Flying Tipplers

from the Kitbox


Racing Pigeon Digest, Feb 1st, 1997
Pigeon Fancier, November 1993

by David Fuller (Secretary of FTS of USA)

It was 4:45 AM, June 21st, 1992 and two Tippler-men, Michael Beat a flyer and Joe Kelley were stirring up the pigeons in a neat loft nestled against the flyer's garage in Downey, California. Joe had traveled from La Mesa, California the day before specifically to time the pigeons' flight. There was no press corps, no crowd, not even an on-looking neighbor. The press didn't know about the event called the Long Day Fly and the neighbors were accustomed to the guy with the pigeons flying his birds all day and half of the night. The men in the loft centered their attention on three small wire boxes, each containing a Tippler pigeon, competition flying Tipplers to be exact. Each was given a few peas to stimulate its appetite. The pigeons, however, barely touched the canary seed already in their feed cups. Each eventually took a drink of water and that's what the flyer was hoping for. Now everyone and every pigeon was ready. Joe read and wrote down each band number: red bar spread, cock, 91-FTS-1151; light print, hen, 91-FTS-1155; dark print, cock, 91-FTS-1175. Michael collected and held all three birds while the lights were turned off and the men and birds went outside and waited a few minutes for all eyes to adjust to the darkness. The timer said 5:13 (AM) and the flyer raised his feathered athletes and released them into a fully overcast night sky. Sunrise was 5:43 AM, half an hour away, but before the sun comes up, a little background.

Each year the Tippler fly season is structured around the Long Day Fly. There's a series of three old bird contests each Spring. In the Summer, there are two young bird flys split by the Long Day Fly for pigeons of any age. Then come three Fall flys for pigeons of any age and a year ending contest called the Stock Fly for kits of between 8 and 12 birds of any age. Long Day fly competitions are scheduled on the nearest weekend to the summer solstice--the solstice on or about June 21st marks the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the days just prior to and right after contain the most daylight hours of the year, thus the name Long Day. A time made to order for a Tippler-man dreaming to set a new fly record. Traditionally, Long Day attracts the most participation of the season.

Back in June of 1990 Michael Beat had flown a kit of Tipplers for 16 hours and 3 minutes in a Long Day Fly. I had written a letter of congratulations to Michael because he had set a new club record. In reply he wrote: "Although I was very pleased with my time, I tend to set my sights high. I would like to some day beat the US record of 17 hours and 18 minutes flown back in 1937. But, that won't be easy. I figure, if in England they can fly 3-4 hours into the dark, so can I. Perhaps I'm a dreamer, but, that's what I enjoy doing with my birds--dreaming!" California dreaming.

Michael became interested in pigeons in the late seventies. He was already raising parakeets and finches, but, he quickly became enthralled by pigeons. To him, they were more exciting. At first it was Rollers, which he enjoyed a lot. However, in 1978 he joined the Flying Tippler Association of America (FTA) after picking up some pet-shop Tipplers. The FTA is the oldest club in this country with a rich history in the sport of endurance flying Tipplers and serves flyers here as well as Canada. At first his intention was to improve his Rollers' performance. As time passed, he realized that what he tried to bring out of his rollers were the attributes of the Tippler--flying longer than a few minutes, flying high and close interaction between the birds and trainer. With Tipplers he felt that he could exercise more control and play a big role in their management, health and flying, features he particularly enjoys. Attending college changed things and he disposed of all of his birds. Still, over the course of those pigeon-less years he kept in close touch with the Flying Tippler Fancy. In fact in 1987 he was a key, charter member of the newly formed Flying Tippler Society of USA (FTS). The FTS is a new and vibrant club serving flyers anywhere in the good old US of A. Michael held both the Western Vice President and Central Timer positions at the same time for a while. Then in '88 he could once again build a loft and with the help of other flyers in the area quickly established a winning loft program. His birds are a family of Percy Fields from Rex Leon, Pomona, CA and Lovatts from Richard Seabridge, Lawrenceville, NJ.

Michael entered only three flys in the '90 season, the first Spring fly, the previously mentioned Long Day fly and the last Fall contest, scoring better than 12 hours in each. A good year.

Michael's Tipplers had a better '91 season flying in both the Official and Honor Systems. In the Official System (OS) a timer is present during the fly and certifies that all rules were followed. Under the Honor System (HS) a flyer is on his honor. The OS records are most coveted. In four of six flys he clocked 11 hours or better and toped it off with a 15 hr. 12 min. fly on Long Day.

In 1992 it was different, Michael was very enthusiastic and nervous, as I recall. Upon the announcement of the fly schedule he fretted that there wouldn't be enough time to bring his kit of Tipplers into form for the first old bird fly in April. That challenge was answered when his pigeons set a new fly date record of 13 hrs. 46 mins. HS in the first fly. A few weeks later the same kit cruised the skies for 15 hrs. 20 mins. OS missing the fly date record by only three minutes. Then, in the first young bird fly of the season his kit of four youngsters clocked a magnificent 15 hr. 07 min. HS flight, a new fly date record and a new HS young bird record in the FTS. For now the time of 14 hrs. 38 mins. is the OS young bird record in the FTS and concurrently the US young bird record. So, he had a decision to make. The very next contest would be the Long Day Fly. His old bird kit was hot, getting better each time out. He also had a young bird kit that would probably blow the feathers off the Official US young bird record without breaking into a sweat. This was a decision most Tippler fanciers only dream of.

