South Charlotte

For this group, flying radio-controlled planes is grounded in fellowship

The Charlotte Aeromodelers Club is a group of about 135 radio-controlled airplane enthusiasts who meet every weekend, and many weekdays, to fly model planes.

Members, from all around the Charlotte region, bring their planes to the McCracken Aerodome, near the intersection of N.C. 218 and N.C. 200, in Union County. The club has leased five acres of Louann McCracken’s 73-acre family farm. Ducks swim and cows wade in the pond while radio-controlled planes fly nearby. The planes – powered by gas, nitro fuel, or electricity – don’t make much noise and the cows don’t seem to mind.

The club has built a runway with five platforms or pilot stations, a covered shelter with rocking chairs for spectators, a gravel parking lot, and a weather station where pilots can monitor atmospheric conditions. They also hold monthly meetings the first Tuesday of each month to discuss club business and upcoming events.

Club president John Davis said flying RC planes is a hobby that can be enjoyed by all ages. Members in the club range in age from 7 to 80-plus.

“Half of our members are between the ages of 19 and 64. Thirty percent are over 65 and twenty percent are junior members, under 18. We’ve got kids as young as 7 that can fly as well as an adult,” Davis said.

The hobby is a combination of building planes, honing flying skills, enjoying the outdoors and making new friends.

Club treasurer Dave Werts, a five-year veteran of RC flying, puts the emphasis on fellowship.

“It really is a lot of fun to be out here. I’d say for most of us, it’s about half flying and half social,” Werts said.

Each member has a story to tell.

Dave Windt turned to radio-controlled planes several years ago when he was no longer able to ride a motorcycle.

“I wrecked my Harley a few years ago and hurt my back. I met a guy with a drone and got into that for a while, but when I went to a big meet and saw radio control planes, I got hooked,” Windt said.

“Now I’ve got a trailer full of planes. It’s great fun and I’ve met lots of people. I have friends from all over the country that I’ve met at fly-ins.”

Since Windt comes from a Harley background, he’s especially attuned to engine sounds. He’s even equipped one of his planes with a digital recording of a T-28 and broadcasts the recorded engine noise during take off, flight and landing.

Benton Griffin started flying with his dad, Todd. Benton, now 15, started flying at age two and soloed at age four. He says he took a couple years off, but has been flying actively since he was eight years old.

The Union Academy sophomore is sponsored by Twisted Hobbies, an online company that sells radio-controlled planes and parts. Todd Griffin said Twisted Hobbies recognized Benton’s talent based on the relentless questions the boy posed. Benton said he doesn’t know how many planes he has.

“I don’t know, but we keep them all in our garage. There’s no cars in there, just planes,” Benton said.

His interest in aeronautics stretches well beyond model planes. He recently soloed on a glider at Bermuda High Soaring in Jefferson, S.C., and hopes to pilot a full scale planes as a career.

Russ Stiles, also a radio-controlled plane pilot, combines his love of history with his love of planes as he creates a new model. He researches the history behind the plane and its pilot, and builds and labels it as historically accurately as possible. His current favorite is a World War I fighter plane built by the Nieuport Company that he’s modeled after fighting ace Eddie Rickenbacker.

“I’ve always loved airplanes and have been building them since I was eight years old. These planes are within my budget – real planes are not. And they are an interesting link to the history of the past century,” Stiles said.

Eighty-five year old Ed Apolinar started building rubber band powered planes in 1935.

“The kits were only 10 cents. I built models up until about 1951 when I met my wife. I was drafted in the Army, went to school, started work and had kids, I didn’t have time to fly. But I got back into it in 1986 and still fly a couple times each week depending on the weather,” Apolinar said.

Club members don’t fly just for themselves. They also raise funds at several events throughout the year for local charities.

They’ve given over $5,500 to the Wounded Warriors Project and, on Aug. 13, will host a fly-in with proceeds designated for Disabled American Veterans. They’ve also given to other nonprofits as well.

“Part of our mission is to support our community. It’s a great way to help others and have fun at the same time,” Davis said.

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer:

Want to join?

Club president John Davis said the group is always open to new members. Go online to: Chapter dues are $150-$180 a year. Membership is free for those younger than 19 and older than 80. For insurance reasons, you also must be a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics,