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
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
All content © 1998 The Kansas City Star
News at a