It Was Hard to Sell My Radio Controlled Airplanes


I started to purchase my first radio controlled airplane in 2003. The Avistar 40 trainer was on layaway at a local hobbyshop. It was just about paid in full when we bought a house that needed a lot of work. I turned in the plane receipts, took the cash, and bought power tools for the remodeling project.

In 2007, I put an Avistar 40 on layaway again. This time I completed the purchase and took the plane home. I followed the instructions, built the “ARF” (Almost Ready to Fly) airplane, and admired how great it looked.

I had everything I needed to be a RC (Radio Control) pilot but I didn’t know how to fly the plane. I understood the physics of flying. I started taking flying lessons in a Cessna 150 many years ago. But I knew flying the plane from inside would be very different from standing on the ground while controlling the plane in the air.

I took the plane to the back yard for the first fire-up. I turned on the transmitter, flipped the switch on the airplane, attached the glowplug igniter, primed the carburetor, held the torque starter against the propeller spinner and pushed the button. To my great surprise, the engine started immediately. I carefully removed the igniter and adjusted the throttle on the radio.

The plane was tied to the ground with a rope and a tent stake. It wasn’t going anywhere, but it really wanted to. I slowed the engine to an idle and took off the leash. I stood back and moved the throttle up slightly and the plane started to roll. Before long, I had it racing across the lawn back and forth. Several times it almost lifted from the ground and I was tempted to let it. It would have ended up in a crushed heap, for sure.

We moved in 2008. Our new home put us within fifteen miles of learning how to fly my plane. I joined a radio control flying club. To be admitted as a member, I first had to join the Academy of Model Aeronautics. I received an official membership card, an AMA decal which I promptly stuck on my field box, liability insurance, and a magazine subscription.

On a warm day with a bright clear sky, I met my flying instructor at the club field.

“Do you know anything about airplanes?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, feeling like I was starting at a superior level. “Several years ago I took some flying lessons, although I didn’t…”

“Forget all of it,” he interrupted. “It won’t help you. You’re going to fly the plane while watching it. When it’s flying away from you, all the controls work normally. When it’s coming toward you everything is backwards. Right is left, left is right.”

I was confused and starting to wonder if my new friend was going to drill me into the ground before I was able to actually fly my plane.

He looked my plane over and complimented me on the construction. He taught me how to start the engine safely, stressing the importance of staying behind the spinning prop once the engine started. He adjusted the carburetor needle until the engine sounded like it would take off by itself.

He had already connected my radio transmitter to a “buddy box”, containing controls without a transmitter, by a long cord. He took my radio, I held the box. The instructor taxied my plane to the runway. He pressed the throttle forward and the plane sped down the runway, straight as an arrow. It lifted off smoothly and floated upward.

I watched as he flew the plane in a huge circle, back and forth, right, left, up, down, around and back down to the runway where he landed it perfectly.

“Ok, now it’s your turn,” he said. Again he headed the plane down the runway and up into the air. This time he added a lot of altitude and it was soon evident why.

“When I let go of this button, you will have control of the plane. If you get in trouble, I’ll push the button and take control again. Remember, a little is a lot. No quick movements. Slow and small on the sticks. The left stick is throttle and rudder. The right stick is elevator and ailerons. Here you go.”

My insides felt like they would shake loose from my body. I moved the sticks slightly and the plane almost turned upside down then jolted to the right. “I have the plane” the instructor said. Immediately the plane leveled out and continued in controlled, beautiful flight.

“You have the plane.” Wings waved. The plane shot up, then down rapidly, right, left, and almost rolled.

“Slow sticks! Very small!” he said loudly.

I felt like a little kid who had just been caught stealing.

“Ok,” I said. To my great delight, the plane continued flying. It looked sort of level. It flew kind of straight.

“Now gently push the right stick to the left just a little,” he said.

I did. The plane took a wide turn.

“Ok, straighten it out.”

I did.

“Ok, now another left, and bring it back toward the runway,” he said. “Be sure not to push the stick forward while you’re turning. Try to keep the plane level in the turn.”

I did, and it did. I completed an entire circle without the instructor taking control. After another circle he landed the plane. I loved it!

Over the next several weeks I practiced with the buddy box. I flew figure-eights, circles, slow, fast, high, and low. I flew approaches to the runway, dropped to eye level, then lifted away again.

Another instructor decided it was time to let me land the plane. It was everything I could do to keep my hands from shaking the plane out of the air. As gently as I could, I brought the plane around and headed for the runway. A light right on the stick moved the plane to my left. Lower. Slower. Dropping. I pulled back slightly on the right stick, lifting the nose just a bit. The plane floated down, touching the ground gently and rolling to a stop.

