Radio-control pilots fly the friendly skies

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Edwin Scherzer | July 28, 2015

TOWN OF LYONS -- Hobbies exist in all shapes and sizes. Some are small and historical such as coin collecting, others are large and comforting like quilt making. There is one activity however, that evokes the pursuit of a passionate dream -- the ability to fly.

When you can't sprout wings and take to the skies on your own, you might find yourself in the company of radio-controlled aircraft enthusiasts. The Academy of Model Aeronautics claims more than 2,500 charter model airplane clubs in the United States, including the Silver Eagles RC Club in Walworth County.

The Silver Eagles has a modest membership of 24, including three junior members. There are annual dues, plus the cost of the aircraft, which can bring its own economic altitude -- between $40 and $600.

Silver Eagles Vice President Paul Beeftink said it's really more about the experience.

“There are guys who get the bug, and have twice as many planes than I do, but it's really more about getting together and enjoying the sport,” Beeftink said.

You don't have to be an experienced pilot to get into a club or get started in RC.

“People that fly RC could go and fly a real airplane easier than a pilot could fly an RC,” Beeftink said.

Most of the Silver Eagles aren't pilots, they're just normal guys, or in one case, a gal.

Lynne Walters is a private pilot and one of the only female AMA members in the club.

“I've always been in male-dominated areas -- warehouses, material handling and so on,” Walters said. “There's a couple women in RC, but not many.”

While she can demonstrate her skills at flying her RC plane, she really likes piloting her other model.

“I really enjoy flying my helicopter, it's much more challenging, like balancing an egg on a spoon,” Walters said.

The club provides instruction for beginners and the guest or member provides the model airplane.

Beeftink's wife, Joy, accompanies him to almost all AMA events. She sees herself as any other sport enthusiast wife.

“I have a patch that says, 'I'm an RC widow,'” she said.

Joy Beeftink even remembers their last national event together:

“I remember AMA Indiana because it was our 55th wedding anniversary,” she said.

Members Charles and Martin Huyett have a role reversal going on when it comes to the hobby. Son Charles got his father, Martin, involved in RC. The partnership didn't start out that way, however

“When I was a kid, he took me out, and I wasn't interested,” Charles Huyett said.

Charles Huyett, who is a pastor at a local church, was coordinating vacation Bible school one summer and the curriculum suggested RC as a fun activity for the kids. The next thing you know, he was hooked.

Bringing his dad along was the easy part.

“VBS got me into the hobby, but it was fun for us to be able to do RC together,” Huyett said.

He admitted he couldn't build a plane from scratch without his father's advice.

“When it comes to engines, I have no idea,” Huyett said. “That's where my dad comes in. He's my mechanic.”

They recently flew a plane on its maiden voyage, which the younger Huyett spent most of the winter putting together. After a brief adjustment, the plane flew in the younger Huyett's capable hands, but he was disappointed in the landing.

Dad's words of wisdom were simple: “If the plane comes back in one piece, that's the main thing.”

Those who remember the buzzing, gasoline-powered RCs of the past might be pleasantly pleased with the electrics (battery powered) of today's class of model airplanes.

Drones, too, are filtering into the RC enthusiasts' realm,  although they have many different names --  UAV, quadcopter etc.

Silver Eagles member John Auberger said drones might take away a lot of actual flying from the pilot, but are nonetheless brilliant.

“They're smart enough to return back to you, smart enough to lift up to 60 feet to clear the trees here at the field,” Auberger said. “They're amazing.”

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