George Rodriguez and Michael Richter test-fly a Libelle DLG at Ellwood Bluffs, in
Goleta CA, accompanied by Michael’s son, Kelby, and George’s dog, Ellie. Photo by
by Dave Garwood
Iinterviewed Michael Richter—Slope sailplane designer and owner of Dream-Flight model kit company.
Dave Garwood: At what age did you begin flying
Michael Richter: I started building a Sig Riser
before I actually learned how to fly. That was 1991,
and I was 12. I thought the flying part would fall into place
and I would just “figure it out.”
I remember saving up the money to buy the kit and then
laying down the cork, the plans, and getting organized. Those
are good memories for sure. Fortunately, I was able to get some
basic flying instruction from Ken Chalfant, now owner of
California Hobbies in Santa Barbara.
DG: You are a renowned sailplane designer—known for the
excellence of your airplane designs and the quality of your
sailplane kits. How did you get started in model design?
MR: When I was maybe nine or 10, I got the book Jet-Age
Jamboree from a box of things that our neighbor was throwing
out. That was Yasuaki Ninomiya’s precursor to his popular
Whitewings series of cutout paper airplane books. I remember
looking over the last chapter about basic aircraft design
principles and being mesmerized by the idea of designing
something that flies.
I spent a lot of time making small FF gliders from paper and
balsa and would make little airplane sketches alongside my
father at his huge drafting table. My father’s love for designing
and making things rubbed off on me.
Spending several summer vacations in Germany as a kid was
also great. I already had this basic fascination with soaring and
then I was thrown into a culture that widely embraced RC
Soaring—not only as a as a hobby, but as a technology, sport,
DG: What characteristics are important to glider design?
MR: Whether the design is for Slope or Hand Launch, it
should look cool in the air! We are constantly looking at these
aircraft, so we should be visually inspired by what we are
A Slope Soaring design should be relatively uncomplicated,
robust, maneuverable, and forgiving to fly. I like having a
wide speed range because I often fly slow and close. Having
large control surfaces for good maneuverability at these lower
speeds is important.
Four words come to mind when I think of a Discus Launch
Glider (DLG): sleek, elegant, buoyant, and lively. There is
more function packed into the individual components of a
hand-launched design than one might think. These gliders are
hurled into the sky and then they have to hang in the air and
practically do a pirouette without falling from the sky.
DG: What are your glider design objectives and how do you
prioritize or resolve conflicting objectives?
MR: The first objective is to design something that is exciting
and fun. The second objective is to find a harmony between
the flight character, control response, aesthetics, mechanical
function, and manufacturing requirements.
Accomplishing the second objective is most of the work.
The general layout of the design—wing shape, airfoils, etc.—
evolve during flight testing. I might have an inspiration for
a design, but I will never get the results unless I just throw
myself into it and start building and testing.
Before Dream-Flight, the objective was just to follow
my inspirations and creativity. But it’s not only [about] me
anymore, and I say that in a very positive sense.
My new business partner, George Rodriguez, and I now
have to be more methodical with our objectives given the
needs of our customers, budget, manufacturing resources, and
running a business. The Libelle was our first collaboration, and
having George’s broad experience in modeling and product
development in the mix has really enriched the design process
DG: You are known for designing “knock-it-out-of-the-park” Slope
Soaring designs, at least by those of us who know and love the
Weasel and the Alula. During design and testing, how do you
113 Model Aviation DECEMBER 2014