The Silvertone STory
Silvertone was established by John Marquette in Australia in 1958. John’s company, Advance Radio Control, produced Silvertone single channel valve equipment and later multi-channel reed equipment which also used valves. In 1963 Bob Young purchased the Silvertone radio manufacturing section and established Silvertone Electronics.
Silvertone may be considered the pioneers of radio control in Australia. From single channel valve super-regenerative receivers to 24 channel solid state super-heterodyne digital proportional receivers, a major step from which Silvertone has gathered a wealth of experience.
The list of Australian R/C firsts include the first commercial production of R/C gear which included single channel and reed, valve and transistor transmitter and receivers. In 1966 Silvertone produced the first Australian designed and built digital proportional system, the Silvertone Mark 1.
In 1971 Bob Young along with Brian Green formed the first Australian team to fly in the World Aerobatic championships. The late 1960s and early 1970s were the first of several peak periods in Silvertone creativity.
Utilising a Silvertone Mark 1 proportional transmitter, the "flying-chair" was actually a prototype dual control (buddy box) system with the chair control pots wired directly into the encoder. Uncomfortable and difficult to use at first, the chair proved to be quite successful eventually, especially on twin engine models. Note the dual throttle levers. The aircraft shown set the first Australian R/C speed record of 133mph.
The Silvertone Mark VII system was introduced in 1969. A very advanced system for its time, it was the first Australian R/C system to be written up in International magazines. The Mark VII was particularly well received in the USA, receiving an excellent review in RCM magazine. The Mark VII was the first Australian R/C system to feature narrow band spacing, frequency interlock and dual control. The Mark VII ushered in a new era in Australian R/C operations. The narrow band feature presented clubs with some interesting problems and opportunities which they had never encountered before. From a club point of view, the introduction of narrow band operations (from 50kHz down to 15kHz, increasing available frequencies from 6 to 18 frequency slots) completely revolutionised club R/C operations in Australia.
The first problem was how to take advantage of the narrow band feature of the Mark VII, whilst maintaining safe operation for older and wider (40-50kHz) systems. The old peg-on transmitter system proved to be totally inadequate and actually unsafe in this situation. Silvertone's answer to this dilemma was to develop the Silvertone Keyboard, a device that can safely control the simultaneous use of radio control systems of differing bandwidths.
The Silvertone keyboard was used in almost every R/C club in Australia and was finally declared the Australian National Standard Frequency Control System until the introduction of 2.4GHz sets rendered any form of frequency control unnecessary. Prior to the introduction of 2.4GHz all MAAA sanctioned contests used the Silvertone keyboard as the frequency control system. It is still to Silvertone's knowledge the only variable bandwidth frequency control system that was available on the World market.
The development of the keyboard in turn led directly to the concept of frequency interlock to prevent accidental shoot-downs from transmitters left on in the pits. As each transmitter has its own key in this system, the logical extension is to use that key to turn off the transmitter when the key is not in the Keyboard. Thus by plugging the key into the transmitter, power is removed from the electronics, thereby rendering the transmitter completely safe whilst in the transmitter pound. All Silvertone transmitters built since 1969 have featured Frequency Interlock.
In 1970 Silvertone undertook to radio control a full size VW 1600TLE for Volkswagen Australia for use in a TV advertisement featuring the “Car that thinks for itself”. The VW1600TLE was one of the first cars to feature a computerised engine management system.
This was subsequently demonstrated all over NSW and proved to be of great interest to disabled people who could see the potential for a car that could be driven with two fingers. It was a real head turner when driven from the back seat with no driver up front.
In 1973 we began to investigate the use of R/C aircraft in military training applications. To this end Silvertone began the development of all fibreglass aircraft, such as the Silvertone Stingray shown below.
This was intended as a proof of technology aircraft for later all fibreglass aircraft such as an all glass Weightlifter (never built) and a larger delta aircraft (De Havilland Enmoth) and ultimately the Silvertone Flamingo.
As a result of Silvertone's technical capabilities in the manufacture of fibreglass airframes, the business was contracted to undertake the development of the all glass Enmoth airframe designed by De Havilland Aircraft Bankstown. In all, 15 Enmoth airframes were built for De Havilland Aircraft Australia. Silvertone ultimately supplied all of the fibreglass delta airframes for this project.
Many Stingrays were sold to modellers throughout Australia. At the same time production commenced on the Silvertone Weightlifter RPV, designed as one component of a company funded missile training system. Many of these were sold to various Government departments including Weapons Research (SA) and the CSIRO, performing a variety of chores including atmospheric sampling, missile training, weapons testing etc. Silvertone also flew missile training missions (Redeye shoulder launch missile) for the ADF.
