Model planes a fun hobby for 'kids' of all ages

Monday, December 5, 2011
Members of the SEMO Modelers Association pose with their airplanes. From left, front row: Arnold Simmons, John Brown, Abby Chrusciel, Nolan Chrusciel; back row: Brian Seyer, Kenny New, Jim Wunderlich, Tanner Smith (Fred Lynch)

Model airplanes aren't just for kids. In the Southeast Missouri Modelers Association, small-scale pilots of all ages gather to fly planes big and small, and to teach the trade to others.

"I joke about it, but it's true -- we have kids in there from age 8 to 80. We're all interested in some aspect of aviation, whether it's helicopters, small or large planes, electric or fuel-powered," says Doug Leslie, who's been building and flying model planes since the early 1990s. Three years ago, he retired from his post as Cape Girardeau's city manager and opened Tailwinds RC Hobby Center on South Plaza Way, where he enjoys living his hobby and meeting other model enthusiasts. Leslie, a licensed pilot since 1972, still flies full-scale planes recreationally, but says there are perks to flying model planes.

"Radio control lets you do a lot more than you can on a full-scale plane," he says, adding, "It's a hobby that you can do all your life. It's something you can find a lot of different interests in -- building, flying or both. A lot of folks like the technology of it. You can get creative with your planes."

Leslie learned to build and fly planes from fellow Modelers Association member Herb Prater of Thebes, Ill. Prater took up model planes 25 years ago after he and his wife Francis went to an air show and watched people flying model planes.

"She told me, you need to do that. So I learned, and then I learned her," says Prater. The couple flew together until she passed away three years ago. At 81, Prater is one of the senior members of the association, and he still has a blast flying with others and teaching new members how to build and fly.

"I enjoy the building of model airplanes, and I like flying, period," says Prater. "I like the people associated with it. I enjoy the company of other people who do the hobby. They come from all walks of life -- doctors, lawyers, retired people, farmers -- you name it. You'll find everybody here."

The Southeast Missouri Modelers Association, affiliated with the Academy of Model Aeronautics, formed about 30 years ago with only eight members. It's grown to include about 81 members who can be found flying just about every day at the Galaxy Park Model Airfield north of Cape Girardeau. The association is responsible for maintenance of the 86-acre park, and they also participate in local competitions and charity events. The association meets each month at the Cape Girardeau Public Library to discuss club business as well as what's going on with their own plane projects. Brian Seyer, a Fruitland resident and president of the Modelers Association, says this camaraderie is a major part of the club.

"We all work together to solve problems with our planes," he says. "No one wants the frustration of working hard to build a plane, then crashing and destroying it." Seyer, an electrician at Procter & Gamble who's been building and flying planes since he was 14, has the experience and insight to share with his fellow model builders. He's even teaching his 7-year-old son to build and fly model planes.

And with the ever-changing technology of model planes, there's always plenty to discuss at Modelers Association meetings.

"I got started when I was a kid with rubber band airplanes," says Prater. "I didn't have a radio controller or anything. I couldn't afford it, in the first place." Today, hobbyists can purchase model plane kits in varying levels of completion, depending on whether they want to build the entire plane or simply install the electronic gear and radio transmitter and head to the airfield.

"Some buy them already built, some build their own. Me, I prefer to build my own," says Prater. In fact, he once spent six months building a plane with a 9-foot wingspan, weighing 18 pounds and containing a 40cc gas engine. But, Prater isn't too picky when it comes to building model aircrafts.

"I just love anything that flies," he says.

Still, building a model plane is a challenge for hobbyists of all levels. When a plane hits the air, the sense of accomplishment can't be beat, says Seyer.

"I like to see if it actually flies, and flies well, after the months of hard labor I've put into the plane," he says.

For more information about the Modelers Association, visit the group's website at www.semmarc.org, watch the model pilots at Galaxy Park or stop by Tailwinds to chat with Doug Leslie. No experience is needed, says Seyer -- club members teach the newbies everything they need to know.

"It doesn't have to be a really expensive hobby," adds Leslie. "Airplanes are something you can do all your life. There's not a lot of physical ability required. It's a hobby everyone can enjoy."

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