“Well done! Well done!” my instructor said. I completed several more takeoffs and landings. “I think he’s ready, guys! I think it’s time!” he said.

The instructor pulled the plug and handed my radio to me. I taxied the plane to the end of the runway, turned it around and gave it full throttle. I gently pulled back on the right stick, raising the elevator, and the airplane lifted off the ground. I flew the plane around the pattern, did a figure-eight, brought the plane back and landed. I had graduated. I was a full pilot of my RC airplane.

Sooner or later, every RC pilot is going to experience the heartbreak of his or her airplane meeting the ground. My Avistar 40 got acquainted with gravity and dirt a few times.

My first crash came on a morning after I had taken several perfect flights. I was going to quit but decided to take the plane up one more time. I don’t know if a gust of wind hit the plane or if my hand jerked, but the plane quickly lifted off the ground and cartwheeled, completely breaking the tail from the fuselage. I carefully made repairs and the plane flew again.

After a minor mishap requiring more repairs, the plane crashed resulting in the condition in the photo. It took two days of searching at the field to find all of it. It took me a month to put the plane back together. I glued pieces, some tiny, some large, back together. I reapplied much of the adhesive covering to the plane. Finally, it was ready to fly again, and fly it did. I flew it upside down, loops, rolls, high, low, and many happy landings.

I decided to add another plane to my fleet. The Escapade 61 is a pretty fast airplane, much larger than my Avistar. As with my first plane, this was an ARF. It didn’t take long to prepare it for flight.

The Escapade flew beautifully. The sound was amazing and it was easy to fly. It was powerful. It landed fast but smoothly and ran the length of the runway. Even this lovely plane met a problem. I folded the landing gear under on a tough landing. Simple repairs made the gear stronger. I was ready to fly again.

I struggled with what I assumed was carpal tunnel syndrome for many years. Three EMGs (Electromyography) over the years proved my condition was something different. I was finally diagnosed with essential tremors. I tried the drugs prescribed by my neurologists, some with worse possible side effects than the condition.

With my primary care physician, I decided to stop taking the medications. I am left handed but it became impossible to write. I taught myself to write with my right hand. I shave with my right hand. Easy things like putting a key in locked door are a challenge.

The condition made it impossible for me to fly. Rather than taking a chance on completely destroying the planes in an essential tremor disaster, I decided to sell them. A buyer who has two young boys contacted me. He took the planes home last week.

I hope the Avistar 40 and the Escapade 61 have many successful flights and the new pilots enjoy them as much as I did.

Giving Thanks – Day 13

I’m thankful for hobbies. Anyone who follows “A Coffee State of Mind” knows my main hobby is model railroading. I’ve written about it many times. I started with HO trains when I was fifteen. For Christmas that year I received a small “HO train set” that included an engine that didn’t run right, five cars, and a circle of 18″ radius track. I was as excited as any kid getting a train set could be. I was determined to build a railroad empire, which I did, at least in my own mind. In the early days, my layout was on top of a ping-pong table. At a local hobby shop, I traded my ill-running Santa Fe F7 engine for a metal 2-6-0 switch engine. My first steam locomotive! It was small but I loved it. I bought more track until I finally had a large oval. I added a few turnouts and soon had a “layout” that included a twice-around to complete the circuit.

The next year, I purchased a Baldwin Class Berkshire 2-8-4 locomotive. This is the same type of locomotive depicted in “The Polar Express” movie. By the way, if you’ve never been to the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan, you really owe it to yourself to go see the beautiful, operating Berkshire 1225. There is just no way to adequately describe the experience of watching this incredible locomotive thunder past with smoke and steam exploding into the sky! This amazing locomotive saw many years of operation throughout Michigan as part of the Pere Marquette Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad before diesel engines took the place of steam across the country.

A lucky break for the retired 1225 took place when it became part of the steam restoration project at Michigan State University. After many years of stop-and-start activity on the engine, it finally found a home at the institute in Owosso. For many years, the mighty engine has been pulling restored passenger cars full of steam railroading fans on The Polar Express Train, as well as steaming across the state on various excursions. We have ridden the Christmas train a couple of times, it’s a wonderful experience. Arguably, the biggest break for the 1225 came when Warner Brothers made audio recordings of the locomotive under full steam for the sound track of the movie, “The Polar Express.”

I’ve had other hobbies, a few didn’t last longer than a few weeks. For example, my grandmother taught me how to knit and crochet. I had my own knitting bag with yarn, needles, and a jar of crochet hooks. I never made anything but long ropes.

