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R/C Tank Combat

The First Battle

Eldersburg, Maryland - November 10, 2001:

At 1:23pm today, the R/C Tank Combat hobby moved off of the drawing board and onto the battlefield when the first R/C Tank Battle was waged between elements of the 33rd Armored Division from Annapolis, Maryland, commanded by Frank Pittelli and Montgomery's Rangers from Glen Burnie, Maryland, commanded by Will Montgomery.

Battle #1

Two large-scale tank models, a German Tiger Tank and a German Panther Tank rolled out of their home bases approximately 50 yards apart and approached each other with caution. Tiger Tank #1, callsign Alpha Wolf, had a slight speed advantage over the relatively flat, high-grass battlefield, but Panther Tank #2, callsign The Blitz, had slightly better turning capabilities. At a range of approximately 40 feet, the Panther fired a couple of paintball rounds towards the Tiger Tank, landing a direct frontal hit with the 3rd shot. Although no points are scored for frontal hits on tanks according to the rules, the hit was still the first ever shot landed during an R/C Tank Battle and Will Montgomery was cheered by the numerous on-lookers.

Shortly after the initial barrage, both tanks started veering in opposite directions to widen the shooting angle. As Panther #2 moved to its right, it slowly rotated its gun towards the left to acquire Tiger #1, while Tiger #1 stopped and attempted to rotate and lower its gun into the proper firing position. However, before Tiger #1 could score a hit, Panther #2 fired a quick barrage of paintballs at Tiger #1, scoring four hits on the left side. Under the rules, four non-frontal hits on a tank are sufficient to destroy it, so Panther #2 was the winner of the one-on-one tank duel.

The Founders of the R/C Tank Combat hobby, Frank Pittelli (left) and Will Montgomery (right), pose next to their tanks after the first R/C Tank Battle was fought. Both tanks worked better than expected and lots of lessons were learned.

Battle #2

After the dust settled from the first battle and everyone had a chance to talk about the various things that went right and wrong, the two tank commanders quickly made ready for another battle. As before, both tanks starting moving directly towards each other, relying on their armored fronts for protection. Realizing from the first battle that Panther #2 had better steering control, Frank used a series of forward and reverse actions to pivot Tiger #1 into a better firing position. As in the first battle, the angle between the tanks opened up and eventually there was a 45 degree shooting angle for both commanders.

At a range of approximately 30 feet, both tanks opened fire, shooting a number of paintballs to find the proper firing solution. Tiger #1's magazine feed mechanism required it to fully elevate it's gun every 3 or 4 shots in order to chamber another 3 or 4 paintballs, while Panther #2's mechanism worked best when the gun was in the full down position. As each commander worked the controls feverishly to make everything work properly, the Tiger scored 3 hits on the left side of the Panther, while the Panther scored 2 hits on the left side of the Tiger. Only one more shot was needed to finish the battle ... and then everything ground to a halt.

Tiger #1 had problems chambering a round, while Panther #2 had problems rotating its turret. So both commanders called timeout to fix things. During the timeout, a cloud of smoke began to rise from Tiger #1 as the result of a battery short. The problem was quickly resolved, but the extent of the damage was unknown for a few minutes, during which time Panther #2 prepared to retire to its home base. Then, Frank cleared up the radio problem caused by the shorted battery and declared that Tiger #1 was operational again. Battle #2 was declared a draw so that both tanks could have a fresh start in another battle.

Tiger Tank #1 shows all of the damage that it accumulated during the battling, which is easily repaired with a sponge and some water. The primitive steering control system hastily installed before the battle will be improved in the coming week, as well as the magazine feed mechanism.

See Tiger Tank #001 for construction details.

Click Photo For Enlargement (91 Kb)

Battle #3

The final battle of the day started at close range. Both commanders were beginning to feel more confident on the controls and decided to make a side-by-side high-speed pass within 8 feet of each other. With throttles at full-speed in forward, both commanders attempted to slew their guns into the proper firing position as the other tank passed.

Unfortunately, the Panther's turret rotating problem re-appeared and it couldn't rotate its gun past 90 degrees, exposing its flank to the Tiger without any way of returning fire. Fortunately, Frank was more concerned about staying out of the gun sights of the Panther to realize that the Panther was having problems. The Tiger was trying to turn and pursue the Panther when it could have just rotated its own gun and fired at almost point blank range. But, in the heat of battle, the most effective move is often overlooked.

From that point, both tanks moved a little farther away from each other and maneuvered for the best shooting angle. A number of hits were scored on both sides, but the battle was more experimental than adversarial. The commanders were primarily interested in seeing how the systems were working and how to improve them for the next battle.

Click Photo For Enlargement (102 Kb)
Panther Tank #2 after winning the first ever R/C Tank Battle. Additional work will be needed to improve its reliability and performance, but all systems worked well enough to demonstrate that tanks can be effective on the model battlefield.

See Panther Tank #002 for construction details.

Lessons Learned

In a new hobby, there are plenty of areas for improvement and innovation. After the first battles, the following lessons were learned by both commanders:

  • Keep The Tracks Tight - Panther #2 kept veering to the right because of a track that was too loose. The track system should always have a way of adjusting the tension on each track to compensate for such problems.

  • Use At Least A 3.5oz CO2 Tank - Tiger #1 used a 3.5oz tank and didn't have any problem firing a 100+ rounds during the day, while Panther #2 tried to use a small disposable tank, which didn't allow much firing at all.

  • The Magazine Feed Is Critical - Tiger #1 spent more time trying to feed paintballs into the gun then any other activity, including firing and steering. The magazine needs to feed reliably in all positions, but most importantly in the horizontal gun position, which is the most common position during the battle.

  • Homemade Tracks Work Fine - The homemade track design used on both tanks, which consists of a couple bicycle chains, some wooden or metal treads and lots of pop rivets, worked very well in the field.

  • Single Joystick Steering Is Best - Panther #2 used a single-joystick steering control which is identical to that used for R/C warships, while Tiger #1 used a two-joystick approach which led to lots of confusion while trying to drive, rotate, elevate and shoot the gun. A single joystick for steering and throttle significantly reduces brain fatigue.

  • Paintball Guns Work Great - The paintball guns used by both tanks worked great and, more importantly, sounded really cool when they were fired because of the resonance down the long barrel. Furthermore, there is no better sight than watching a large splatter appear on the opposing tank.

  • Summary

    R/C Tank Combat has only just begun and there is a lot more work to be done along the way to becoming a stable, enjoyable and challenging hobby. Over time, the battle that took place on this day will never be considered the most exciting, the largest or even the most important, but it will always be ... The First R/C Tank Battle.