07/15/07 — Model plane school draws all ages

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Model plane school draws all ages

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 15, 2007 2:00 AM

It used to be that building a model airplane meant opening a box and watching thousands of miniature pieces fall out. Completing the creation required a little tube of glue and hours of patience.

Jimmy Pernell, president of Wayne Miniature Aeronautics, says the passage of time has changed the sport.

"Used to, years ago, you had to scratch-build them. Now they come ready to fly," he said.

On Saturday, Pernell's club sponsored its first "ground school" at Glenn's Hobby Corner in Rosewood. It drew 35 participants ranging from 7 years old up to age 81.

Last month, the local group was named one of 50 "Takeoff and Grow" clubs in the nation by the Academy of Model Aeronautics. They were sent two planes, two simulators and two "buddy boxes," -- "everything to teach someone how to fly" a radio-controlled airplane, Pernell said.

After an hour of classroom instruction, students took turns on a computer simulating flying different aircraft. They were served lunch and then taken to a nearby field to fly a plane with assistance from the veteran club members.

Purpose of the pilot project, said organizer Fred Lomax, "was to expose more people to modeling and aviation and increase our membership.

"It's a great program. It really broadens these children's horizons. Most adults don't have that experience."

As 11-year-old Ben Raposa navigated a blimp across the computer screen, mother Cheryl said he had some experience already at home.

"He flies computer games with a joystick," she said.

"But it's not as good," Ben noted. "This is fun. It's definitely better than what I have at home."

DeAndre Pope, 10, came because he likes "remote control stuff," but admitted it was harder than it first appeared.

"After I learned how to do it, it was easy," he said.

Lomax said the simulator offered many different models to choose from -- airplanes, helicopters, blimps, electric airplanes, gasoline-powered and nitro-powered airplanes.

But for Cheryl Alston, the opportunities went much further. She had brought several students from "Castles," an after-school program at Dillard Academy.

"The children need experiences, new ones. They will forever remember, and who knows, this might be the next astronaut," she said, gesturing to one of her charges. "That one might be the next pilot. But all those experiences add up to foster self-esteem, career goal-setting."

As the students arrived, Ms. Alston said, it became obvious that attending had been the right choice.

"It was one of those 'aha moments' of teaching -- when the lights go on," she said. And a chance to expand their horizons, whether it be through an interest in flying or in other hobbies, she added.

Pernell said he was pleased with the turnout for the first-time event. Three people joined the club. Pernell said he had hoped to boost its membership.

He and Lomax hope others might also gain an interest in the sport.

"It's such a diverse group of people, any age can do this," Pernell said. "There are 10-year-olds that can play like you wouldn't believe."

This Saturday, the public will have a chance to learn more about the hobby when the 17th annual Big Bird Fly-In will be held at the airfield near O'Berry Center. Pilots from various areas will be operating giant radio-controlled planes from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. And midday, there will be helicopter demonstrations. Admission is free. For information, call Lomax at 736-2116.