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Model airplane clubs offer airborne adventure

On nice day Fox Valley Aero Club flying strip can be busy place.
Phoby Doug Swans

On a nice day, the Fox Valley Aero Club flying strip can be a busy place. Photo by Doug Swanson

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Area clubs

Fox Valley Aero Club, Academy of Model Aeronautics Charter 252

Club meetings: 7:30 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the St. Charles Township office, Dean Street, St. Charles

Air Strip: Karl Madsen Drive, St. Charles

Swap meet: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Kane County Fairgrounds, St. Charles

Cost: $5 admission, younger than 12 admitted free

Club membership information:

Prop Masters R/C Aero Club, Academy of Model Aeronautics
Charter 397

Club meetings: 7:30 p.m. the last Tuesday of each month at the Judd Kendall Post VFW, Naperville

Air strip: Springbrook Forest Preserve, Plainfield-Naperville Road, south of 75th Street

Tailgater Swap Meet: 8 a.m. Aug. 24, Judd Kendall Post VFW, Naperville, free admission

Club membership information:

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Updated: February 28, 2013 12:10PM

Anyone who has ever successfully launched a rubber-band powered balsa wood airplane knows the thrill of flight. The opportunity to make something soar like the wind attracts many to the hobby of model aeronautics. There are about 20 area Academy of Model Aeronautics Charter Clubs providing many airborne opportunities.

One of the older clubs, the Fox Valley Aero Club, was founded as the Flying Fools in 1929 when the members enjoyed gliders and rubber-band-powered planes. The club changed its name in 1979 and has grown to more than 200 members from communities surrounding St. Charles. The club owns and maintains a 15-acre flying field and landing strip on Karl Madsen Drive in St. Charles.

Another active club is Prop Master R/C Aero Club, formerly known as Lisle Aero. The 80-member club is sponsored by the Naperville Park District and maintains a flying strip at the Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve off Plainfield-Naperville Road, south of 75th street in Naperville. All clubs welcome anyone interested in learning more about the sport.

Running to the hobby store to buy a plane is not the ideal first step to this sport.

“A good place to start is to come to a meeting or just stop at a field,” says Prop Masters president Bob Mosinski. “Although anyone can buy a plane and go fly it at the field, it is best to be connected with a club where there are people who can help you learn to fly the planes and show you the many different kinds of planes. It isn’t hard, but it is not easy either.”

Prop Masters meetings include a variety of flying-related activities such as simulator fun flies and paper airplane spot landing competitions.

Mosinski says that one of the first challenges to flying the model aircraft is getting used to the radio controls that have left and right reversed.

“We find that kids that play video games pick that up pretty fast,” he notes.

Tom Spriet, president of the Fox Valley Aero Club, says that beginners might find working with a simulation program to be helpful.

“Real Flight is the preferred program and most hobby stores have it,” Spriet says.

The computer program comes with a controller to help beginners learn how to control the model aircraft before they start flying the real thing.

When it is time to buy an aircraft, there are many choices and features to consider. Spriet explains that there are three basic types of kits.

Many hobbyists like to custom build their planes with a kit that needs to be completely assembled. Other prefer almost ready to fly kits (ARF) that require some assembly or ready to fly kits (RTF) that can be flown out of the box.

“Gliders are the easiest to fly and good place to start,” Spriet says. “There are some kits for about $100, and the radio control starts at about $50. There are also some nice starter plans for under $500. From there, the sky is the limit. People can spend $30,000 for large-scale planes. You can get planes with propellers that are 3 inches across or 3 feet across.”

Spriet says that once people get started, they often have several aircraft.

“It’s the joy of being able to control something in the sky and make it go any direction and any way you want it to go,” he says of the hobby.

John Turner, Fox Valley Aero Club member, got his first kit when he was 12.

“My dad and I built it and went to flying fields together. It’s a wonderful father-son activity. The thing is that there are always bigger toys out there. I have 30-some planes now and the hobby store just keeps on getting new models.”

Turner’s pride and joy is a Hanger 9 Extra, a 26 percent scale airplane.

“I can get it into my SUV if I take off the wings, rest the nose on the dashboard and let the tail come to the back window. It is just so much fun to fly these airplanes.”

He points out there are some people with planes even larger than his.

“They have to have trailers for the planes,” he says.

Both clubs have social events as well as annual swap meets where there are usually bargains on used equipment. These swap meets are a perfect place for beginners to find great prices on used aircraft as well as get advice on getting started. The Fox Valley Aero Club’s meet will be Feb. 23 at the Kane County Fairgrounds.

“I have a trainer ready to go for $100, which is a great deal,” Spriet says. “There will be almost 140 tables of things for sale. And after the sale is over at 1 p.m., we push back the tables and do indoor flying.”

There are regular times that club members meet to fly at airstrips, but as Mosinski points out, “if its 35 degrees, no breeze and sunny, there will be guys out flying. People are always stopping by to watch. We do a lot of work with Boy Scouts because there is so much interest there. It’s just really a fun thing to do.”

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