RC plane enthusiasts surf the air waves around De Soto
Like a pup eager to start its daily walk, John Wells' radio-controlled plane bounced and jostled Friday morning as he taxied it to the takeoff strip.
The sight of the seemingly animated plane's approach to the runway at "Bob Miller Field" stopped veteran RC flyer Jerry Tuttle in mid-stride. It was always a treat, he said, to see what Wells would coax from the plane with the two joysticks on his remote control radio.
"Watch him when he gets going," Tuttle said. "John does things the rest of us just dream about."
Soon Wells' plane was corkscrewing through the air as it flew in a large oval. It pulled out of that maneuver to do a barrel roll then climb into a stall.
It was a near perfect day for flying, with only an occasional light breeze stirring the wind sock hanging near the apron marking the flying zone of the 95th Street Flying Group's new De Soto Aerodrome.
Wells and Tuttle were among the 10 members of the radio-controlled airplane club who showed up Friday morning to fly their aircraft and enjoy a cook-out at the club's four-month-old northeast De Soto home. The site gives the club what it wants -- wide-open isolation.
Save for a steady popping from the gun club to the north, there was no human presence evident. Isolation was fast disappearing at the club's old site at 95th Street and Clare Road, where a neighboring Catholic high school is a year away from opening.
Development brings potential obstructions like power lines and people who may not share the club members' affection for the high-pitched whine produced by the gas engines that still power the majority of the planes.
"We are really pleased," Tuttle said. "There is no one out here to bother. It's a good as any flying field I've ever seen."
Club founder Bob Miller of Leawood said he'd seen development overrun a number of fields in his five decades of flying. The surrounding flood plain would spare it that fate.
"We're going to be here a long time," he said. "It'll be the last one for me."
The club leases three acres of Kansas River bottom land from Darrel Zimmerman. He allows the members to fly over the 40 acres of soybean field that border the site.
That offers excellent sight lines for creative fun. Soon after Wells got his plane in the air, Mark Smith loaded a roll of toilet paper in the fuselage of his larger plane. After remote piloting the plane to perhaps 300 feet, Smith banked his plane to the left, dropping the paper for Wells to slice into smaller streamers.
The boys-at-play atmosphere was at odds with the age of the club members present. Tuttle said those able to attend the club's weekday outings were his fellow "gray hairs." Wells, a law enforcement supervisor for the city of Lenexa, was an exception. His schedule allowed him to take Fridays off, he said.
The hobby filled a void for the older members, Tuttle said.
"My wife's my best friend, and since my retirement we've shared a lot of wonderful time together," he said. "But I found I missed the company of men. This hobby gives me that."
The camaraderie and good spirits wasn't diminished by the occasional accident, such as the one Phil Abbadessa's plane experienced when it cartwheeled on a landing attempt.
Wrecks were just part of the hobby, club members said.
Some repairs can be made on the spot and are even anticipated. That was true of Abbadessa's plane, which the Lenexa man quickly made air worthy with the replacement of made-to-shear nylon bolts to reattach the landing gear.
More expensive repairs won't ruin the day's flying for most members, all of whom showed up with multiple airplanes, some carted about in modified trailers.
Building and repairing the planes required a commitment, Tuttle said, but it was part of the hobby that made it more interesting.
"For every hour we fly we spend four at the workbench," he said. "You better know how to solder and something about electronics."
There were many interests to explore, Wells said, but for him the joy of flying was paramount.
"For me, it's kind of a hobby and sport and kind of an artistic outlet -- being able to carve up the sky," he said.