BY ROLAND FLEMING
Remote-control planes; you may have had one as a kid, but some kids never grow up and as they got bigger, their toys did too.
“That’s nothing, I haven’t even pulled out the big stuff,” responded Sandro Novelli when approached about a five-foot long, jet-fueled remote control plane he’d just flown. Novelli owns several model planes which he flies in shows in Canada and the United States. The blasts of jets and the whirring of propellers filled the air as remote-control pilots from across North America gathered at the 47th Annual Scale Rally. The K-W Flying Dutchmen hosted the event, near St Jacobs, Ont., on Sept. 11 and 12.
The organization first started the rally almost 50 years ago with a small gathering of approximately 100 people and maybe a dozen or so pilots. Today it is known as the premiere show in Ontario with 170 registered planes, attracting 2,000-3,000 people over the two-day event.
To call them pilots is a fair assessment, as the aircraft they fly are large, fast and loud. With some models as large as two-thirds scale of the real planes, and some jets as fast as 500 km/h, these planes aren’t for children. It takes real skill, real experience and real money to fly these aircraft.
According to Novelli, his model F-14 Tomcat costs between $23,000 and $28,000 US. The model, powered by kerosene jet fuel, flies at speeds up to 250 km/h. Novelli has been flying models since he was eight years old. He now works as a test pilot, testing real planes by remote control before they are flown by pilots.
Many of these model planes fly just like the real things, but according to the director of the rally and fellow flyer, Mike Fritz, they are, in fact, much more difficult to pilot. Flying a plane remotely is much different then flying it from the cockpit. In the cockpit there is one orientation, and it is easier to feel out the controls.
From the ground, a plane could be facing vertically or toward you and you must adapt constantly to the changing orientation of the plane. Fritz said pilots usually learn by flying what is called a “trainer.”
“First you get your wings, then you learn how to fly,” said Fritz. Much like having training wheels on a bike, trainer planes are much easier to fly.
Not flying the plane from the cockpit also enables the pilot to pull some manoeuvres and tricks that real planes could not. Pilots showed off their skills, with loops, vertical hovers and even tail touches. A tail touch is a risky manoeuvre where the pilot touches the tail of the plane to the ground without landing or crashing.
Novelli said crashing models does happen though, and at costs in the tens of thousands of dollars for high end models, it can be a very expensive hobby. But, he said, “If we were worried about crashing them, we wouldn’t be flying them.”
On the topic of crashes, another interesting aircraft is something called a “striker.” Built intentionally for remote control aerial combat, these flyers are built to be destroyed. With a whirr like the sound of a mosquito, about 10 of them “ducked and dived” at the show, attempting to break the wings of their opponents. All but two were knocked out of the sky. The final two succumbed to an inevitable end to their battery life. The last one flying went home with a prize.
Other highlights included planes that hover vertically, helicopters flying upside-down, and Fritz’s favourite part of the show, a candy drop for the kids. A plane filled with candy made about four passes as the kids waited in anticipation. Finally the payload of sweets was dropped and the kids scrambled onto the field to gather as much as they could.