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Getting Started with Model Airplanes

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This summer my kids had a chance to see an exhibition of model airplanes in flight. They thought these replica planes were awesome. I thought likewise of the pilots, who had the planes doing loops and dives that would rival what we had seen at an air show. I took the chance after the show to interview a couple of the pilots about how folks could get started with the exciting hobby of building and flying model airplanes.

I spoke first with Howard Davidson, who has been a member of the Three Rivers Area Model Plane Society (T.R.A.M.P.S.) based in Muskogee, Oklahoma for many years. He was more than happy to talk about how to introduce model airplanes to new flyers, because as he said, "There aren't a lot of young people flying these days."

One barrier to new model airplane pilots is the cost. A plane can cost several hundred dollars or even over one thousand, depending on the plane you choose to build. An inexperienced pilot will certainly have a harder time controlling the plane, and a crashed aircraft can cost quite a bit to rebuild. This is why Davidson recommended that people interested in trying the hobby start the same way many conventional pilots begin, with a flight simulator.

Davidson said his favorite flight simulator for model airplanes is the RealFlight R/C Flight Simulator available through hobby stores. He said that although the simulator program costs around $300, that is a small cost compared to an actual model airplane, and you can try out lots of different models to see what types you like best.

Davidson didn't have the benefit of a flight simulator when he started flying decades ago as a child. Neither did his friend and fellow T.R.A.M.P.S. member, Gaines Smith. Smith told me that another way that kids or adults who are interested in learning to fly model airplanes is to come out to a club meeting. There are many remote controlled model airplane clubs across the country, and lots of those open the doors to interested new members so they can check out the hobby first hand before they invest.

Smith mentioned that clubs will sometimes let prospective pilots try flying a plane with what is called a buddy box. This contraption is sort of like a driver's education device for the plane. It allows the main pilot to turn over the controls to a secondary remote, while still able to switch back into control in case of trouble.

The T.R.A.M.P.S. club meets on the first Saturday of each month at Hatbox Field in Muskogee, Oklahoma early in the morning and they welcome visitors to come out and watch them fly. They will also host their annual fly-in October 12 - 13. This event features large scale model planes, some with wingspans of over 12 feet and big enough to fly a small but adventuresome dog, which perform aerobatic stunts that amaze the crowds.

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Tavia worked as a naturalist and recreation specialist at an Oklahoma lake during her college years. She enjoys using what she learned as an outdoor educator in her work with children today.

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