The Times West Virginian

March 13, 2013

Wild blue yonder

Michael Bond enjoys radio-controlled model aircraft

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Up, up and away!

For as long as he can remember, Michael Bond has been fascinated by things that fly.

“I grew up around aviation,” he said. “My dad was a pilot and managed a small airport in New Jersey. I followed in his footsteps and became a pilot.”

He’s more grounded these days but still satisfies that urge to be in the wild blue yonder through his membership in the Fairmont Flyers.

“This is a way to stay involved without the expense of flying a real plane,” he said. He flies model airplanes, helicopters, “anything that can fly,” he said.

A radio-controlled (model) aircraft (often called RC aircraft or RC plane) is a small flying machine that is controlled remotely by an operator on the ground using a hand-held radio transmitter. The transmitter communicates with a receiver within the craft that sends signals to servomechanisms (servos) that move the control surfaces based on the position of joysticks on the transmitter. The control surfaces, in turn, affect the orientation of the plane.

Flying RC aircraft as a hobby has been growing worldwide with the advent of more efficient motors (both electric and miniature internal combustion or jet engines), lighter and more powerful batteries and less-expensive radio systems. A wide variety of models and styles is available.

“I was looking for something else to do with flying. I went online and found Fairmont Flyers. Someone taught me to fly remote control, and it became a passion after that.”

He can share his love of flying with his daughter and the community more easily, he said.

“I love the camaraderie,” he said. “You can get one flight in and spend a couple of hours talking. You become good friends, sharing and talking about your hobby.”

As with any hobby, model planes can be as cheap or expensive as you want.

“You can get the model in the box or build your plane from scratch,” he said. “The whole range is fascinating. The different levels are challenging.”

The average wingspan is 60 inches, he said. Some models are smaller, some with only 40- to 50-inch wing spans. Others are a little larger, maybe up to 100 inches. And then there are the big ones — 120-inch span or more.

“That’s 33 percent the size of a real plane,” he said.

“We fly all different kinds,” he said.

Don’t confuse model planes with drones, he said.

“Drones, by definition, are more automated,” he said. “The drones people are worried about are tiny ones. They’re more law enforcement.

“We have to keep the plane in our line of sight to fly it,” he said.

Fairmont Flyers had about 40 members, “from teens to past retirement,” he said.

The focus of the Fairmont Flyers is to promote the radio-control flying hobby, providing a safe and positive atmosphere for members and guests. The Fairmont Flyers also focus on improving individual building skills, flying skills and fellowship among modelers. Training is available for beginners, and guests are always welcome.

Members meet at Meredith Field on Poor Farm Road.

Guest pilots are welcome, but must show membership in the Academy of Model Aeronautics and be accompanied by a club member.

New members will be required to demonstrate their ability to inspect and control their models per all AMA and club rules before being allowed to fly without direct supervision of a qualified pilot. This demonstration should include an inspection as if the model has never been flown, a takeoff, more than one circuit of the field with both left and right turns, and a proper landing for the type of model he will be flying. The demonstration must be witnessed by at least two members of the safety committee.

“We meet officially twice a year, in January and March. But unofficially we meet at least once a month through our fly-ins.

“You can get some up and running for under $200. Some people spend thousands and thousands on theirs. The average model costs about $200-$400.”

He bought a fully acrobatic model last year.

“It weighs so much less. It can do some things a real plane can’t do. It can hover like a helicopter. It pulls more G force, but since there’s no pilot, you don’t have to worry. It can make tighter turns, more extreme maneuvers.”

He owns four models: a Cessna 310 twin engine, Spad 13, the acrobatic Edge 540 and a Beechcraft.

“Our daughter is just turning 2, but already she likes to play on the simulator on the computer. She likes to make them crash on the computer,” he said with a laugh.

This is one of the few clubs like this in the area, he said.

“It’s hard to explain to people,” he said of his passion for flying. “I don’t know. I guess it’s a sense of complete freedom. You’re moving back and forth and up and down. There’s no one around you. It’s complete freedom. It’s wonderful.”

He buys some of his models locally but mostly gets them online.

The FAA does not regulate model flying, he said.

“But the Academy of Model Aeronautics has safety guidelines for just about everything. We require all new pilots to do a takeoff and landing, to the left and right, to make sure they can take off and land safely.

“And if you’ve never flown before, we have buddy boxing. We work with you. If you get in trouble, we take over and bring you back to a safe altitude to practice more.

“Some people catch on in a month or so. Others take longer.

“This is a family activity,” he said. “I can bring my 2-year-old daughter to the field and there’s no danger.”

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.