Baking could be described as a hobby, I guess. I’ve been baking since I was ten years old.

Is writing a hobby? I don’t think of it that way. I’ve been writing seriously for almost thirty years. I have actually made money writing. For two years, I had a weekly column in a newspaper with a circulation of 50,000. That was fun. For several years, I wrote curricula for church publications distributed throughout the country. I’ve written four books, “The Good, The Bad, and The Funny,” “Camp’s Over, Now What?” “One Plus One Equals Three,” and my first middle-grade novel, “Smivvy Stepward In Love and Other Misery.” Nope, none of them are available on Amazon…yet.

Another hobby I have, or had, was flying radio-controlled airplanes. I really enjoyed that! I have one plane that crashed three times (twice by me, once by someone else) and I rebuilt it each time. It looks a little rough but still flies great. The problem now is my hands. A condition called Essential Tremors has made it almost impossible for me to fly. RC airplanes don’t respond well to shaking hands. Bummer.

What are your hobbies? How often do you work on your hobby?

I’m sure there is lots of research about hobbies somewhere. I think we naturally drift toward things that work for us. I’ve always liked trains and planes.

I think maybe I’ll write a post about why those of us who write write. It’s probably the same kind of thing as building a model railroad layout. Why would anyone do that?

Whatever your hobby is, or hobbies are, whether painting, sewing, building, growing flowers, planting shrubs, feeding birds, watching animals, taking pictures, traveling, restoring old cars, driving new cars, quilting, clipping coupons, spending money, riding the rails, flying, playing video games, designing video games, watching others play video games, wondering how to play video games, playing solitaire, playing poker, watching soap operas, amateur radio, dressing up, antiquing, wondering why people like antiques, writing, drawing, doodling, wine tasting, exterior illumination, beer sampling, beer brewing, interior illumination, reading, listening to audio books because you don’t like reading, Legos, Lincoln Logs, watching cartoons, singing, writing music, playing instruments you don’t know how to play, imagining playing an instrument well, pretending, acting, walking, running, standing, sitting, watching TV, binge-watching Netflix, watching and re-watching every episode of Friends, shopping and returning what you bought, or playing trains, if you love it, do it with all your heart and let your hobby be to you what it’s meant to be.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 15

This is just what the quiet little tourist town of Maple Valley needed. First, Sylvia Meisner disappears without a trace. Folks here are still in stir about it. Sheriff Pete Terkinberry is almost at his wits end, not to mention he’s still healing from a bad fall in Sylvia’s basement. There have been rumblings of replacing the sheriff with someone who can solve the case. I don’t know what else could be done at this point. There is no evidence leading anywhere!

Next, there was the effort to delay the start of tourist season which almost caused an uprising. Then it was discovered Randy Herbahl forgot to invite Buck Wills and the Wagoneers to the Founders Day Celebration. Lucky for Randy, the group was still able to come. I’m quite sure he would have been run out of town if the Happy Harmonettes became the entertainment for the event because of his mistake.

Now it seems we have another emergency.

Maple Valley folks were shocked this morning to discover a huge flying ship had landed over Wittington. The circumstances are similar to Sylvia’s disappearance, and they are equally disturbing. No one heard the ship land. No one knows where it came from. Folks were not even sure what it was until someone climbed up on the Maple Valley River Trestle and took a picture of it. It does indeed appear to be a flying ship of some kind.

The Maple Valley Council is in an uproar because Mayor Thrashborn activated the Gulliver Emergency Response Team without their approval. This is just not done in Maple Valley. No other mayor in the history of Maple Valley has dared to activate the emergency response team without council approval. There will definitely be an investigation after the emergency has been resolved.

The response team, which consists of several residents of Maple Valley, made its way to the site where the craft landed. So far, the team has done nothing except stand and watch. There does not appear to be any danger at this time.

For now, the emergency response team will keep a close eye on the craft and report back to Mayor Thrashborn. The only comment made by anyone on the team is that the being inside the craft appears to be humanoid, and is rather good looking. “If he were the same size as other folks in Maple Valley, he might even be one of us” someone was heard to say.

My suspicion is a simple explanation will be discovered. Unlike the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner, this craft is tangible. It has shape and size. It appears to be somewhat familiar, even inviting. The very troubling thing at this point, is the craft is blocking the railroad lines. Freight and passengers will not be able to move until the craft is either moved, or leaves of its own accord, which is rather frightening. No contact has been made with the being in the craft. Although the being has a humanoid appearance, there is no indication of an attempt to communicate.

This episode could also have been titled, “This is What Happens When You Have One Too Many Hobbies.”