My brother-in-law is a radio-controlled aircraft (RC plane) enthusiast. So before he and my wife’s sister came to visit from Oklahoma I did some research on the hobby in our area. Although no one appeared to be flying in our county, I did find an event roughly an hour away during the time of their stay.
When we pulled out of the driveway I was a little concerned. We hadn’t had any rain for months, and this day looked set for a downpour. During the trip, we passed through a few sprinkles, however, the day remained overcast, but rain-free.
The event was called, Flying for Food, sponsored by the COLONEL’S FLY’N ACES* at their private airfield. For members and guests to fly on this day the club was collecting food donations for a local charitable pantry. Since I was unclear on all the rules surrounding visitation I had brought some can goods to ensure our admission.
It is beyond amazing how much this hobby had changed. Growing up I had a few friends whose fathers were aircraft fanatics. Many of them built models, while others flew large gas-powered planes that they controlled via long cables. The problem of course with the hobby was you could fly around in a circle, which was only fun for a few minutes.
Hefner (RC) Airfield was a finely mowed grass strip. The club had built a common area for club members with picnic tables, stands for the pilots, and a fence to keep visitors at a safe distance from low flying planes. As some of the first spectators on the scene, we were both welcomed into the activities of the day. Naturally, my brother-in-law spoke the RC lingo and settled in among his fellow flyers. As the novice on the field, I had many questions but soon discovered that the COLONEL’S FLY’N ACES are a super friendly band ready to expound on their hobby.
It may surprise you to learn that the earliest radio-controlled model aircraft were hydrogen-filled model Zeppelins. Seen in music halls in the late 19th century, they were flown around the auditoriums using a basic form of a spark-emitted radio signal. While today we see the military using drones in combat, back in World War II, Radioplanes were deployed as highflying artillery targets.
Many of the planes at Flying for Food looked like real planes in flight. From their tip to tail designs, to a pilot in the driver’s seat, and red and green running lights on the wings. What was a shocker for me was that most of the planes were made out of Styrofoam. As a result, they were extremely lightweight, but because of their aerodynamic structure, they could be flown in the manner of a conventional aircraft or through some of the most remarkable stunts in the world.
The secret to flying success is in the engine. I learned that motor prices could range into the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars depending on the manufacturer, size, and power of the engine. There are electric (battery) powered airplanes, and fuel/gas driven craft. Each offers the flyer a different experience and the ability to accomplish different things in the air.
Now if you are an RC flyer then membership in the AMA, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, is helpful on a number of levels. The AMA is the world’s largest model aviation association and represents 195,000 members. Their website and publications connect enthusiasts in every country and provide both the beginner and expert valuable information on all the latest and greatest with the sport. The Academy also sanctions more than 2,000 model competitions throughout the country each year and certifies official model flying records on a national and international level.
I must confess the COLONEL’S FLY’N ACES make it look easy. From the ground, these pilots use handheld four-channel RC systems. Thanks to the popularity of drones, both big and small, you have probably seen similar control devices. With these consoles, the flyers have basic flight control over their craft. Using joysticks, they trigger servos that move ailerons to control roll, elevators to go up and down, the throttle for speed, and the rudder to move left and right. One plane even had retractable landing gear. Which I was told was just one of the dozens of additional add-ons that pilots install on their flying machines.
We enjoyed an afternoon lunch with the Fly’n Aces, my brother-in-law purchased a plane that was for sale, and we left having gotten to know some nice folks. Before we rolled away, we were told about an event called Joe Nall Week. This event is one of the largest RC Plane flying events on the east coast. I am told that can mean over 600 registered pilots in attendance from around the world competing in events that attract 3-5 thousand spectators. It is held at the Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina. Hope to see you there.
*Warning: The hyperlink to the Fly’n Aces is their official AMA membership page. When I attempted to visit their club website I received a warning from Norton Security that there were issues with the site. Be computer safe, and use only the clubs’ AMA site, or you can find them on Facebook.