KINGSPORT — Doug Lindauer of Roan Mountain, Tenn. crashed his F-18 jet airplane at the airport in Kingsport on blustery Thursday afternoon.
Sheered off pieces of the plane, including the nose, littered the nearby grass. Lindauer smiled a sheepish smile.
“I can hot glue it tonight,” said Lindauer, “and fly it tomorrow.”
Welcome to the Tri-Cities corner of the fast-growing world of radio controlled aviation. Lindauer is a member of Johnson City Radio Controllers, who will stage a fly-in at Kingsport Civic Auditorium in Kingsport on March 22.
“It’s just a thrill!” said Klaus Kogler of Johnson City, who flies radio controlled helicopters. “It’s a rush!”
Just then an actual full-sized helicopter approached JCRC’s club site, Tri-Cities Model Airport in Kings-port, located within a flying wing of Gray and Johnson City.
“Scale!” Kogler said.
Puzzlement flashed on the face of the club’s greenhorn guest.
“That’s what we call the full-sized helicopters,” Kogler said, pointing skyward at the helicopter overhead as wind whipped his shock of gray hair. “Full scale.”
Kogler’s Compass-made copters, three of which flanked him as he prepped them to fly on Thursday, range in weight from about seven to 11 pounds each and cost from $1,200 to $3,000 each.
Lindauer’s aforementioned crash of his F-18 Blue Angels airplane amounted to no significant monetary loss.
“This plane costs about $150,” Lindauer said.
Styrofoam forms the fuselage and wings and bulk of Lindauer’s jet, hence upon a quick hot glue fix his F-18 can return quickly to blue sky flying.
A crash of Kogler’s copters amounts to something else entirely. He’s flown since 2006.
“I’ve crashed a lot of times,” Kogler said.
Spectacularly on occasion. Take one in Muncie, Id.
“It was during IRCHA (International Radio Controlled Helicopter Association), which is like the Day-tona 500 for helicopters,” Kogler said. “The boom broke, the tail went up, the blades broke the tail and it exploded in the air.”
Kogler grins now. But not then. He was angry.
Safety stands at the forefront of JCRC. Club president Anthony Hall said they would like to expand membership. However and foremost, folks need to first learn how to fly.
“We provide free training,” said Hall of Gray. “If you want to learn how to fly an RC plane, go out and buy it and we’ll show you how to fly it safely. You need a little help at first.”
Prices to purchase ready to fly RC planes start at about $100. Local retailers of such aircraft include HobbyTown USA locations in Bristol, Va. off Exit 7 and along the Motor Mile on the Bristol Highway in Johnson City. A word of caution, said Eddie Cline of Gray, one of the club’s flight instructors.
“Some of the boxes will tell you that you can train yourself to fly,” said Cline. “The average life span of those planes is about 30 seconds.”
Lindauer knows that well; he taught himself to fly.
“There were quite a few crashes before I figured it out,” he said.
There needn’t be any crashes to learn, Cline said, if properly trained first.
“We want people to be safe, responsible hobbyists,” he said.
Jerry Black, 59, has flown RC planes since about 1969. A member of JCRC since 1995, he designs and builds his own planes from scratch.
An acrobatic flyer, Black flew a large and sleek plane on Thursday afternoon at JCRC’s airport. Despite a pricey appearance, he said his plane cost about $120 to build.
“You should only play with stuff you can afford to crash,” said Black. “Oh, shoot, I’ve torn up a good number of airplanes. Probably one of the worst, I was flying in an acrobatic competition down in Georgia.”
Black is a two-time national champion in the Senior Pattern Association.
“That plane went through trees at about 100 mph and you could hear it going split and splatter, ripping wings and tail through the woods,” Black said. “It left bits and pieces of my airplane over about 50 yards of woods.”
Survey members of JCRC. Hall works as an industrial maintenance mechanic. Danny Rhudy of Jones-borough, whose cadre of RC planes includes an incredibly realistic to-scale P-51 Mustang made from Sty-rofoam, serves Washington County, Tenn. as a sheriff’s deputy. Michael Starnes of Mount Carmel, Tenn., is a retired biology teacher.
And Black? He flies planes. You know, full-size, human-occupied airplanes.
“I fly every week, but I don’t fly commercially anymore. Monday, I flew a volunteer flight to Nashville for Angel Flight,” Black said. “My real plane is a Mooney. It’s a four-seater. I was flying RC scale planes before I was a pilot. Aviation in general is a passion. If it flies, I want to fly it.”
Now get this.
“Most people will tell you that flying model airplanes is much harder to fly than real airplanes,” Black said. “With a model airplane, you’re not in it so you can’t feel the sensation, and so they are harder to fly.”
As with his fellow JCRC members, Black invites the public to visit their site, which does not maintain particular hours of operation.
“Come anytime that the gate is open,” Black said. “We’ve got some trainer airplanes at the field. When you come out and fly, you can see if you like to fly before you invest in your own airplane. Once you’re a member, you get a combination to the gate.”
JCRC charges an annual rate for membership.
“This year it’s $99,” Hall said.
But first, all members are required to join the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), which provides liability insurance.
“AMA insurance is $58 per year for $2.5 million of liability coverage,” Cline said.
Flying RC airplanes and helicopters can be dangerous. Speeds range from 10 mph to beyond 100 mph and even 200 mph and more for turbine-powered jets. Many have propellers.
“They’re turning 10,000 rpms,” Black said. “If you put your finger into the propeller, you’re going to lose your finger. Be cautious. We teach you to fly your plane, to inspect your plane so you won’t lose your eye or your finger. If you’re prudent, you’re going to be safe.”
Absolutely, said Michael Starnes of Mount Carmel, Tenn., a retired biology teacher.
“I fly a quad-copter,” said Starnes.
His quad-copter, perhaps a foot wide, looks as if crafted for a science fiction movie. Oh, and it could film scenes for said movie.
“It has a GPS, a working compass and a camera,” Starnes said. “I’m amazed at the technology. This thing can even fly itself to a point.”
Now, Starnes is no kid. However, approach and ask him about RC aviation. He lights up like a kid for whom adventure is afoot.
“Oh,” Starnes said with a broad grin, “it’s fun!”