Bob Sharpe is quick to correct Rob McCoy when he suggests that Sharpe’s wife “thinks” McCoy created a monster in her husband.
“No, she knows you created a monster,” he says with a laugh.
For it was five years ago that Sharpe walked into McCoy’s machine shop and told him “you can laugh your ass off if you want, but I’ve always wanted to fly remote-controlled airplanes.” Unbeknownst to Sharpe, McCoy was already something of a fanatic when it comes to model airplanes.
“So he got me started and now I have 40 of them,” explained Sharpe while out at Bawtinheimer Airfield southeast of Red Deer.
The two men are among the 50 members of the Central Alberta Radio Fun Flyers, a group of enthusiasts for whom owning a few dozen model planes might be closer to the norm than an oddity. The group was founded in 1976 with six members, once had a disgruntled member burn down the clubhouse, and has adversaries in a few neighbours near the flying field who are no fan of the relatively low din the planes emit.
But McCoy, the club’s president, says it is a pleasant pastime that is easily accessible to all. He initially wanted to become a pilot, but found model airplanes to be the next best thing.
“I’ve always been interested in planes, and I could never afford to get my pilot’s licence. Back in the day when I first started talking about it, I was making $435 gross a month. It cost $40 to fly a plane for an hour, and they said you should do 10 hours a month,” said McCoy.
And though he has now spent thousands on his “madness” for the miniature aircraft, not to mention the 200-some hours he spent assembling one of his planes — an antic he festooned with musical notes and a picture of his beloved mandolin — he said it need not be an expensive pursuit.
It is an opinion shared by Will Gross, a national champion last year in model airplaning.
“It’s probably one of the cheapest hobbies out there . . . For $500, you can have a really nice airplane that’s going to give you a lot of satisfaction, a lot of fun,” said Gross.
It can be cheaper too. Gross has started his son, at five years old, on an $80 machine.
Gross got involved in the sport nine years ago, and is now up to doing 1,100 flights per year. While the plane he uses for precision acrobatics costs around $7,000, he has earned himself sponsorships and this year will travel to Johannesburg, South Africa for the world championships.
Though he does many difficult advanced manoeuvres such as a rolling circle or an equilateral triangle with his busy thumbs, he says he hasn’t crashed a plane in over four years.
“Most people have the idea that model planes are these little things that you just whip around, and then they see a big plane doing passes so low and how powerful the engines are. People get really excited about those things,” explained Gross.
The public will have its chance to get excited about such things on June 22, as CARFF will host an airshow at the Bawtinheimer Airfield on McKenzie Road. The free show starts at 1 p.m., with introductory flights to be offered with an instructor in the morning, also for no charge.
For a map to the airfield and for more information on the club, visit www.carff.ca. For further information or to join, contact McCoy at 403-396-5747.