Aero Club gives flight to model fancy
Members of the Fox Valley Aero Club (FVAC) may have their heads in the clouds, but their feet are very much on the ground.
John Turner of St. Charles, former vice president of the club, has flown scale-model aircraft for 40 years.
“I enjoy aviation and building model aircraft,” Taylor said. “So put the two together, along with the comradery, and you have a great hobby for young and old.” The activity offers a good outlet for stress, he added. “If you’re an aviation enthusiast but can’t afford a full-size aircraft, this is the next-best thing.”
FVAC’s 225 members hail from St. Charles and the surrounding area, including Chicago. Some have now retired and call distant states like Florida home, but they come back once or twice a year and remain active in the group.
Members range in age from pre-teens to retirees; many are private or commercial pilots or have had experience flying during military service. FVAC charges a $300 initiation fee and $100 in annual dues.
Turner will oversee FVAC’s annual radio control swap meet on Saturday, Feb. 23 at the Kane County Fair Grounds from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. It offers an opportunity to elarn more about the hobby.Admission is $5 per adult, and children under 12 are free.
Club members fly their aircraft – everything from small radio-controlled electrics to turbine-engine planes and helicopters – on a 10-acre field in St. Charles that’s equipped with an 800-by-50-foot asphalt runway. The group holds monthly meetings and competitive events that judge operators’ aerobatics skills and accuracy of precision, time and scale modeling.
“The initial equipment cost may be as low as $100 for a small park flyer. However, most enthusiasts will find that an investment of about $500 will get them into the game,” said Turner. That includes the complete package: model plane, engine and radio controls. High-performance turbine equipment enters a more rarefied environment, commanding an outlay of up to $30,000.
Model planes can soar to an average height of one-quarter mile and achieve straight-line speed of 65 to 70 m.p.h., though when pilots are performing stunts the speed is considerably reduced.
With radio contact, some aircraft can travel a distance of about one mile, according to Turner. “But once a plane is half a mile away, you can barely see it.”
While potential hazards like trees and power cords aren’t a factor where FVAC members fly, Taylor said he has witnessed midair plane collisions and run-ins with birds. During takeoffs and landings, typically pilots will have a partner on hand acting as a spotter. Weather conditions aren’t a deterrent for flying, and members can be seen piloting their planes at all hours 365 days a year – “good days or bad, rain or snow,” Turner added.
Dan Compton, who joined the club a decade ago and serves as its chief flight instructor, said he trains groups ranging from two to a dozen. Students team up with members who have “trainer” planes. They learn the basic fundamentals of flying safety and how a plane reacts once it’s airborne. During practice runs, a “buddy cord” transmitter is hooked up to the new flyer’s aircraft.
Once a pilot is deemed ready, the instructor signs off and the student is allowed to fly solo.
“It’s a sense of accomplishment,” said Compton. “I think anybody who solos for the first time will find their knees knocking with excitement from the emotional high.”
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