Pilots compete in model competition
Dan Banjock has a lot of experience in building and flying model airplanes. Of course, he has a lot of experience in wrecking them, too.
‘Twenty years I’ve been flying and I can’t even say how many times I’ve crashed,’ he said.
So when his model biplane, the Queen Bee, fell out of the sky during the recent Brodak Fly-In – a control-line model airplane competition in Carmichaels, Greene County – Banjock shrugged it off.
‘That’s a five-minute repair,’ he said.
In the world of model airplanes, crashes are as much a part of the hobby as assembly. While it’s expected that pilots will take a nose dive into the ground at some point, wrecking in front of a group of judges just isn’t the best time to do it.
And that’s one of the things the 109 competitors at the Brodak Fly-In were trying to avoid. Model builders gathered June 14-17 to talk control-line airplanes – a model airplane tethered to its pilot by cables – , compete in dogfights and stunt exhibitions and, sometimes, accidentally crash.
Once a year for the past five years, John Brodak, the competition’s organizer, has been inviting control-line model builders to test their skills in his back yard. It’s not just any back yard. The fly-in takes place in Brodak’s 322-acre back yard, where he has installed five concrete and asphalt runways for the pilots.
His competition is one of the most well-known and most well-attended in the country, according to Bob Hunt, editor of the magazine Model Aviation and former fly-in contest director.
This year, it drew pilots from 22 states, plus England and Russia, in Brodak’s biggest turnout yet.
Brodak, who owns a company that sells model airplanes kits and supplies, said he started the competition to rekindle interest in the hobby – Brodak prefers to call it a sport.
‘Nobody knows about this, at least none of the young people,’ he said. ‘That’s one thing this sport has been losing.’
The fly-in has four main events, broken down into categories by skill level and plane type.
Pilots could perform an acrobatics routine, attempt a simulated aircraft carrier landing, race or dogfight by chopping streamers off the tail end of an opponent’s plane with their own plane’s propeller.
The Brodak Fly-In is specifically for people who fly control-line airplanes, which differ from radio-controlled vehicles in that a pilot makes the wing flaps go up or down by pulling on 70-foot-long steel cables connected to internal levers and rods. Depending on how a pilot moves his wrist or arm, the plane will dive, climb or fly upside down.
Because the planes are tethered, they can only fly in circles. But that doesn’t make them any easier to control, said Hunt.
The planes fly low – 5 feet off the ground – and fast – up to 70 mph – so there is little time to recover if a pilot makes a mistake.
‘If you’re going to win, you’ve got to put it (your model) in harm’s way and you’ve got to do it consistently,’ Hunt said. ‘You really have a one-to-one relationship with the model airplane.’
Jerry Tarnofsky of Maysville County, Ohio, said the great thing about flying control-line planes as opposed to other types is that he can feel the plane as it moves through the air.
‘I call this RC – real control,’ he said.
Tarnofsky began flying planes in his youth and returned to the hobby as he got older.
He, too, has had his share of crashes.
‘I was ready to quit a few times,’ he said.
The people who have flown the planes say it’s not hard, but they say it takes a while to be proficient.
‘I’ve seen guys move up quick and then you see guys who do this forever and don’t get past the beginning stage,’ Banjock said. ‘No matter how much you do it, you can get better.’