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The Marconi Trail
Author: Terence Jones - Ireland

An account of Ballymoney Model Flying Clubs flight with a radio controlled model to Rathlin Island and Back.

To recall the historic occasion in 1898 when the Italian Marchesse Gugliemo Marconi and his assistant George Kemp established wireless communication between Ballycastle Northern Ireland and Rathlin Island to report to Lloyds Station at Torr Head on the mainland on the passing of shipping along the North Coast of the Island, Ballymoney Model Flying Club members decided that they would attempt to emulate this event by flying a radio controlled model aircraft from Ballycastle to Rathlin Island and back, landing at Marconi cottage. It was unanimously agreed by the members to embark on this venture in support of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and we are pleased that any contributions we do collect will go to the RNLI as I am sure everyone is aware that this organisation is funded by donations and the men and women that crew these craft risk there own lives to assist others in peril on the sea.

To complete this task we would need three pilots and a boat and with a little luck some decent weather, Alan Wilson of Aquasports Rathlin Fast Ferries provided the boat and the three pilots would be Robert Wallace flying from the boat, Andrew Wallace taking off from Ballycastle and landing at Marconi cottage and Stanley McKeown landing refuelling and taking off again on Rathlin Island. All three pilots are BMFA achievement scheme examiners.

After lots of organisation, meetings, consultations and a press launch giving us coverage in all of Northern Ireland; Robert Wallace chairman of BMFC was also interviewed by Linda Bryans of U105; the day of the flight 12 August 2006 arrived. The members met at Ballycastle and set up a static scale model display and lifeboat members where on hand with collection boxes also sponsorship forms had also been distributed among many businesses in Northern Ireland. The Rathlin crew where ferried across complete with fuel, starter box, spare prop etc and all was set for the flight, the local red bay lifeboat the Dorothy Mary was on station and also the Severn class Katie Hannan from Portrush had arrived to support the flight.

With Robert on the boat Andrew took off from the beach it was a fine but blustery day but the T240 performed perfectly, a system of communicating with flags had been devised and using that, control of the model was passed from Andrew to Robert on the boat. The boat crossing was bumpy to say the least and Robert had to be held down on more than one occasion by his wife Jackie. At Rathlin Island control of the model was passed to Stanley McKeown and the model landed, refuelled, restarted and took off again. Then Robert flew it back to Marconi cottage and Andrew completed the task with a lovely landing in difficult conditions.

With everyone back in Ballycastle the model was restarted and Robert flew a display from the beach and which, going by the applause on landing, was well received by the crowd who were still in attendance.

There are too many people to thank individually and we would like to use this opportunity to thank all who were involved and to all sponsors and anyone who contributed to this worthy cause. We appreciate the help and support from the other Model Flying Clubs in Area 13 and we recognised many modellers in the crowd, Howard Menary the BMFA Area 13 Chairman attended and we placed him on the boat with Robert and the UTV cameraman, we hope you enjoyed the crossing Howard and your first step on Rathlin Island.

Monies are still being collected and we will give out the total at a later date when we present a cheque to The Red Bay Lifeboat crew on Rathlin Island on the 9 of September 2006

For those interested in the equipment, the model was an old Precedent T240 powered by a Kalt 22cc two stroke petrol engine and the radios used were JR on PCM although for this event failsafe was disabled to facilitate handing over between radios so that when switched off the model stayed at the last signal received. A half gallon fuel tank was fitted over the centre of gravity and really that was the only modification made to the model which is owned by the club Chairman Robert Wallace and usually used to carry our RC paratrooper up for his jumps.

Well done to all the crew it was a wonderful sight, a great achievement and such a buzz, all I can say is watch this space for our next venture and I have already heard Scotland mentioned.

As stated earlier the event was recorded by UTV, Ulster Television and it was shown on the Monday 14 August, a video of which in windows media format can be viewed on

We would like to leave you with this ode penned for the flight by Angela Gardiner affectionately known as The Bard Of Ballymena.

The Flight

As I soar over Rathlin Sound
Over shipwrecks that below abound
Think of the dangers facing those at sea
And give thanks to the lifeboat crews that be.

Boat in distress. They setsail
Through seas whipped up by the gale
Search till that boats crew is found
And only then are they homeward bound.

This flight should help in some small way
The lifeboat its bills to pay
So be generous and give a pound
And lets hope your boat never runs aground.

click to enlarge

Robert Wallace the pilot on the boat relieved its all over
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Stanley McKeown taxis the model on Rathlin Island
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The Crew L to R back row: Jeffrey Small, Clifford McIlwee, Alwyn Clarke, Eneas Rainey, Alistair Morgan, centre row: Jackie Wallace, Robert Wallace,
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The model above the Red Bay and Portrush Lifeboats
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The Pilots L to R - Andrew Wallace, Robert Wallace, Stanley McKeown

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