A self-taught electronics expert from Negombo says that kids can learn immensely by designing their own machine which can fly rather than buying a drone from a toyshop
Sri Lankans now live in a war-free country where the liberty of flying a remote-controlled drone aircraft is enjoyed by many. One can get a kick out of sending one of these remote-controlled objects high in the air. But a self-taught expert on electronics, Amith Perera from Negombo, says that a person can derive more pleasure if he can fly a model aircraft.
These models are miniature aircraft, have engines and can be run by using fuel, methanol or even steam. But according to Amith, one needs to study the mechanics behind flying such models and make these creations meet certain specifications. “One doesn’t need a degree to make a model aircraft. What is required is keenness, the desire to make one of these models and the ability to read and understand a manual,” said Amith in an interview with Weekend Nation at his aircraft museum in Negombo. He is one of those individuals who chose not to enter campus, but study the subject of electronics on his own.
Amith was greatly influenced by the work of what his father Edward did for the late Dr. Ray Wijewardene, an endeavour where over 17 aircrafts were made. “My father owned a pilot’s license and used to fly with Wijewardene. Flying was fun before the war aggravated but things turned gloomy when the authorities imposed too many rules on civilians possessing pilot licenses. We had to be at the Katunayake Airport before 7 am and then finish all our flying and return to base before 5 pm which made things very difficult for us,” was how Amith began the interview.
However, the time before the height of the war had been fun. He remembered the period during which the Royal Air Force operated. “During this time my dad came across magazines that featured model aircrafts. He was so fascinated by them that he began collecting literature about them. His English was not very good, but when he didn’t know a word he’d go ask someone and that’s how he gathered knowledge,” reminisced Amith who is attached to a family business that manufactures precision injection moulded plastic closers.
Amith said that he along with his dad, brother Collin and sister Jayani (a qualified engineer now living abroad) had contributed towards making several model aircrafts at home in their workshop.
“Initially one must somehow find the time like we do for this kind of activity which might be before work or after work. One has to get the aerodynamics, the trimming of the aircraft and adjusting the centre of gravity right, if the aircraft is to fly properly,” said Amith who flies the family-made aircraft on Sundays along with a collection of individuals who call themselves Negombo Aero Modellers’. This group considers flying model aircraft a sport.
Miniature engines are used in these creations along with methane alcohol or diesel as the fuel. Most often a glow plug is also used in these creations, which according to him might take between a few months to a year to complete. These model aircraft enthusiasts make models ranging from Chuck Gliders, Rubber Powered Gliders, Catapult Gliders, Towline Gliders and graduate to a Free Flight Aircraft. According to Amith, the Free Flight Aircraft needs a lot of expertise. “This type of model aircraft travels in a circle and returns slowly to the place it took off from when the fuel tank is empty. All this has to be timed to perfection,” he said.
When the Perera family had many model aircrafts in their workshop and were making the public aware of this art of flying, the authorities cancelled the license which their group possessed. This was despite the family keeping the Defence Ministry, Civil Aviation Authority and National Intelligence Bureau updated on their creations and about the locations they used for flying them. This license was restored in later years, but the Pereras never considered calling it quits with regard to making inventions.
As for the Pereras, making model aircraft is a hobby. But the male folk in this family would not have had the time to engage in such a pastime if not for Wilma Fernando, Amith’s mom, who volunteered to run the family business in their absence.
Amith said that kids should be encouraged to learn the art of making model aircraft. “A model aircraft is the work of a knowledgeable person. Any person who doesn’t have the ability to create a model aircraft can settle for a drone aircraft,” laughed Amith.