CHARLES CITY – Williamsburg’s Alan Fry has the impression some people that share his passion for radio-controlled model airplanes don’t actually like piloting the models. What they really enjoy is building the aircraft.
Fry, of the longstanding Colonial Virginia Aeromodelers club, falls somewhere in between, and was front and center for an event Saturday celebrating the Academy of Model Aeronautics National Model Aviation Day.
“We all have this common interest of flying airplanes,” Fry said, “and we work together.”
The mission: “We’re just flying and having fun,” said Williamsburg’s Steve Kolet, a decade-long member of CVA, “mainly to introduce the hobby to the public and let them see what we do.”
Saturday’s event was held at CVA’s home base since 1988, located on 5 acres of land a mile from the Chickahominy River bridge on Route 5.
Kolet flew tankers for the Air Force during the Vietnam War and Saturday, piloted his red-and-white model of a Swiss-made Pilatus Porter PC6, occasionally flying “candy drops,” when the model’s bomb bays unlock midflight and drop goodies for children in attendance.
If one of the dozens of spectators closed their eyes and listened to the “U.S. Air Force Song” blaring over the loudspeakers, they might have thought they traveled back in time, as the classic melody blended with the buzzing sound of fuel-powered model fighters and bombers streaking through the “wild blue yonder.”
And there were more odes to flying of yesteryear, like the control-line exhibition featuring a model plane attached to wires that, when tugged properly by the pilot the plane is circling, control the flight of the aircraft.
“This is the way we all flew 50 years ago,” said CVA Vice President Tom Treese, who was a Navy pilot in the 1960s.
But this isn’t, remotely, a retro outfit. Fry dreamed as a kid of being able to fly a model plane using a radio transmitter. They’ve come a long way, and electric planes are growing in popularity, too, he said.
A number of Fry’s planes are relatively cheap to build, constructed out of dollar store foam board and powered electrically.
Only one of CAV President John Backes’ 50 models actually looks like a real airplane. Anyone can do conventional, he said. His fleet includes an experimental aircraft that resembles three navy blue-and-yellow planes in formation. It was flown for the fifth time Saturday.
“It can be what you want it to be,” Backes said. “They have airplanes that fly indoors that can be 2 ounces. They have airplanes that fly outside that weigh 100 pounds and it can be anything in between.”
So can the members of the club, whose diverse occupations include a plumber and a pharmacist.
“I think we had a dentist one time,” Fry said, “anybody across the board in any profession.”
The 80 members’ ages also vary, ranging from 10 to 80.
Camaraderie keeps them coming back: Backes likened flying get-togethers to golf outings.
“It’s easy enough where it’s not frustrating," Fry said, "but it’s challenging and hard enough where it’s not boring.”
CVA welcomes anyone to come try it out. Visit http://www.flycva.com for more. The next big club event at the Charles City County location is Warbirds over Williamsburg, which will feature radio-controlled military model aircraft.
When it’s time to buy a model, those can range in price from about $150 for electric to $550 total for a glow-powered package.
CVA members do their best to avoid novice crashes with the help of a special “trainer switch” on transmitters that allows them to take over. Think pilots' ed.
“It’s not difficult,” Treese said. “The hard part is getting it back down. We say takeoffs are optional; landings are mandatory.”