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It's a big show for little planes

Remote-controlled model aircraft will take to the skies over Spring Hill on Saturday.

By LOGAN NEILL
Published March 30, 2007


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In his 27 years as a pilot in the Coast Guard, Don Bellis flew everything from small, lightweight trainers to huge, lumbering cargo planes. At the age of 74, the Hudson retiree still has skills in the skies.

But these days, Bellis gets his flying thrills with his feet planted firmly on the ground.

Although he has been collecting and flying radio-controlled model airplanes for only about six years, Bellis can attest to the deep infatuation that most hobbyists have for the activity.

"Once you get started with it, you're hooked," he said. "There are guys in our club that are gone nearly every weekend to some event or another. That's how much they love it."

The club that Bellis speaks of is the Hernando Aero Modelers, of which he is president. On Saturday, members will gather at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation to show off their big-boy toys at the club's annual air show.

Throughout the day the sky will be filled with everything from replicas of legendary war birds such as P-51 Mustangs, P-38 Lightnings and B-17 bombers to modern passenger planes, jet fighters and helicopters.

Although radio-controlled model aircraft have been around since the early 1930s, the explosion in the hobby market began with the introduction of lightweight servo motors during the late 1950s. These days, small computer modules and microcircuitry enable pilot operators to imitate the exact maneuvers of full-sized aircraft.

And though some serious hobbyists may invest thousands of dollars in their aircraft models, Bellis insists that plenty of fun can be had with even a modest budget.

"One of the things we try to do at our air shows is to show people how simple and inexpensive it can be," Bellis said. "There are plenty of models out there that can be bought for under $100. All you need is a basic controller and you're set."

While most modeling enthusiasts favor single-engine aircraft, a growing number of experienced hobbyists enjoy the challenge of flying multiengine planes.

Bellis, who flies a single-engine Piper Cub model built of balsa wood, recently embarked on the construction of a four-engine Hercules C-130 cargo plane like the one he flew in the Coast Guard.

When finished, the model will have a wingspan of just over 8 feet.

"It's a big step up for me," he said. "It's proof that the older you get, the bigger the toys you own."

With about 150 current members, the Hernando Aero Modelers is about double the size it was just three years ago. Jim Anderson, who has been flying model airplanes since he was a boy, said the hobby has attracted a number of younger pilots in recent years.

He believes it's a natural attraction to a generation of children who have grown up with joysticks in their hands.

"We have one young man who is about 11, who can outfly just about anyone in the club," Anderson said. "Whenever his plane is up in the air we all just stop and watch."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

If you go

Look, up in the sky

What: the Hernando Aero Modelers annual air show.

When: From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Sand Hill Scout Reservation on State Road 50 in Spring Hill.

[Last modified March 29, 2007, 23:49:11]


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