Groups seek to spread passion for model airplanes
WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — The model airplane flew around in a circle, looping and gliding in the gymnasium at the Teaneck National Guard Armory before landing on the red turf floor.
With its blue body and yellow wings, it was designed to resemble a pre-World War II trainer plane. River Vale resident Richard Tax was its pilot, using an electronic controller to delicately maneuver the craft and bring it safely down.
“There’s two maneuvers you have to learn first: How to take off and how to land,” Tax said. “Once you take off, you have to land, so you have to practice those two until you get them down pat.”
As he navigated his plane, the air at the armory was busy with miniature craft. A red plane traveled in circles before gently touching down. So did a yellow one, with white wings and a black-and-yellow stripe.
Another plane bore a painted Italian flag and had a paper cutout of its pilot sitting in the cockpit — a representation of its actual pilot, Metropolitan Sport Squadron President and Park Ridge resident Thomas Schiavone.
“It’s a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment,” Schiavone said of his hobby. “You’re controlling something without crashing it — although that sometimes happens.”
“I like flying with my feet on the ground,” he added.
It’s a typical Wednesday morning hangout for Tax, Schiavone and more than a dozen others, mostly men in their 50s through 80s, who come to the Teaneck Armory to fly their model airplanes. They are all members of the Metropolitan Sport Squadron, part of the Academy of Model Aeronautics. The club offers pilot instruction and a place to fly.
The first outings for newcomers to model aeronautics can be rocky. The key, Schiavone said, is to “practice and practice and practice and do the best you can to check everything before you put the plane in the air.”
Hillsdale resident Glenn Barbi, 64, was instantly enamored when he discovered the hobby around age 10. He started flying rubber-powered planes. Soon after he fell in love with the hobby, his social network grew.
That passion for flying followed Barbi into adulthood. He joined the Bergen County Silent Fliers, another club for flying model airplanes, and more recently, he joined the Squadron.
Like many other model airplane aficionados, he is worried that not enough children and teens are drawn to the hobby.
“Most kids today are not inclined to cultivate the patience necessary to build models over many hours,” Barbi said. “If at all interested in flying machines, they seem to prefer immediate gratification, which can be had by flying pre-assembled drones.”
Barbi said he joined the Squadron mainly to have a place to fly during bad weather, but he comes to the armory even on sunny days.
“They are a great bunch,” he said. “Some (members) bring their grandchildren from time to time.”
At the Westfield National Guard Armory, the crowd is similar. The facility there attracts squadron members mostly from Essex and Morris counties and central New Jersey.
People tend to start flying with small aircraft in a park or a schoolyard, said Tom Waldron, 71, a Livingston resident and squadron member.
“As they become better, they join a club and, with experience, move up the line in size and sophistication with their aircraft,” he said.
Waldron started coming to the Westfield Armory about five years ago and has flown a variety of electric, radio-controlled helicopters and airplanes.
“Multi-rotor aircraft are easier to fly because they can only move by speeding up or slowing down one or more of the props,” Waldron said. An airplane, he said, is much harder to learn.
“Recently, I started flying a radio-controlled plane and was surprised how difficult it was, even though I could fly a helicopter without too much difficulty,” he said.
Model airplanes have evolved over the years. Their batteries and motors are smaller and lighter, which makes them easier to fly.
They have gone from being gas-powered to rubber-powered (using elastic bands) to electric-powered planes to drones.
“Everyone has their own preferences,” Jacobson said.
Earlier this year, elementary and middle school students at a Harrington Park STEM camp watched as Long Island Aero Modelers Association President Dennis Andreas flew small drones in a classroom at the Harrington Park Public School.
The students’ eyes lit up as they watched the colorful drones spin in the air.
Andreas teamed up with Bergen County Silent Fliers President Carlos Molina of Ridgewood to host science and technology activities at the camp. The children also learned how to fly rubber-powered planes.
“Some of them have to reinvent the wheel. You have to be there and you have to work with the kids,” Molina said, referring to changes in technology and a shift in interest from model airplanes to drones.
The Bergen County Silent Fliers is always looking for new members to join. The club, which has been around since 1983, meets on the third Friday of every month at 7:30 p.m. in Hillsdale Borough Hall.
During the school year there are club gatherings at Ridgewood High School’s maker space, which is open to the public on Monday nights for a small fee. Maker spaces provide tools and technology, such as 3D printers, to work on projects.
Like others, Molina started flying model airplanes as a child but now flies both model airplanes and drones, larger than ones flown in a classroom.
“A lot of kids used to make model airplanes. It’s kind of a hobby you learn from your elders,” Molina said.
Now, he said, children do more computerized work and less creative work. Drones, he said, attract video gamers and children with an interest in robotics.
“It’s a wonderful gateway into STEM,” Molina said.
There’s another practical reason to introduce children to the joys of flying: It could eventually lead to a career in which pay averages $121,000. The Federal Aviation Administration has identified a critical shortage of airline pilots as demand grows.
Families can get involved in model airplane flying by joining clubs like the Bergen County Silent Fliers, bergencountysilentfliers.net, or by looking for events on the Academy of Model Aeronautics website, modelaircraft.org.
Tax has launched a club in River Vale and is hoping it takes off. The club, called the River Vale Model Flyers, meets on the second Friday of every month, at 7:30 p.m., in the River Vale Community Center.
“I think it’s important to every town and to have children and adults see them fly,” Tax said. “It’s remarkable the things they can do.”