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R/C Flying Club looking to recruit younger generation

Oops: Beginning pilots Jonathan Pitura and father Randy lose their Delta foam jet momentarily as they check for incoming traffic from the Park Rapids model airfield Sunday. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

BY Sarah smith

Those magnificent men and their flying machines are looking for a few magnificent women – and a whole generation of kids.

As Headwaters Remote Controlled Model Flying Club launched its annual summer fun fly last weekend, the 16 members’ thoughts were on recruiting more participants.

Membership in the Headwaters R/C Flying Club is dwindling – and not because it isn’t a fun hobby.

Kids would rather twiddle their thumbs around computer dials, members said, overlooking the fun of controlling a vintage airplane or a home-made model of foam.

But they’re naturals for this sport, said member Ed Sansone.

Not only are the planes improving, but kids have a natural tendency for hand-eye coordination, honed by years of playing video games.

Sansone worries R/C planes might be an expensive hobby to get started in, but the $200 cost of a starter plane pales in comparison to comparable X-Box setup and games.

Club members have been trolling 4-H programs to see if they can ignite a spark of interest but so far there have been no nibbles, they said.

Meanwhile they gathered over the weekend to just play with their toys, many vintage World War planes or other historic aircraft.

The club, all men, did bring wives and children.

“I want you to know I have a very tolerant wife,” laughed David Tsen of Fargo, before even introducing himself.

Tsen brought a huge setup of historical planes with his RV and was flying a Hellcat.

“This flew off the U.S.S. Princeton,” he explained of his plane.

Planes can be purchased ready to assemble or pilots can make their own.

Tsen and friend Randy Pitura brought foam triangles they’d designed in a “Delta” wing style. The planes looked flimsy but performed well. Their bodies appeared to have been made of insulation materials.

Tsen said in a competitive setting, the foam planes carry a long tail and pilots train each plane to “de-tail” a competitor by cutting the tail off.

Tsen, a 20-year veteran, was instructing Pitura and son Jonathan, obviously advanced beginners.

Tsen explained he got involved in R/C flying through his father. So did many club members.

The planes can be electric, gas or nitro powered.

They’re generally measured by wing span. Planes varied Saturday from a foot wingspan up to 110+ inches.

Prices can also vary, from simple starter kits to deluxe models that can run thousands of dollars.

“They can go higher than you can see,” Tsen said of the altitude the planes are capable of flying.

“Take-off is optional, as we say,” he quipped. “Landing is mandatory.”

As if to illustrate his point, planes up and down the airfield south of Park Rapids came in for bumpy landings, depending on the pilot’s skill, wind speed and direction of the landing. Most of the planes were lightweight and tumbled easily. But the bigger models hit with a “thunk” sound with an occasional breaking sound following, then accompanied by the wincing face of the pilot.

Landing became a tricky business. The airstrip was donated by a farmer who was growing corn nearby. More than one flight disappeared into the corn.

Sansone said there’s usually a 20-minute time limit to searching for lost aircraft, but when asked about the cost of the missing planes, he agreed, only slightly.

“That’s a lot of corn out there,” he said as a testament that the search process is not always a piece of cake.

Two men helped Kent Cease looked for his downed plane in the cornfield. They smiled triumphantly leaving the field, plane in hand.

The farmer has given the club the airfield land as long as they maintain membership in the American Model Association and carry liability insurance

Pilots fly winter or summer, but wind speeds and humidity can curtail the flights.

Sunday was quite humid and pilots had to adjust for the heavy air.

“These all have an expiration date,” Tsen joked about the fleet of planes taking off. “We just don’t know when.”

In many cases, two people launched the planes into take-off. That’s so the pilot could use every available finger on the remote controls.

Some of the heavier planes sped off from a runway, but others were launched physically into the sky.

John Mason of Park Rapids launched his brightly-colored 72-inch plane into the sky and flew it around.

When the plane landed, Mason put it up on a launch bed and checked it over, to see if it was still up to snuff.

He’d been performing an “inverted tail drag” at one of the last shows he attended and the tail inched a bit too close to the ground. The plane ended up catapulting over the ground and broke.

He joked that a couple quarts of glue and many hours of labor had the plane back into the air. But the damage was still visible.”

The planes carried their war wounds like heroes living on to battle another day.

“Yesterday we had one in the trees,” said Sansone, pointing to a far grove of trees that was 50 feet tall.

The men laughed at the recollection. A ladder that looked like it expanded to only 20 feet sat nearby. It would have been useless in the recovery effort.

Francis Leining has been flying for 70 years. He recalled the “good old days” of making planes with pine sticks, cardboard and string when balsa wood and rubber bands were hard to come by.

Sansone himself has been flying for years. He said it’s a hobby you can set aside, but always pick back up if you have the time and the inclination.

A small spectators’ gallery sat on plastic lawn chairs watching the action.

“Kids would rather play video games,” Sansone lamented.

But the men talked of a new recruit that came to a show last year to learn.

It turned out the kid was a natural, from years of playing computer games.

“We sat there and watched him with our mouths open,” Sansone said. “We’d like to get some younger people involved.”

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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