Granados: Raleigh AeroMasters have lofty pursuits

January 27, 2014 

Raleigh AeroMasters members Gary Elliott, left, and James Taylor get a plane ready for takeoff.

COURTESY OF JOSE ARMSTRONG

Since long before airplanes, flight was a human dream. To soar like the birds. To travel above the clouds. Even, ultimately, to escape the Earth’s pull. Now, flight is a reality – sometimes a humdrum one. But for one club of enthusiasts, it remains a magical achievement. The Raleigh AeroMasters (RAMs) is a club that meets at a flying field just outside of Franklinton to launch remote-controlled (RC) airplanes. And it’s no easy-breezy hobby. It takes time and commitment.

“It’s not something that you come out three or four weekends and you accomplish that,” said Larry McMillen, treasurer of the club. “You have to really want to do it. It’s very similar to learning to fly a full scale airplane.”

Club meetings are the first Sunday of every month, but people head out to the field regularly to fly their planes. As you might expect, the summer months garner a larger crowd than the winter ones, but it is a rare Sunday that finds nobody ready to fly.

If you plan on joining the club, there are some expenses involved. Mainly, the cost of the airplane. And it’s not cheap. “Your first plane and the radio are going to cost you in the neighborhood of $500,” McMillen said.

But if you come out to the field and join, the club members will teach you. You have to fly at their field. They’re covered by liability insurance, and they are part of the Academy of Model Aeronautics. The AMA is the national organization dedicated to the sport of RC aircraft.

For many of the RAMs members I talked to, an early experience with remote controlled planes launched their interest in the hobby. Joe Schodt, the club’s safety officer, got started when he was 12 years old. As he grew older and the responsibilities of life took over, he moved away from it. But when he had kids of his own, he introduced them to the excitement of remote controlled flying.

“They got interested in other things,” he said. “And I just continued.”

Jose Armstrong, the club secretary, has been flying since he was a young kid as well. He described the sport as one he keeps returning to.

“On and off and as life allowed I kept coming back to the hobby for fun and relaxation,” he said.

Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s easy. It’s not. And just because you’re an actual airplane pilot, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to come out to the field and start flying an RC plane like a pro.

McMillen said real-life pilots are some of the hardest students to teach.

“If you’re learning to fly in a real airplane, then the controls are always the same,” he said. “On the other hand, if you’re learning to fly by model airplane, when the plane is headed away from you, the controls are one way, and when it’s heading towards you, the controls are opposite.”

And planes can get big. According to McMillen, the AMA allows planes up to 50 pounds in weight, though those are rare. Even something half that size —25 pounds —would have about a 10-foot-wingspan, and that’s probably big enough for most enthusiasts.

Schodt describes himself as a little different from his fellow club members. He likes to build his own planes using plans he purchases online. He builds them out of foam and hot glue. He has a pterodactyl, a hawk and two flying people. One is a male superhero.

“I didn’t want to be biased, so I built a flying superwoman too,” he said.

It’s a little more inexpensive to do the hobby his way, he says, but it’s still not cheap. He enjoys flying not just for the action, but for the camaraderie and the exposure to nature.

“I think a lot of times, anything that gets you outside,” he said. “I’ve noticed a lot of the guys…they’ll come out to the air field and not even fly.”

Whether you want to fly, watch, or just stand out in Mother Nature and listen to the smooth buzz of a small plane, check out the club at www.ramsrc.com. Live the dream of human flight, even if it is unmanned and at a distance. Just remember, you’re still in control.

Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at agranadoster@gmail.com

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