He wrote: "Well I'm at a real dilemma now. I don't know which team to fly on the Long Day. I will have to get some input from others. What do you think?" I told him to get a timer and go for the OS young bird record (but, I'm glad he didn't take that advice). The way I had it figured was that his youngsters had bettered the young bird record, but, his old birds were still two hours below the US old bird mark. This California dreamer, however, had a vision, his sights were always set on that US old bird record. And here's what happened after the sun came up on Long Day 1992.

The sky was almost completely clear by nine o'clock in the morning. The sun rose and so did the temperature. Michael expected the warming air to bring his pigeons down, but, his Tipplers flew very high all morning long. The wind remained mild. The birds remained in the area, in sight , kitting well (staying close together) and flying high until late in the afternoon. At which point they dropped to medium height. It was also at about this time Joe dropped and broke his wristwatch. It would have been a traumatic occurrence, but, he had a back-up watch with him as well as an electric clock in the flyer's house. These two fanciers take the sport seriously. Joe had a couple of flashlights and his own weather instruments too. Throughout the day he dutifully recorded sighting the Tipplers every thirty minutes or so and in his excitement, sometimes more often. Around six o'clock in the evening the kit came low a few times swinging just over the loft. "Looking" as we say in the sport. If their tail feathers are spread they're landing, but if their tails are tight, they're only looking. This can be fun or very stressful, depending on a flyer's constitution and how often it happens during a fly.

With the setting of the sun at 8:07 PM, the kit began to rake, that is, rather than winding their way through the sky above, they head straight off in one direction then another. Out in the country where the birds can be seen, no problem. When this occurs in the suburbs where they go out of sight, it can be very nerve wracking. This kit, however, raked only for short distances and as darkness approached, they stayed close to the loft. The three pigeons mostly kept at medium height, yo-yoing up and down higher then lower then higher as the two Tippler-men sat in the driveway watching and hoping and talking and dreaming. Michael's house is in a rather well lighted neighborhood, the sky was clear and the birds could be easily seen in the darkened sky. And, it was evident that the kit was strong and not looking to come down, if anything, getting a second wind from the cooling disappearance of the sun.

Joe and Michael began to check the fly record listings and calculating how much more time the Tipplers needed to surpass the old marks. They phoned the FTS Secretary, Rex Leon, to be sure (using the phone outlet was installed in Michael's loft, of course). They were told that 17 hrs. 18 mins. set by Fred Erbach's kit at Maspeth, (Long Island) NY was indeed the time to beat. That meant the pigeons would have to fly beyond 10:31 PM. Believe you me, these guys weren't thinking about missing any TV shows. Then it happened, the Tipplers flew past the 55 year old record without even a nod or a dip of their wings and still showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, Michael heard something in the night sky which brought a smile to his face and loosened at least one of the knots in his stomach. The cocks were "clapping" their wings at the hen, amorously trying to attract her attention, a sure sign that the kit had energy to burn. Minutes later, at 10:42 PM the North American and Canadian record of 17 hrs. 29 mins. passed beneath the wings of Michael's Tipplers. That mark was set by George Vertolli of Toronto in 1966. If the flight ended well, this kit had just brought that record home to the US once again.

At that point Joe thought Michael should bring the pigeons down and take the record before something happened. After all, there were birds of prey and telephone wires out there in the dark. Michael, however, knew his birds had performed well through the hours of day and night training and figured that he owed it to them to continue. He knew his birds strength and he knew that the inevitable signs of fatigue would come to the kit soon enough, so for now he would let them have their fly. But, he was ready with two droppers in one hand, a remote light switch in the other and a dozen or more droppers in a box at his feet. His droppers are a pure white cross between Oriental Rollers and Fantails. These birds fly to the loft roof when released. They flutter back and forth across the roof chasing after thrown grain attracting the Tipplers down to the loft in the process. The Tipplers are trained to return only on this signal.

Soon the hen began to falter, lagging behind the two cocks, but she caught up each time. Michael was concerned. His eyes riveted on the kit. The droppers in his hand were twisting and turning. Joe began to falter, he couldn't read his own notations anymore. You could feel the tension in the air. Finally one bird separated from the kit. Michael didn't hesitate, he told Joe he was going to give 'em the signal to land. He flipped the switch lighting up the roof and released the two droppers. Joe marked the time, it was 11:18 PM. From the morning release to the click of the switch that night 18 hours and 5 minutes had ticked by on Joe's electric clock. Michael liberated the rest of the droppers and began to work them across the roof to the loft-top trap. The first pigeon set his wings, spread it's tail and landed at 11:20. The next at 11:23. The little hen made the men wait, as ladies often do, but only for a few seconds. They preened for a minute or two on the roof and entered the loft at 11:27, ending the greatest fly in recent US Tippler history. Someone must have told them about the Hall of Fame room at the Pigeon Center of the Americas soon to be opened. The two men gathered themselves together, checked the band numbers and noted that the pigeons still had some energy left in them. Joe commented on the fly report: "Birds flew high all morning, weather a little too warm at midday, struggled late afternoon , kitted well all day and especially at night, birds generally very visible all night, without a doubt birds on wing the full time." Michael later wrote: "Between Joe and myself, there should have been at least one heart-attack. I cannot express how truly excited I was and how pleased my birds have made me. The countless hours of night training have finally paid off."

Michael is currently the Western Vice President of both the Flying Tippler Association of America and the Flying Tippler Society of USA. Both clubs have reviewed and accepted his 18 hr. 5 min. Official System old bird fly as the new United States record and the new North American record as well, and are (rightly so) proud to claim Michael J. Beat and his trusty timer Joseph E. Kelley as their own "California dreamers."

P.S.: Nobody's Tipplers came close to beating the new record this past Long Day.