Playing with remote controls isn’t just for kids.
At least not when the remote controlled (RC) vehicle is worth a few thousand dollars.
A group of local RC aircraft enthusiasts are trying to find others interested in learning how to build and/or fly the specialized machines.
Ken Relkoff, an experienced RC pilot who has been involved in the hobby for around 37 years, is heading up the group, and he has been involved in starting clubs all over. In the Fort since 2006, he connected with another RC enthusiast and it has grown from there.
“I’ve basically been putting along, doing my own thing and then I met up with Paul (Rodrigues),” said Relkoff.
Rodrigues had lost his remote aircrafts to a house fire a few years before, but was just getting back into it.
Relkoff himself began building model planes as a child, and then began flying control-line planes, in the days before the radio remote-controls.
At 14, he bought his first remote-controlled plane, which in those days was a very expensive piece of equipment because it was somewhat new technology.
Now, with his decades of experience, Relkoff can help others like Bernie Goodin, who only recently bought some of his first machines.
“I’d been wanting to do this forever and I heard about these guys,” explained Goodin.
And now, thanks to China, people just getting into flying the miniature planes can buy their first plane for under $100, which Relkoff recommends. The smaller, lighter and less expensive planes are good to start with because they won’t be as easy to break if they crash, because of their lightness, and they fly more slowly, allowing new pilots to get accustomed to the controls.
With a wealth of knowledge of the history of the small aircrafts and the evolution into radio-controlled flight, Ken is the local expert, and he demonstrated his skills flying a helicopter in a field, with aerial maneuvers including flips.
And while it might not be something you see everyday, the hobby does have a large following, with clubs and meets for RC pilots across the continent for people to gather together and fly their mini machines.
One meet takes places every Father’s Day in Houston, and according to Relkoff, people come from as far away as Saskatchewan to participate.
As Relkoff explained the complex skills required to actually fly the machines, it almost sounded like an interesting exercise for your brain, and not only in hand-eye coordination.
Flying from the ground, as opposed to inside the machine, an RC pilot has to try to constantly think from the perspective of the aircraft itself.
“You have to transpose your mind and think from within the machine,” described Relkoff.
People who can achieve this skill, tend to become the more advanced pilots, according to Relkoff.
While it’s not exactly hard, he said, it does require some dedication, practice and a small amount of disposable income.
And buying one plane or helicopter will not necessarily last a pilot for the rest of his time in the hobby, because eventually, they all crash.
“You’ve got to approach this thing, number one, with a sense of humour,” said Relkoff. “You don’t get senitimentally attached, because they’re all crash victims, it’s just time.”
While the newer technology has made the planes and helicopters more reliable, the engines do take some maintenance and the gas-powered ones can run out of fuel as well.
Relkoff certainly has seen his share of humorous crashes, one common one being nervous pilots hand-launching planes, as some planes take off with the aid of a throw.
He said he has seen many pilots running, preparing to toss their plane to launch, and instead of throwing the plane, they accidentally throw the controller.
Another entertaining crash was one where a pilot was working on mastering a particular move with his plane, and instead of executing the maneuver, he mistakenly flew the plane into the trunk of his car, which was open at the time, crashing the plane.
He slammed the trunk closed and drove off.
These incidents are all bittersweet — funny, but a bit sad for the pilots, but they usually manage to laugh about it later.
For his part, Relkoff finds the hobby almost therapeutic, and he said it requires so much focus while you’re operating the aircraft, “you sort of completely immerse yourself in it.”
“It’s something I’ll always do,” he said.
Anyone interested in getting involved with the fledgling club can contact Relkoff, Goodin or Rodrigues to come flying.