During the 1980's a series of disposable fast, small foam delta target aircraft (MAT-DF) were also built in this period and used for small arms air-defence live-fire training. This aircraft was immensely popular with the trainee gunners proving to be a very realistic target. The final aircraft in this series was the Silvertone Falcon A, a 60 powered, live-fire target/trainer supplied to the Australian Army. All of the projects above were the first of their kind in this country.
Silvertone also pioneered such concepts as the first commercial model flying school when we set up the Silvertone Flying School which operated for many years. This scheme evolved into the RCAS (NSW State) instructors training system before finally growing into the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia (MAAA) National Flight Training system. We also fostered many records, helping Silvertone customers to establish records that stood for many years. The official Australian R/C aircraft speed record (133mph) set by Bob Young in 1969 is still the current Australian record.
Along the way such projects as radio control full size cars, trucks and trains, machines, target RPV’s, Hollywood movie robots, radio controlled buildings etc have provided interesting diversions and added to Silvertone's store of R/C knowledge and experience.
One of Silvertone's more interesting experiences involved radio controlling the window washing robot used by the Sydney Opera House. Another being designing and building the R/C pyrotechnics trigger system used in the film trilogy “Lord of the Rings.” One of the explosive sequences in Part 2 won an award for the best pyro scene.
One project after another tumbled out of the Silvertone workshop over the years in a wildly diverse array, contributing along the way to a very exciting and interesting life for all of those involved. Throughout this time Silvertone's enthusiasm for the radio control of model aircraft continued.
In the early 1990's Silvertone began investigating autonomous flight and aerial video photography.
Using Weightlifters and a small Aerocommander sport model as the airborne test-beds, Silvertone began testing various camera and autopilot systems.
At about this time the company made contact with Zina Kaye and her husband Snow who had a grant to investigate designing a UAV intended to take aerial real time video under control of web based customers. This UAV was intended to orbit over well-known landmarks while web based customers controlled the camera angles and aircraft positions from their home computers. It was in effect an early attempt to do what Google Earth now does so well. The flights on Farnborough Airport in the UK were a result of one of Zina's projects.
This Observatine UAV shown above was the first Silvertone purpose built and designed UAV and it used a PDC 3100 autopilot and a Crossbow IMU. This was the aircraft caught up in the incident during the Sydney Olympics which is described in “Small UAVs and how they work”.
Fitted with a Zenoah 60cc twin cylinder motor it flew very well. Along with a camera the Observatine was also fitted with an emergency parachute recovery system. It was Silvertone's work with Observatine that gave the team experience required to undertake the Flamingo project.
The three Silvertone Mark 22 transmitters pictured alongside Observatine are high powered transmitters from a batch built for Continental RPV in California USA. These transmitters were used for controlling target RPVs over long distances on US military target ranges.
Also in the late 1990s we turned this wealth of age-old experience towards creating an absolutely unique radio control system, the Silvertone Mark 22. The 1990s were another very busy and productive time for Silvertone. The Mark 22 has grown into something more exciting than we originally planned. The modular concept has virtually no limits and we are continuing to add new modules as time passes. The Mark 22 formed the basis for the Lord of the Rings R/C pyrotechnics trigger.
The latest module is a dual control transmitter back. Thus fitting dual control to an existing transmitter is now merely a matter of purchasing a new back panel and plugging the leads onto the appropriate pins on the encoder PCB.
System upgrades will be easy to fit and relatively inexpensive, thus the Mark 22 with its robust construction, ease of maintenance and upgrade capacity will serve its owners well into the 21st century. All Mark 22 transmitters and receivers were rated in 2001 for 10kHz operation in preparation for the introduction of this frequency spacing in early 2002, thereby maintaining the long tradition of being in the forefront of developments in narrow band operations in Australia.
In 2005 Silvertone began to design what would ultimately become the Silvertone Flamingo, a truly unique UAV that has since captured hearts around the world with its elegant appearance, versatility and fantastic flying characteristics.
Silvertone began investigating autonomous flight in about 1995 starting with Observatine and the PDC 3100 autopilot and Cross Bow IMUs. Along the way we experimented with a variety of small PDC stabiliser units such as the PDC 10, PDC 20, the Ezi-Nav and finally ending up specialising in the ATTOPilot V1 through to V4.
In the year 2001 we first met Dave Jones of AUAV Florida, who was the first modeller to undertake a long distance autonomous flight in America, in 2001. Dave was developing his own autopilot and this was the Ezi-Nav and marketed by Dave’s company AUAV.
The Ezi-Nav was the autopilot used in the 2007 Outback Challenge. Dave’s Autopilot was mounted in a Flamingo which was modified to carry the bottle of water and the bottle release.
