PARKTON — When members of the Davis Bridge Aeromodelers were asked to meet to discuss their club’s activities, they chose as a venue a stretch of land surrounded by farm at 1684 Davis Bridge Road. The tin shelter, which provides shade during their weekend get-togethers of flying model airplanes and talking the trade, worked as an umbrella on Wednesday as Beryl flew overhead.
“When we’re out here, we do a lot of flying,” Richard Harding said over the din of the pouring rain, “but we probably do more talking.”
Laughing is more like it. In their island of shelter, the only thing that drowned out their laughter was Harding’s car horn, which announced his late arrival and sent club members Willie Moorman and Tom Bennion nearly jumping out of their skin.
Together, they are three of the 27 members who comprise the Davis Bridge Aeromodelers, a group of people who make their own airplanes and turn them into specks on the horizon.
“They can go higher than you can see,” Bennion said. “The range of a radio is about a mile and a half. They can get up to about 2,500 feet.”
“But if you can’t see them, you can’t fly them,” Moorman said. He is prefacing his latest wreck — a story that he says always ends the same no matter what.
“Every person that crashes an airplane goes out and (picks) it up, puts it in his car, goes home and orders another one,” he said.
“When you crash an airplane, it just freezes up spare parts to build another,” Bennion said.
The men relish their hobby with a boyish enthusiasm, sharing stories of adventures gone awry like children confiding about the baseball that broke the neighbor’s window.
According to Harding, who once crashed a model of the same airplane that he flew when he was 16 years old, a Piper J3 Cub, making junk out of the model airplanes is inevitable.
“It’s a bit more difficult to fly a model … . In a real airplane, you can feel what it’s doing, but in a radio-controlled airplane, you’re down here, it’s up there, and in the beginning it’s a little bit more difficult,” he said.
The club members assemble the planes themselves. Some make them completely from scratch, while others just add parts to nearly completed models. Ranging anywhere from $300 to $3,000, the planes can get pricey. But Moorman says their maiden flight is the best part.
Once a plane is ready for takeoff, it’s taken to Davis Bridge Road to the patch of land paid for and maintained by the $100 per year club dues. Bennion, the club’s safety officer, prepares it for its first flight.
He helps to program each airplane’s settings into a radio transmitter with a range of about a mile and a half. The transmitter can store settings for multiple airplanes, and once the settings are perfected, powered by regular gasoline, the airplane can fly straight without any need for adjustment. But even the slightest change can bring a plane crashing down. Just ask Moorman.
“I probably had a few screws loose on it and it caused that airplane to start trembling,” he said. Bennion interrupted as Moorman attempted to explain further.
“Yeah,” he said. “If you talk to most people, they will say that Willie’s got some screws lose.”
The two broke into laughter.
Although the conversation follows the ups and downs of life in flight, the men become serious when they talk about the true allure of the club.
“The camaraderie is great,” Harding said. “I think it’s just about being with these guys. It’s a clean club with clean fun.”
The Davis Bridge Aeromodelers recently shared that clean fun with the Cub Scout Pack No. 329, when 13 members fielded 32 airplanes for display and flight.
“If you can get a child interested in it, usually his father will follow,” Bennion said.
With members ranging from 10 to 87 years old, the thrill of watching parts in a box come together to soar in the sky has no age limit.
“These are real airplanes,” Harding said. “They fly the same. The air semantics are the same. They’ve got the same situation as far as thrust, drag, air pull and everything. They’re just small.”
And if anything goes wrong, no one gets hurt.
“Nobody wants to see somebody crash an airplane,” Bennion said with a smile. “But if somebody is going to crash an airplane, you want to be there to see it.”