SAN BENITO — They sat on a row of tables like a miniature tarmac, a small squadron of model airplanes ready to fly at their owners’ commands.
All it takes is the flip of a switch on a transmitter, and these flying machines fill the air above and around Fun N Sun RV Park.
“This is an aerobatic sport plane,” said Art Conner, 67, gesturing toward a yellow plane in the park’s recreation hall. “You can get it to do spins, rolls, loops, fly upside down.”
Conner, a Winter Texan from Mobile, Ala., said most of the planes can do trick flying. He’s one of a small group of aficionados at the park who build model airplanes and fly them by remote control. They don’t call themselves a club, really, and they don’t have an official name. But they do have a common calling: the desire to see their planes soaring through the air.
“When you build it, it’s a part of you. It’s you, flying,” said Tim Wehner, a Winter Texan from Lowry, Minn.
The planes, made of balsa wood or foam, come in kits that take some time to assemble.
“We build them ourselves, or we buy them already built from the factory,” said Fred Carrigan, one of the model airplane enthusiasts.
“They’re anywhere from 22 inches wide to eight feet,” he said. “I’ve got one that’s around 23 inches, and I’ve got a 78-inch one, and I’ve got a 38-inch. You buy the kit. They’re all pre-stamped. Everything is laser cut. All the pieces. It’s like a puzzle. They even give you a picture of it, and you just put it together.”
The cost of the planes begins at about $100. Carrigan and his friends installed their own motors, speed controls and other circuitry. Most of them run on electricity. Two are gas-powered.
Wehner had two small foam planes.
“This is a glider,” he said, picking up a small foam plane with white wings and a purple
Next, he picked up a larger plane.
“This was very simple,” he said. “It’s Piper Cub.”
He spent 25 hours building the plane, which had white wings with red markings and a long, blue fuselage.
The two gas-powered planes belong to Phil Alfano, 61, who has built and flown model airplanes since the 1970s.
“The gas has a true airplane sound. The electrics are silent,” said Alfano, a Winter Texan from Hanover, N.J., who also owns one electric plane.
“A gas can last 20 minutes, the electric lasts eight minutes,” he said. “I normally only keep them up 10 minutes, because you don’t want to run out of gas.”
One of his gas-powered planes was a bright yellow biplane with red-and-white markings.
“I bought it from a friend of mine,” he said. “It’s covered with heat-shrinked plastic. I got it cheap.”
A new one would cost about $1,200.
He also had a yellow Yak 54 that actually had a toy pilot inside.
Alfano said he enjoys “tweaking” his planes to make sure they’re ready for flight.
“There’s a skill,” he said with passion. “There’s so many things that can go wrong. You make sure the circuits are working.”
Conner’s aerobatic sport plane had a special feature: two turtles painted on the tail by his wife.
“You spend a lot of money, you want to keep the wife happy,” he said with a laugh.
He also had a large electric Polaris plane with delta wings, white with red tips.
“This will go 2,000 feet, where I can’t see it,” he said. “It’s got power.”
A plane with broad blue and white wings belonged to Carrigan.
“This one I built this year,” he said. “This has a fabric on it. It’s T paper.” He’d put a substance with nitrate on the wings to make the paper stick.
Alfano said that although he’s been coming to the Valley for many years, this is his first year at Fun N Sun. He decided to spend the season there when he discovered the park had an ideal area to fly planes.
“Right across the street, there’s a big field,” he said. “It’s a very large field, a radio-controlled flyer’s dream. We leveled off a section of the field to take off, but we land on the grass.”
The grass, he said, provides a much softer landing for the plane.