with a high temp cooking oil with a OS 10 carb on a OS .61 four stroke engine with open valves.

      1. Hi, Chuck – you’re right in regards to the Coleman fuel and the engine information, but as far as the museum is aware, the exact fuel mixture is still a secret. We get asked what it was all the time, though. Art, if you know and can share, please do so! ~Maria

      2. The major component in the fuel for the TAM models was Coleman stove fuel, usually purchased by the gallon at retail stores in Maryland. The only other component was Indopol L-50; I don’t recall the exact mix.

        I worked with Maynard on the TAM project from the very beginning, and served as Contest Director for TAM-4 and TAM-5.

        Above, I said the Coleman stove fuel was usually purchased retail. Around 2002, Maynard telephoned asking me to obtain the name and phone number for the person at Coleman most knowledgeable about their fuel. I called the 800 number; the receptionist told me his name, and transferred the call. The man had never heard of Maynard Hill, so I told him about Maynard’s project. Maynard wondered if the fuel had been changed; the new gallon he had just purchased didn’t perform as well as what he was accustomed to. The man told me that the company had changed suppliers and they suspected they were getting a lower cut. Subsequently, Coleman donated gallons of the “good stuff.”

        Maynard collected dozens of OS-61 engines and ran them for days to determine which one performed best.

        Right after we were successful, the team discussed the possibility of the TAM-5 records being broken. By then, we knew how difficult it was, but be were in agreement that eventually they would fall. Now, 16 years have passed the records still stand, except they are now in the FAI’s U-1 subclass. The record IDs are 18114 and 18115.

        Les Hamilton, W3HZB

  3. Most interesting and amazing. Overall scary. This demo of long distance flight could be a problem for our country. What would keep someone from sending a plane with explosives into any building in the USA? It could be programmed to fly a low alt., change direction a few times to confuse direction detection, and hit any target. Very hard to detect and stop in time. Not a good thing.

    1. George, while the tech has long since advanced since this flight and it is a little easier to accomplish such a task, it is still very difficult and the bad guys know that that are far easier ways of attacking the US. That being said, even though there are easier ways most attempts end up being caught in the act or way before the attack is attempted. Sadly most Americans do not understand how much work the US government does to stop such attacks, along with how often plots are stopped.

    2. you would only have to have the 60 years of engineering and modeling experience and genius of Maynard Hill to do it. It is true it is a little easier today so you would only have to have 45 years of experience.

  4. How big was the plane? Wingspan, length, total weight? What material covered the plane? How much fuel was carried to fly almost 39 hours? Can you post some photos of the plane next to the builder?

    1. Hi, Ken!

      You can find out more about the Trans-Atlantic Model 5, its 2003 flight, and Maynard at the following links:

      Biography of Maynard Hill – https://www.modelaircraft.org/files/HillMaynard.pdf
      TAM’s homepage: https://tam.plannet21.com/
      The Saga of the TAM-5 official video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q20uRLcvKjM
      Another great video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KEIq76JE7o&feature=youtube_gdata_player
      Good article: https://www.barnardmicrosystems.com/UAV/milestones/atlantic_crossing_2.html
      Also, if you access the modelaviation.com digital library, look up the January 2004 article, “Two Sunsets and Still Flying” written by Maynard himself.

      Thanks for your curiosity! Enjoy!

  5. Way great. 1.9m span, 10cc motor. <5kg. 2003. And by an individual modeler!

    For contrast recall that in 1998 Insitu Aerosonde, now part of Boeing, flew its inverted V-tail pusher-prop Laima, also from Newfoundland, to the Outer Hebrides Islands of Scotland. 9.67 ft span, 29 lbs, 51mph, great circle route at an altitude of 5,511 feet, 2,044 miles in 26 hours 45 minutes.

  6. In May of 2004 the Electric Powered Aeromodelers RC club and the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in Scotia, NY were visited by Mr and Mrs Hill. Maynard spoke to a full house of modelers from other clubs and aviation enthusiasts. He brought along a duplicate of the TAM 5 aircraft and other equipment he had developed to bring about this amazing accomplishment. It was a pleasure and an honor to spend time with this remarkable man.
    A copy of his presentation was sent to the AMA Museum.

  7. Maynard Hill was a true genius. We are fortunate to have had him in the modeling world. What he accomplished setting altitude and distance records was nothing short of amazing. Little know fact is that in his later life he was legally blind which coincided with the development and execution of the TAM5 flights.

  8. One of my model airplane memories from the 40’s (maybe early 50’s) when Maynard was a student here at PSU was going to a local ridge top and watching him launch a RC glider and fly it down into the valley. He later gave this, then 14-year-old, one of his gliders.

  9. I was fortunate to spend some time with Maynard while producing the AMA movie, Those Marvelous Miniatures….there is a whole segment in the movie/video with Maynard demonstrating his static electricity autopilot which is fascinating. I believe he also held the altitude record for a model at the time….His TAM flight came a good bit later than the movie’s production. We as modelers and so many others were fortunate to have him among our midst.

    1. Jay, Maynard had so many records it can be difficult to keep track! And, just as an FYI, We have an example of the one of the static electricity autopilots in the collection!

      1. The FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale) has had a difficult time with the distance and duration records set by Maynard Hill and his team with TAM-5 (also named The Spirit of Butts’ Farm). Records were originally granted in F3 Aeromodels; later tranferred to a new subclass F8 Autonomous flight created because of TAM-5. Later, F8 was retired. Recently, the F8 records were transferred to U-1 (the UAV category for fixed-wing aircraft).

        The FAI website does not list all of Maynard’s records. The FAI attributed 25 distinct records to Maynard; one of these in the name of Maynard S. Hill (Maynard’s son, and two in the name of Robert Rosenthal. For details, see my website http://www.loosecannon.name.

        I was contest director on the TAM-4 and TAM-5 flights.

        Les Hamilton

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