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Remote-controlled model airplanes roll in for annual event

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Remote-controlled model airplanes roll in for annual event


Sunday, August 29, 2010 By Shannon M. Nass, Special to the Post-Gazette


Nestled among the woods of South Park is a quiet stretch of land known as Jack Coates Memorial Field. Unlike other grassy patches in the park, this one has a landing strip down the center.


Most days the gates leading up to it are locked with access limited to day hikers and mountain bikers who traverse the trails that cross and surround it. However, on clear evenings the skies above thunder and the field is transformed into a museum display as models and renditions of war birds, jets and helicopters are scattered about awaiting their turn for glory in the sky.


The pilots of these planes are members of SPARKS (South Park Radio Kontrol Society), one of 131 Pennsylvania clubs chartered by the Academy of Model Aeronautics. The club boasts 50 members and is one of five located in the Pittsburgh metro area.


SPARKS members are currently practicing their takeoffs, landings, loops and rolls in anticipation of the 5th annual Big Sky Fly-In to be held Sept. 11-12 at 268 Sky Kings R/C Field in Kittanning. Flying begins at 10 a.m. each day and continues until after dark. This family-friendly event draws hundreds of pilots and spectators from all over Western Pennsylvania and is open to AMA members and guests.



Ed Andrews of Brookline with a plane he built from scratch. Ed's plane is also featured at the top.


"It's like a miniature air show," said SPARKS vice president Ed Andrews of Brookline. "Fly whatever you bring and show it off to the best of your ability. If you just fly it around in circles, that's good enough."


Andrews started flying model airplanes at the age of 6 and has been interested in aircraft ever since. He holds a pilot's license, but surprisingly prefers to fly model planes.


"I actually prefer the radio-controlled planes because of the camaraderie that you have here," he said. "With a big plane, you're by yourself and you're talking on the radio until you get to your destination. But here you're always around others."


Unlike other remote-control sports that draw fierce competition, one of the main attractions to model aircraft piloting is camaraderie. Most SPARKS members share an interest in aviation in general and fly their planes for the sheer fun of it, said Andrews. The wide variety of aircraft available to be piloted offers continuous challenges, making it nearly impossible to ever truly master the sport.


"It's so diverse and that's what draws me to it. As soon as I get pretty good at one particular facet of it, I can move on to the next phase and it's like starting over again," said Andrews.


This diversity carries over into the mixture of people attracted to the sport. While it is male dominated, women and children maintain a presence at the fields and are always welcomed and encouraged to participate.



Chris Stefano of Mt. Lebanon, with his electric motor plane, as part of SPARKS, or the South Park Radio Controlled Society.


The youngest member of SPARKS is 15-year-old Michael Camella of Baldwin, who began flying planes three years ago after attending an air show that was sponsored by the club. An airplane and military enthusiast, model airplane piloting appeals to Michael on many levels.


"I've been fascinated by flight since I was little, and it's amazing to think that man can fly. It's amazing what these things can do and I'm impressed by ... stories of pilots in war time. It's just incredible," Michael said.


Although relatively new to the sport, Camella is already proficient at piloting and has begun to delve into aerobatic maneuvers with his plane. This has sparked some interest in competitions, but for the most part, Camella says he flies simply because "it's a blast." As college looms ahead, said he's Camella considering expanding his interest in aviation into a career by either joining the military or pursing an education in robotics.


No matter where the sport leads him, adventure, challenges and a lifetime of learning are guaranteed as he continues to explore the many aspects of piloting. Like most model airplane enthusiasts, Camella started young and does not see his hobby as a passing phase. He echoes the sentiments of model airplane pilots everywhere when he says, "I'll be doing this for my entire life and it will last."



Images: Bill Wade/Post-Gazette



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