Model planes soar high above spillway

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 1, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / July 1, 2000

NORCO – You’re never too old to play with model airplanes. Just ask 68-year-old Barry Bleakley of Norco, one of the founding members of the Spillway Radio Control Club.

Weekends can often find him at the club’s aerodrome, a grass landing strip marked out halfway along the Spillway Road near the control structure.

On this day Bleakley was accompanied by his teen-age grandson, Dane, who watched with fascination as his grandfather used a computer-style joystick to direct a tiny airplane with a 4-foot wingspan onto the strip, into the air and through a series of complicated maneuvers. He then landedit safely in an almost casual sweep.

“When I was small (at the age of 12), I built rubber-band models, which were U-control,” Bleakley recalled. “I read a lot about this and taughtmyself how to fly.”At the moment, he has 10 airplanes, in the process of building another and has model kits for an additional six planes.

The Spillway Radio Control Club was founded in 1972 by Bleakley, along with Garland Trepagnier and Dale Griffen. After nearly 30 years all threeremain involved in the club, which now numbers 40, half of whom are retirees.

Its president of Gus Praesel of Luling, who got started in the hobby six years ago when he and his wife, Tina, were living in Oklahoma. The couple,married for 26 years, are each involved in the hobby. She serves as thecurrent club secretary, and they each fly their own planes.

“I caught the bug just watching him,” she recalled. “Most women don’t getinto it because it’s so mechanical.” In fact, she’s the only woman in the group at present, though it has had as many as three female members.

The hobby is “good clean fun,” according to Allen Smith of Norco. He saidthe activity is great for all ages, as long as your reflexes are good. No onedrinks at the airstrip since one needs sharp reflexes to keep their planes safe and in the air. Smith, 62, started in the hobby 25 years ago.Another member, Bill Smith, is a retiree from the Federal Aviation Administration, having worked at Moisant Field for 30 years.

“I’ve been fooling with airplanes all my life,” said Smith, now an eight- year member of the club.

Each summer members can often by found in the early hours at the 360- foot long runway, one or two with planes in the air at any one time, the other members making mechanical adjustments or simply chatting.

The planes themselves, usually one-sixth the size of their full-grown counterparts, range from very basic “trainers” which new hobbyists use to hone their skills to elaborate and expensive replicas. They are poweredby gasoline or by a mixture of nitro and methyl alcohol and steered by battery-powered radio controls.

Learning to successfully fly and land such a plane requires hours of patience and excellent reflexes. To start out, initial investment can be aslittle as $300.

Bleakley showed off his replica World War II Navy Corsair with retractable landing gear and is currently building a P-47 Thunderbolt.

The club is affiliated with the Academy of Model Aeronautics, a national organization which issues its own magazine and helps with insurance for its members.

The landing strip is available for the club’s use by the U.S. Army Corps ofEngineers and, during local emergencies, the strip itself can be used as a helicopter landing pad.

The club adheres to AMA safety rules, which are quite strict. No one ispermitted to solo without proper flight instruction, both for personal safety and for the aircraft itself.

Monthly meetings are held on second Thursdays at the OCAW Hall in Norco at 7:30 p.m. Anyone interested in more information can call Gus and TinaPraesel at 331-9238.

“Everybody’s got to have something to do,” Tina said with a grin.

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