Team Silvertone was one of only two teams to make it to the flight line that year but sadly a last minute transformer failure knocked the team out of the race at the very last minute.
Dave went on to become a part of the team that took out the prize in the 2009 Outback Challenge, his partner in that event being Geordie Milne.
In 2009 Silvertone started work with our ATTOPilot autopilot and fitted it into an electric powered Piper Cub. This work was very successful as results below show.
As a result of Silvertone's deep involvement in autonomous flight in 2005 the company began to see a need for a small UAV that would fill the gap between the Aerosonde the leading small UAV at the time and the much larger military UAVs.
It was easy to see a large and very diverse market for small UAVs and which meant right from the outset that the Flamingo was designed to be as versatile as it could be. Thus Silvertone pushed hard at the modular concept to ensure that whatever the customer required, we could satisfy that need.
Designers also wanted to avoid the complications of vehicle mounted launch and the problems associated with high wing loadings often encountered in small UAVs, therefore settling on a 4 meter wingspan, ensuring the airframe would be as aerodynamically efficient as possible, leading to smaller motors thus less fuel and a much lower all up weight at take-off.
The success is credit to the people involved in the Flamingo team. Bob Young the overall concept, master plug making and airframe construction and fitout. John Haren aerodynamic design and detailing, Bjorn Rutley, Marcus Stent and John Copeland fiberglass construction and Barry Ming, Bill Swan, John Haren airframe construction.
Test flying commenced in December 2006 but sadly the first prototype was lost on the maiden flight when the flying speed (150mph) exceeded the design limits of the elevator servo and associated hardware leading to a major re-think of all servos and associated hardware fitted to all flying controls. The performance far exceeded Silvertone's expectations.
Note the leading edge used on the first three prototypes which were all fitted with a foam and balsa wing. The foam wing was later replaced with a fiberglass wing with a fully elliptical wing planform and wing sections modified to suit the Reynolds number at each station.
The second prototype took to the air in June 2007 and the Flamingo story was launched. Years of intense R/C experience designing, testing and flying R/C systems and aircraft have culminated in a UAV which our organisation is proud to see carrying the Silvertone Logo into the future.
All Flamingos from Mk3 on were fitted with the full fiberglass wing as shown below in the photo showing the full set of modules available for the Flamingo including the twin boom version.
Once test flying was complete and all design parameters had been met, sales were quickly made to the USAF, The Royal Thai Airforce, Queensland University of technology, Notre Dame University in the USA and various individuals in private sales.
As a result of work carried out in Florida, the people conducting the flight testing ordered a twin boom conversion kit in order that they might fit a larger motor to one of their Flamingos. This was a limitation imposed by the single boom Mk1 and Mk2 designs.
The Mk3 Flamingo has a deeper boom fitting point which allows much larger diameter props thus larger motors, neatly eliminating the need for the twin boom variation.
MATTERHORN PROJECT. To address scientific needs and help improve the prediction of mountain weather, the U.S. Department of Defense has funded a research effort—the Mountain Terrain Atmospheric Modeling and Observations (MATERHORN) Program—that draws the expertise of a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional, and multinational group of researchers. The program has four principal thrusts, encompassing modeling, experimental, technology, and parameterization components, directed at diagnosing model deficiencies and critical knowledge gaps, conducting experimental studies, and developing tools for model improvements. The access to the Granite Mountain Atmospheric Sciences Testbed of the U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground, as well as to a suite of conventional and novel high-end airborne and surface measurement platforms, has provided an unprecedented opportunity to investigate phenomena of time scales from a few seconds to a few days, covering spatial extents of tens of kilometers down to millimeters.
In 2011 the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) ran a test course for UAV pilots in Brisbane. The pupils were a range of budding UAV pilots including some with extensive experience with remote control aircraft as well as others with no experience.
This course was run over two weeks, with all students passing the course and each gaining a CASA Level 1 UAV controller’s licence.
In 2013 Bob Young sold Silvertone Electronics to Mr Ken Taylor and the business was moved to Wagga Wagga, NSW Australia. In 2018 and beyond, the current Silvertone team is powering forward, driving innovation via the Flamingo Mk3, and looking forward to an exciting future.
In July of 2017 the sale of 3 Flamingo Mk3 airframes to Siad Aero, an R & D contractor to Energais Brasil, for use in inspection of their electrical grid. They indicate that many more maybe needed in 2018 if these units deliver “proof of concept” for them. Delivery was due by October 2017.
Delivery of 3 complete airframes to Energias Brasil occurred in September of 2017, executing the contract on schedule and budget, as well as exceeding specifications.