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HOUR STORY: Those magnificent men and their flying machines

HOUR STORY: Those magnificent men and their flying machines

Radio-control flying extravaganza at Buder Park promotes hobby

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The figure hovered in the air against a strong breeze. At first glance, it was easy to doubt your eyes, but, sure enough, it was Superman!

At least, it was a 3-foot model aircraft shaped like the Man from Krypton. The motor was camouflaged as Superman's head. His feet were the flaps and the rest was decked out in blue and red with a flowing cape.

Affton resident Kerry Eisenbach carefully controlled the model by remote control, moving it in circles, then brought it safely down to earth.

"People love it," Eisenbach, 56, said with a laugh. "You can make anything fictional fly if you want to."

Superman was just one of dozens of model aircraft that flew Saturday as part of the Radio Control Fun Fly Extravaganza at St. Louis County's Buder Park, Interstate 44 and Highway 141, The annual event was hosted Friday and Saturday by the Greater St. Louis Modelers Association to promote radio-controlled model flying.

Eisenbach's Superman model was the most unusual. He and 16 other pilots also flew more traditional model airplanes and helicopters. Many of the models were based on fighter airplanes from World War II with an occasional World War I biplane thrown into the mix.

The models took off and landed at Buder Park Flying Field, which is complete with two 100-foot long runways. It is the only public flying field for model aircraft in Missouri.

The models came in all sizes. A helicopter was as small as a robin; a fighter plane was the size of a man. The engine noises ranged from a bumble bee drone to the roar of a chain saw. Prices can go as low as $50 and as high as $10,000.

South County residents Joe and Monica Zlatic with their children, George, 3, and Sophie, 1, walked out on the field, accompanied by instructor David McQuinn, 57, of Chesterfield.

The adults and even the children took a turn flying one of McQuinn's models using the Buddy Box System. McQuinn held the main remote-control device while the Zlatics used a smaller version. If one of them got into trouble, McQuinn could cut in and take over with the press of a button.

"OK, you've got it" McQuinn said to Joseph Zlatic. "Now, ease back. Keep your eye on the plane. Now, use your left hand. There you go. Pull back and you just did a loop."

McQuinn brought it in for a safe landing.

Joseph Zlatic walked off the field with a smile.

"I had a good time, but it's hard to get the hang of it," he said.

The association especially wants more young people to take up the sport. However, they are preoccupied with video games, McQuinn said.

Ironically, it's computer simulation that could help the sport. There are programs available in which a student can plug the remote-controlled device directly into the computer. They learn how to fly from the simulation.

"We've had a couple of young men come out after working on the computer and they did a great job right away," McQuinn said.

For him, it was a father-son bonding experience.

"I've been flying for 37 years now," he said. "My dad and I always shared an interest. I was never particularly athletic, but this was something I could master."

Eisenbach enjoys the shared camaraderie with the other pilots.

"We get together, look at each other's planes," he said. "It's fun. For a while, you can be like a little kid again."

Remote-control flying has a serious side.

The non-profit GSLMA is in charge of the Buder Park Flying Field under a St. Louis County mandate. The association provides pilots with permits to fly on the grounds. Flying without a permit is punishable with a $1,000 fine or a possible maximum sentence of one year in jail.

Fliers also must have insurance from the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the hobby's non-profit governing body with 170,000 members in 2,500 model clubs. The AMA annually sanctions more than 1,000 different competitions in the United States.

Safety is a big precaution because of the size and speed of some of the models. They could fly away from the grounds and hit buildings or cause traffic accidents.

That's why it's important for the pilots to keep their eyes on the planes at all times, McQuinn said.

"If you lose sight, it will crash," he said.

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