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Pilots fly by remote

June 20, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN -- Six jets flared from a clearing high into the sky above a cornfield.

They whined full throttle into the sky, gaining as much altitude as possible for 30 seconds.

Then, they cut their engines.

Thousands of feet below stood remote control airplane enthusiasts maneuvering the aircraft across the sky, vying to see whose model would remain in the air the longest. One by one, they descended. After about two minutes floating, the last plane touched down.

The pilots of the aircraft -- which are referred to as RC models -- were testing their aeronautical mettle in a contest called "all-up-last-down" Saturday at the Pegasus Radio Control Airplane Club's Fun Fly on Old Forge Road outside of Hagerstown.

John Moore, a member of the Pegasus Club, said about 20 competitors participated. The event consisted of demonstrations and a series of amusing challenges.

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Take, for example, the "egg drop" challenge, in which competitors used rubber bands to fasten a Styrofoam cup containing an egg to their planes. The pilots sent their models into flight, then attempted to deposit the eggs in the center of a bull's-eye situated on the field.

"We like to try pretty much anything we can imagine," said Moore, 44, of Hagerstown. "Rubber bands are our friends."

"Aircraft limbo" and "balloon break" are other favorite contests.

Mark Gaylor of Boonsboro participated in the Fun Fly. He owns Nexgen Hobby in Funkstown, a shop that sells remote-control models. Gaylor said the average wingspan of model planes used in the contests is about 4 feet.

At times, the planes ascended beyond the clouds. Moore said he has put altimeters in his planes to see just how high they fly.

"They've reached over 4,400 feet," he said.

"You'll lose sight (of the planes) before you will lose control of them," Gaylor said. "The radios are really good."

Gaylor said the planes can travel at rates of "anything from a little putter" to 200 mph, and do all kinds of aerobatics.

Contest director Doug Harnish said the Pegasus Club began as an offshoot of Fairchild Aircraft, the Hagerstown manufacturing company dating to 1931. Harnish said some Fairchild employees started the club during the 1950s as a result of their interest in aviation.

"It was a creative exercise. They built airplanes for a living, and model building was part of their process. They worked at it and played at it," Harnish said. "A lot of innovative ideas have happened in aviation from the building of models."

Of course, innovation is not always smooth sailing. During one challenge, a competitor lost control of his plane. It crashed into a chain-link fence and smashed into two pieces.

Military pilots Emerito Guzman, 54, of Puerto Rico, and Lynn Adams, 51, of Utah, attended the event as spectators. The pilots said they temporarily are in the Hagerstown area on assignment. Both have operated RC models in the past and said they can be challenging to maneuver.

"When the planes are pointed toward you, your direction gets reversed," Adams said.

"In a real plane, left is left and right is right," Guzman said. "It is tougher to fly these than a real airplane."

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