Those daring young men and their flying machines have taken to the skies over Lexington, but the planes are about the size of a desktop and the pilots – men and women, young and old – are firmly ensconced on the ground, radio controllers in hand. These are members of LARKS, Lexington Radio Controlled Flyers, and they take the hobby of model airplanes to an entirely new level.
LARKS member Dr. Matt “Doc” Miller was a late convert from a more expensive hobby — playing and collecting guitars. “I’d seen my dad go to flying sessions,” he says. “He had all gasoline-powered planes and every time he would come home it would take two hours to clean up his equipment. But then one time when I went to visit him in Florida, we saw some people using planes that flew on batteries, so I finally went with him to fly.”
About two years ago, Doc bought his first plane that charges from a charging pack on the ground before it takes off for the sky. That was 24 months and 37 — yes 37 — planes ago! Not that anybody is counting — okay, Doc is counting — but he has one of the greatest number of planes in the entire LARKS membership. “Most people have about 10 planes, but naturally I had to have more planes than a human being should have,” he says. He can be a tad bit competitive.
The great thing about LARKS is that anybody can join. Itsyoungest member is around 12 years old, and its oldest member, Bob Hannon, is 84 and an honorary life member. RC flying is not expensive, at least comparable to other hobbies. “For about $100 to $150, you can get a plane that will fly and get you started. My most expensive plane cost about $300,” he says. Then again, he is a collector, and he likes to accumulate unique planes, some custom designed, that you can’t walk into a hobby shop and buy. Once you’re into it, like any other hobby as far as expense is concerned, “The sky’s the limit,” Doc says. No pun intended, he says, but we beg to differ.
Every Saturday that he’s able, Doc is out at the field flying. He’s one of the “early boys.” “About seven or eight other guys and I get there at sun up. We fly until the ‘gasser’ guys show up around noon.” He calls some of the older guys “gassers” because they still fly those gasoline-powered contraptions, but the good-humored Doc has an answer for that. He’s having t-shirts printed with the words, “I fly electric because I don’t want my plane to sound like a weedeater.” Did we mention he’s a tad bit competitive?
Besides the philosophical t-shirt, Doc also says the group has another saying: “If you’re afraid you’re going to crash, don’t fly.” Everyone eventually crashes, some more than others. That’s why any number of LARKS members can help repair broken planes. They are a family and their saying is as much a metaphor for life as it is a catchy phrase.
One member who is not likely to crash is Charles Youngblood, past president of the LARKS and an RC pilot with more than two decades’ experience. Charles always had a love of flying but the cost of taking flying lessons was prohibitive. By chance he saw a magazine article about RC planes and looked into it. He was hooked.
Charles has a specialized skill: acrobatic flying. “It’s tailored after full scale flying. The same rules and regulations apply for making the planes fly in precise directions and execute precise maneuvers, with a few exceptions.” Charles’s wife is an acrobatic flying judge and head score keeper. It was not his wife but his skill that made him the Sportsman regional champion. At the yearly regional competition, the top 10 pilots from each class are invited to compete against each other. And Charles outmaneuvered everyone in his class to become the 2010 Regional Sportsman winner. He was even a featured attraction at one of the Monster Jam truck shows at The Colonial Life Arena.
We learned that getting into the hobby isn’t expensive, but what are the chances that a new pilot is not going to nose dive his hundred-dollar plane into the ground and break it? Charles says that LARKS has a way around that. “The first few times you come out to the field, you’ll have an instructor. We have a way to ‘buddy-box’ the controllers together so at some point I can flip a switch and give you control.” Charles says it takes an adult about four or five times to master takeoff and landing. “But the kids,” he says, “they get it probably the first or second time.”
Many groups organized around hobbies provide excellent opportunities for food and fellowship, and LARKS is no exception. Tuesday night is instructional flying night and somewhere amidst the buzz of the aircraft, somebody breaks out a grill, burgers and hot dogs.
The camaraderie is the most appealing thing about LARKS to its current president, Paul Bass. “I just enjoy everybody’s company,” he says. “A guy has to sit down and gab somewhere. I’m not from here, so I don’t have family nearby. These guys are like my family away from family.”
Every group needs a leader, someone to set policy, determine direction and set the rules, and by all accounts Paul makes a good one. But he’s humble about it. “Our membership decides what happens in the group.” He finds leadership among his close friends an easy task. “Everything we do is decided by vote.”
For more information on LARKS or for information on how to get started on RC flying, log on to www.larksrc.com.
Eye in the Sky
Radio controlled aircraft are not just for hobbyists.
This technology is helping to combat crime without endangering law enforcement officers.
On March 22, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott unveiled the newest addition to his department’s arsenal in making our communities safer – A.I.R.: Aerial Intelligence and Response. Radio controlled technology makes intelligence gathering, surveillance, search and rescue or special responses to critical incidents much easier.
Sheriff Lott demonstrated the new technology that will be used to capture criminals, gather intelligence and search for missing persons or suspects, among many other uses. What makes it such a valuable tool is the powerful camera mounted under the helicopter carriage. Officers viewing monitors get to see whatever the camera sees, though it may be behind a building, over a fence or in the bushes several yards from where they are. The sheriff says, “Radio controlled technology has become more trustworthy, more reliable and less expensive, and it allows for rapid deployment of an asset that will save time, money and lives. This new equipment gives the department an edge in the fight against crime.” More importantly it can identify dangers in the community without putting human beings at risk.
Deputy Marcus Kim, a former international consultant to RC manufacturers and professional RC helicopter pilot for 13 years, is spearheading the program for the department. Marcus will work closely with the Special Response Team and Criminal Investigations Division utilizing this technology.