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RC pilots take their hobby to the sky

Unofficial club invites crafters to join the fun
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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There’s an air show in Auburn every week, and it’s happening in the sky over Railhead Park.

For a few hours each week, members of Sons in Retirement, along with independent model aircraft enthusiasts, gather to fly their radio-controlled model airplanes. Some stand at attention, carefully maneuvering their crafts through the sky, while others lounge in lawn chairs, like Duane Howard, of Auburn, who flies a “slow-stick” foam plane that only weighs about a pound.

“It’s like flying a kite without a string, this one,” Howard said. “It’s fun to get up there and play with the other planes that are flying around, see how close you can get to them without hitting them.”

While RC planes differ greatly depending on the complexity of the model, the basic operation is the same. Hand-held controls transmit radio waves to the plane’s antenna, which activates motors inside the plane, causing specific actions to occur. The plane can receive signals from half a mile away.

Because of that range, Auburn’s Jim Maneggie says pros often advise new RC flyers to fly their plane “three mistakes high.” 

That doesn’t mean crashes don’t happen. After Don Walker, the unofficial RC group leader, flew his aircraft straight into a power pole, others put down their controls and helped him pick up the pieces of his plane. Maneggie, who had just been asked if the RC group has a name (it doesn’t), was inspired.

“Maybe we should call it the Crash-a-Lot RC Club!” he laughed.

For many, the building of an RC model is more fun than actually flying it. A crash means more time at the workbench.

“You just glue them all back together,” Howard said. “They’re repairable. It’s such a joy to fly that you’re willing to take the risks and extend your experience and abilities.”

Maneggie, who has been building models of all kinds for 75 years, said he’s seen a surge of models that come out of the box nearly ready to fly. He’s building his next plane from “just plans and a pile of wood” at home, but he still comes every Thursday to get ideas and advice from his co-pilots.

“We’re willing to teach somebody how to build, how to fly, suggestions on how to start,” Maneggie said.

Not everybody who flies on Thursdays is a member of SIRS. Eric Sweeney, a pilot and owner of Auburn Airplane Works, is also a hobby pilot, flying such aircraft as a model RC Coast Guard Helicopter.

“It’s the responsibilities that are required to do it safely,” he replied, when asked why he flies as both a job and a hobby. His dad, Ed Sweeney, is well-known in the RC world – he  published American Aircraft Modeler and RC Sportsman magazines.

The group flies for about an hour and a half each Thursday, weather permitting. RC hobbyists and those interested in flying – men and women – are encouraged to drop by.

“There are a lot of people who come to this park to fly,” Howard said as he maneuvered his plane to a smooth landing. “Every day there’s someone here flying, believe it or not, and on a peaceful morning like this, it’s a lot of fun.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com.

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RC Plane Flights 

When: 10 a.m. to about noon Thursdays, weather permitting

Where: Railhead Park, Pacific Avenue, Auburn