Vaporize a Vapor

November 5, 2009

vaporThe Academy of Model Aeronautics is allowing visitors to AOPA Aviation Summit to fly a radio-controlled model airplane at its Airportfest exhibit at Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa, Fla. I crashed one a dozen times, and you can, too!

Look for the largest hangar at the airport. There, the Academy will give you a few minutes of training on a simulator and then turn you loose on the real thing. I skipped the simulator training, convinced my real-world pilot skills would kick in. At least, that’s the excuse I am using, and I am sticking to it.

The Academy’s District 5 vice president, Tony Stillman, gave me a demonstration. To go right, you push the controls left, and vice versa. Got it. I proceeded to accidentally dive on Stillman twice and had others in the hangar running for cover as I got more adventurous. Flights are conducted in the hangar due to winds.

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Al Marsh gets helpful hints from Tony Stillman, Academy of Model Aeronautics District 5 vice president. AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Al Marsh gets helpful hints from Tony Stillman, Academy of Model Aeronautics District 5 vice president.

All told, I made one good landing out of 12, power-dove into the concrete floor from 20 feet, and nearly took out a valuable helicopter that foolishly dared to enter my airspace. There was a sustained period of 20 seconds when I nailed it—perfectly level with gentle turns that looked as though I knew what I was doing.

Stillman and his Academy experts train military pilots to fly the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, so their expertise is widely sought. AOPA invited the Academy to AOPA Aviation Summit after working with the organization’s officials on government rules for future unmanned aerial vehicle use in the national airspace system.

Stillman (left) and Marsh (right) go over the finer points of remote control flying. Stillman (left) and Marsh (right) go over the finer points of remote control flying.

Models can get quite large. Hobbyists have flown aircraft with 30-foot wingspans and a weight greater than 100 pounds, but in Europe there are radio-controlled aircraft weighing 800 to 1,000 pounds. A Rally of Giants took place in Lakeland, Fla., for those flying larger models. Stillman said the FAA controls the size of models in the United States. Many of the hobbyists are pilots of general aviation aircraft, although many, like Stillman, limit flying to the models. Stillman had 60 hours of actual flight training but prefers the models, as long as he doesn’t run into too many fledgling pilots like me who threaten the future supply of model aircraft.

The Academy has 170,000 members. Many of them have loved model flying their whole lives, like Stillman who began when he was 8 years old.

Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | AOPA Pilot Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.