Airplane club hoping for takeoff to new location


TIM BAXTER - Staff Writer

Date: 08/11/98 22:15


At 74, Bill Johns could be forgiven for feeling a little nostalgic

for his boyhood hobbies.


He doesn't. More than 60 years after his first attempt to

make a flying model airplane, he's still active in the Shawnee

Mission Radio Control Club as secretary-treasurer, and he

still keeps his head -- or at least his plane -- in the clouds.


Johns remembers when he was a small boy during the

Great Depression walking to the corner drug store to buy

tissue paper and balsa wood airplane kits powered by a

rubber band that he would carefully turn hundreds of times

before turning the plane loose on a wing and a prayer.


"You had no control other than the way you trimmed the

airplane," he said. "You had to prepare the surfaces to keep

it high enough."


Poor preparation or bad luck could instantly turn the hard

work of a small boy into balsa and tissue scrap.


He remembers the earliest radio-controlled planes of the

1950s. He bought one as a gift for his son and wrecked it

the first day. A promise of a new plane brought Johns back

into the hobby.


"The engine was a monster looking thing," he said. "At that

early stage, you had rudder only."


After a couple of years, Johns' son lost interest. Johns was

hooked and he's embraced the changes that have come

over the years.


"The equipment today is just tremendous," he said. "We're

into computer radios today where we can program the

control to do a number of moves." Modern planes have a

range of about a mile and run on a devil's brew of alcohol,

nitromethane and castor oil.


Soon, Johns and the other 80 members of the club will

experience another big change. After flying out of Shawnee

Mission Park since the club's inception in 1962 and at the

current location since 1967, they'll be moving to make way

for Darol Rodrock's Parkhurst housing development on the

park's edge. Soon cedar shingles will be more prominent in

the horizon than will be the small-scale planes.


The club is hoping a new site will be found quickly. Both

Rodrock and the Lenexa Parks and Recreation Department

have pledged to help, and a meeting with Lenexa's Parks

Board on the topic of a new site within Shawnee Mission

Park is scheduled for Aug. 19.


The new proposed site would be fully within the park, across

from the 3&2 ball park.


In the meantime, the club continues to fly out of the park and

have regular training sessions every Tuesday evening.


Training is important. The plane's aren't cheap, and even

with today's technology flying is definitely a learned skill.


Planes are available as basic kits or in Almost Ready to Fly

(ARF) form. A basic kit involves substantial construction

work and usually will cost more in the long run. Some ARF

kits are basically ready to go, complete with motor and

controller right out of the box for less than $300, said Johns,

who prefers to build his own planes.


Altogether, expect to pay $300 to $500 to get started in the

hobby. From there, the sky's the limit. At the highest end,

Johns said he knows of an enthusiast in Indiana with a 1/12

scale 747, complete with two small turbine engines. With a

wingspan topping 24 feet, it takes two people to pilot the

$6,000 model.


No matter the skill level, the club caters to it. Ages range

from 8- and 9-year-old pilots to those well into their 80s.

Some served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, some

are aeronautical engineers, some are commercial pilots and

some just love planes.


Having an experienced pilot nearby can help new pilots get

their investment off the ground. These days, two controllers

can be electronically linked so an experienced pilot can take

over if a rookie makes a mistake.


Before take-off, pilots hunker over the plane, fueling,

tinkering, and making sure everything works. All the planes

have mufflers to keep noise down, and as they pull into the

air they sound a little like angry bees as they loop and turn

above the park.


They all have to come down, and almost every plane will

eventually come down hard, suffering what the club calls

"post impact structural alterations." For civilians, that's a



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