In the beginning...
When I was a teenager in high school, I dabbled in making balsa wood gliders. I was able to hand toss them, but I struggled immensely to make them into CLGs (Catapult Launched Gliders). For some reason, CLGs mystified me. Back in the day, the public library was all I could rely upon and it had but a few books to offer me. Therefore, I knew very little and didn’t have the resources nor did I have the time to research and experiment with them to make them work well as a CLG.
Fast forward a couple dozen years and we have the wonderful world of the internet. With the advent of search engines, anyone can find some fantastic resources in the realm of free flight. YouTube was a goto for me and I spent hours searching for some of the best gliders anyone was willing to demonstrate flying. I found many CLGs, but surprisingly, not as much as I thought I would. My searches expanded to HLGs (Hand Launched Gliders) and DLG (Discuss Launched Gliders). I just watched them all in amazement as I envied in building some.
From 2013-2016, I volunteered as a Science Olympiad coach. At first, I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into, but I always signed up for the building events which included helicopters in 2013-2014 and elastic launched gliders in 2015-2016. I was a noob and knew very little, but was determined to work with my students as we figured things out together. Embracing failure was one of my coaching strategies. Our rubber powered helicopters started off as heavy tissue models flying 25 seconds and by the time we made the Indiana State competition we had some nice lightweight produce bag models that flew 1m 30s and placed 3rd in both years. In gliders we also did well; improving our designs (after breaking many gliders) and upped our building skills as we went along. In gliders, we had some models flying 25-30 seconds and placed 3rd in state in both years! We were up against the best schools in Indiana who always made it to nationals— so, it was a really good show for us as “beginners.” However, from then on, I was bitten by the free flight bug!
In the summer if 2016, I continued my passion for CLGs. I built many of them and experimented with many different designs. I didn’t have access to an indoor facility, so, I flew them outside. I built them as light as I could make them and quickly discovered they only flew great on perfectly-calm days. However, I was actually building indoor gliders which did not work well outdoors. So, I went back to the drawing board and made some outdoor models. They were a bit heavier, I was able to launch them higher, and they were more tolerable of a gentle breeze. From my uncountable number of failures, I finally had my Nighthawk model (a lesser known model) and my Sandpiper model flying well.
By the fall of 2016, it was time to show them to the world! I fired up my YouTube channel and decided to call it “Nighthawk Gliders.” I thought the name was rather catchy and I didn’t want to publish videos under my own personal name. I wanted my channel to seem a little more “professional” and I wanted my gliders to have a recognizable “brand,” so to speak— which includes a logo, because… why not?
My first videos were basically me demonstrating my gliders flying— nothing more than that. I barely knew much about video production. Perhaps my videos were not not that exciting unless you really appreciate what it takes to build and fly CLGs. It was content, nonetheless. Now that I had some videos, I needed to get viewers— especially those viewers who like this sort of thing. Not only did I want the views, but I wanted subscribers, too, of course! I needed to do more research on that topic and figure this YouTube thing out.
Well, aside from my best effort at tagging the heck out my videos and hoping for the best that they would rank in search results, I figured if I wanted viewers, then I needed to be an avid viewer myself. So that is what I did. I found channels and videos I enjoyed watching— especially those related to airplanes and gliders— then, I commented on said videos. My comments were always positive, complimentary, and uplifting. It was important to me that my comments were always genuine and from the heart and poignant to the video I watched. I never asked anyone to come to my channel and “subscribe” for I did not want to “spam” anyone. I wanted my favorite content creators know that I am there, I’m supporting their creativity, and I’m always watching their videos. If they happen to be inquisitive about my channel, then they are more than welcome to naturally come and visit me. If I had content that they like (and my fingers were crossed) then they would naturally watch and subscribe. Likewise, if there were any other avid commenters on these channels, then they may see my comments and come visit me as well. It’s as simple as that— just pay it forward and never ask for anything.
Well, that seemed to be a “simple” enough approach but it did take a lot of time and effort to grow Nighthawk Gliders organically— it’s still slow going, to be quite honest, but it is growing, indeed! Sometimes, a little boost from our YouTube friends helped, too. We’ve had a few “shout outs” from a number of notable channels we love to watch and they helped give us a decent boost in viewers/subscribers. Some of our YouTube fiends include: Grandadisanoldman, TheRCSaylors, Joshuafinn, FliteTest, and Doyle Blevins, to name a few. This may seem like a semi-random bunch of folks, but they all had a couple of things in common… 1) they all produced family-friendly content and 2) they enjoyed flight. Therefore, I am proud to call them our youTube friends.
Viewership grew slowly, but I wanted to have some evergreen content— something timeless and useful to anyone who was interested in building balsa wood CLGs. I wanted to share what I learned and give back to the internet community. I searched hard for any decent tutorials that might be out there but found nothing of high quality. This baffled me. I know there are a lot of life-long free flight hobbyists out there, so why weren’t there any “how-to” videos? Were these pros keeping their secrets to themselves? Then I had to asked myself, If I were to produce a tutorial, would that be like a taboo— something akin to a magician revealing his secrets?
Well, I decided to make my own 3 part series around the Sandpiper 12 and I wanted to show the world how I made it. My goals were: 1) Have easy-to-follow steps with a decent camera angle to show what is being done, 2) Have a model that was easy to build, inexpensive, and require little tools, and 3) ensure I have Closed Captioning for international viewers… even though it is in english, it helps to show what you are saying.
Throughout the years, this Sandpiper 12 tutorial has become our most watched video series. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and great stores in our comment sections and emails. We are pleased to help serve communities around the world by providing a simple project that is now being taught in schools all around… go figure, this is way cooler than I had ever imagined!
As we continue to grow (and many videos later) we continue to collaborate with our many YouTube friends. We are blessed to have acquired such good friends and they have been positive to our cause and willing to help us along the way. One acquaintance sold us his small laser cutter (thanks, Foamie Ninja) and with that, Nighthawk Gliders quickly became an LLC in January of 2019. We are now creating CLG kits and build plans to sell locally in craft shows and online. It’s just the beginning! NighthawkGliders.com/store
So, where do we go from here?
Well, my brother Bruce and I want to continue to produce some fun products and share them with the world. We want to explore some fun and exciting new business opportunities. We want to grow as a company, produce more entertaining videos for our YouTube fans and give back to the community. Finally, we want to encourage everyone around the world to join the hobby of free flight and build something! There is a reason why our slogan is “Enjoy flight & enjoy life”— it’s because we truly believe in it and we want you to believe in it, too!
As we come to a close of 2019, we cannot thank you guys enough for sticking around with us and following us along on our journey. We absolutely appreciate your feedback and support (which helps us out immensely.) Without you, we certainly would not be here today!
Enjoy flight and enjoy life, my friends, and have a happy new year!
Brad Williamson, co-creator of Nighthawk Gliders, enjoys learning about the many aspects of flight and aeromodelling-- especially when it involves free-flight gliders made from balsa wood. From 2012-2016 he helped coach Science Olympiad teams for a local middle school. In the state of Indiana, his students placed 1st in rotor egg drop, 3rd in Balsa Gliders, and 3rd in Helicopters. Since then, Brad was hooked on building and flying things made from balsa. His contributions here stem from his love around the hobby of flight and his desire to be creative and share information. Along with his brother, Bruce, their goal is to inspire a new audience (be them young or old) to simply "enjoy flight and enjoy life!"