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Screaming through the sky

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image This electric radio-controlled helicopter is capable of reaching 140 miles per hour. The Triple Creek RC Club will hold a fly-in for model helicopter enthusiasts Oct. 27-28. Photo Mitch Traphagen

This was no ordinary radio-controlled airplane. It has its own on-board telemetry and had just been clocked at over 230 miles per hour — not bad for a model airplane with a wingspan of less than six feet built from a kit.

By Mitch Traphagen

RIVERVIEW – It wouldn’t be accurate to say that the jet rumbled down the taxiway. It was virtually silent as it made the turn onto the runway, pausing momentarily at the end, waiting to take off. The engines could not be heard as they idled, waiting for incoming traffic to clear the runway.

With the runway cleared, the engines were only slightly audible, but the moment the wheels left the ground, it screamed and was gone, or nearly so. While the radio control module could easily still communicate with the jet if it flew out of sight, standing on the ground flying a radio-controlled airplane is difficult, at best, if you can’t see the plane.

And this was no ordinary radio controlled airplane. It has its own on-board telemetry and had just been clocked at over 230 miles per hour — not bad for a model airplane with a wingspan of less than six feet built from a kit.

The jet, owned by Rob Lynch of House of Power Hobbies near Ft. Lauderdale, did some lazy barrel rolls amongst an assortment of other flying craft, from model Cessnas to vintage World War II bombers, before turning and shooting straight into the heavens, ascending until it was merely a dot in the sky. The jet turned again, this time heading straight towards earth bearing off at the last moment to fly upside down, just a few feet over the 350-foot runway. The engines were still screaming.
Lynch and his jet, valued at $6,000, were at the Triple Creek RC Model Aircraft Club in Riverview for WattFest, a gathering of electric powered, radio-controlled aircraft enthusiasts. It has only been in the past several years that such feats were even possible.

The first model airplanes appeared shortly after the Wright Brothers took flight at Kitty Hawk. Over the decades, the models have been powered by imagination, by rubber bands and by tiny, finicky gas engines with strings attached to a wing to allow the “pilot” to control the flight. According to Steve Stiuga of the Triple Creek RC Club, it has only been in the past five years that battery and radio technology has allowed for such incredible expansion in the hobby.

With space provided by the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department on land that was not suitable for reclamation to a nature preserve, Triple Creek RC Club members have invested tens of thousands of dollars to build a world-class radio-controlled airpark, complete with a 350 asphalt foot runway, charging stations, covered sitting and work areas, and even an onsite kitchen.

For WattFest and other annual events that primarily serve as fundraisers for the club, they had ample space for visitors to park their RVs and to sell and swap their gear, along with having concessions and dining opportunities during the festival.

“We fly everything from foam aircraft to crafts that are hand-laid composites,” Stuiga said of the more than 100 members of the club.

Among those craft are single engine models of private planes, multi-engine models of passenger aircraft, and a number of models of vintage military craft. Even the Starship Enterprise could be seen in the parking area for the model planes.

“We have a plane we can drop parachutes out of,” Stuiga continued.

Membership in the American Modeling Association, which provides insurance, is required for club membership. Beyond that and modest club dues, it is an interest in flying in a beautiful and well-maintained setting that is a huge draw for the members of the club. It is the next best thing to actually being in the captain’s seat.

“You are looking at $300 to $400 for a nice plane and a nice radio that is worth flying,” Stiuga said. “Hobby Town in Brandon has a lot of them. But some of these people [here for the festival] have radios and planes that cost thousands.”

Learning to fly is easy enough. Not only are there computer simulators for training, all club members are able to help train and certify new members. Radio controllers that allow an instructor to take over the control of an airborne plane should a beginning pilot encounter trouble are on hand.

On October 27–28, the club will host the RC Helicopter Fly-In, with the field opening on Oct. 26 for practice and set up. As if to give a preview of the event, one club member brought his electric-powered helicopter to WattFest. Using his radio controller, the pilot lifted the craft from the taxiway to the runway after waiting for traffic to land. Gently the helicopter rose into the air and then zoomed off into the sky, reaching speeds of 140 miles per hour.

That model helicopter, not to mention the jet, could fly faster than some real aircraft. If only the Wright Brothers could see us now.

For information about the Triple Creek RC Club, visit www.triplecreekrc.com.

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