Model airplane pilots fly together (video)

Elena Watts By Elena Watts

June 8, 2013 at 1:08 a.m.

Down a gravel road in Telferner and past rows of crops that together resemble a vast manicured hedge, a model airplane ascended, dipped, pulled its nose up and hovered in place before it spun rapidly, as if on a vertical rotisserie moving horizontally through the sky.

Members of the Victoria Radio Control Flyers club and its guests backed trucks, trailers and campers into spots lining a chain-link fence for the Fly In and Tail Gate Swap Meet on Saturday. The event's $15 fee to fly served as a fundraiser.

Twice a year for the past 14 years, the area club has invited model airplane enthusiasts from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Corpus Christi and other South Texas towns to gather for a day of food, flying and equipment exchange.

Longtime member and instructor Johnny Longoria, 51, of Victoria, escorted cousins Coen Cantu, 5, and Nicolas Cantu, 8, to the field, where they readied themselves for a flying lesson. Their airplane taxied down the 600-foot runway and lifted off.

"Go easy on the stick," Longoria said. "Pull up. Don't go upside down. It's hard to recover."

A buddy cord that linked the two transmitters allowed Longoria to take control of the airplane the few times it went awry.

"It's part of passing it on," he said.

Longoria became fascinated with the hobby as a boy when he accompanied his parents to Aloe Field, where they played bingo inside while he watched model airplanes fly around outside.

"Flying model airplanes teaches children avionics, engineering, mechanics, safety and camaraderie," Longoria said.

In the past, when the biannual event attracted enough children, Longoria has dropped candy from the bomb bay doors of his model airplane in two loads above the runway.

Children who began flying model airplanes with Longoria almost 30 years ago in an Austin-area club have actually become pilots of military aircraft ranging from F-16 jet fighters to C-5 Galaxy transport planes.

"Children are No. 1," Longoria said. "They are the next generation of flyers, and we bend over backward to make sure they get what they need."

However, the hobby has always attracted as many old as young.

Tom Valdez Jr., 77, of San Antonio, has been flying model airplanes since 1960. He was an aircraft mechanic crew chief in the Marines during the Korean war, but the last time he piloted an airplane was about 10 years ago.

"It's expensive to maintain a license," he said. "And hard to pass the medical exam at my age."

His hobby has allowed him to remain connected to aviation during his retirement.

Several World War II pilots were also club members, Longoria said. Pilots trained in Victoria, met their wives, moved away and came back when they retired. The Victoria area was once rich in aviation.

"It's sad that there's not much going on anymore," he said.

An annual membership fee has provided many members with the opportunity to learn from experienced hobbyists before purchasing their first airplane.

An electric Styrofoam trainer, which runs about $150, is the best way to begin, Longoria said. It is more steady and less expensive.

Model airplanes can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on their size and complexity.

They come almost ready to fly, requiring simple gluing of major components, or in kits, which might take a month to assemble. While the two varieties cost about the same, Longoria said the process of building a kit plane is educational.

Once powered by gas or glow fuel, which was dirty and expensive, most model planes now run on electricity. The Telferner field is equipped with a charge station to recharge airplane batteries. Rooftop solar panels and powerful batteries produce the steady flow of energy.

"Modelers like the station because they don't run down their car batteries charging their airplane batteries," Longoria said.

The club has 32 members, ranging from age 5 to "one foot in the grave." It is a fraternity of model airplane enthusiasts who band together to support one another, Longoria said.



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