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Flights of fancy

Reid Williams

SUMMIT COUNTY – Take-offs are optional, but landings are mandatory.

Scott McCrory handed out this advice Saturday as he assigned radio frequencies to the dozens of radio-controlled airplane hobbyists gathered at the Team Teke Silent Fun-Fly north of Silverthorne. Ron Teke, the namesake of Team Teke, regularly hosts flying gatherings at his home on Elk Run Road (County Road 2500). The fun-fly events draw novice hobbyists, as well as seasoned members of clubs such as the South Park Area R/C Society and the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

McCrory, a Keystone resident and R/C enthusiast for eight years, served as a sort of air traffic controller for the group.

“If somebody’s on a frequency already and another person turns on on the same frequency, that’s bad news,” McCrory said. “The plane in the air goes dead.”

Pilots maneuver the planes from the ground with remote controls that operate in the 72 megahertz range – just below the bottom end of FM radio signals and ground-operated remote controls (boats or cars), which operate in the 75 megahertz range.

This technical aspect is just one of the many facets of the hobby to immerse yourself in, said Rob Taubman. The Breckenridge man returned to flying after a 25-year “layover,” after seeing Teke’s flying events advertised in the Summit Daily News.

“The simplest controls are two-channel – up, down and sideways controls,” said Taubman, who’s working on his skills to make a solo gas-powered flight. “Then you move up to four channels, that’s rudder, aileron, throttle and elevation. The really complicated ones have seven or eight channels.”

There are other aspects in which the pilots can immerse themselves. Some fall in love with reproducing scale models of classic airplane designs. Many compete in races, aerobatic challenges and sailplane contests that measure how long planes can stay aloft.

There are different engines and plane types that offer their own flying enjoyment. Taubman flies an battery-powered biplane; the low speed and good control are helpful to beginners. Experts can be found at the sticks of two- and four-stroke, gas-powered planes with wingspans as wide as 12 feet.

Local hobbyists said they shop for their gear in Denver, or on the Internet. Initiates to the hobby can get started for as little as $150, but larger planes and high-tech equipment can run into the thousands of dollars.

When a hobbyist gets absorbed in all these aspects, he approaches the fanaticism of event host Teke.

“I’ve now become consumed with this,” Teke said.

He became interested in the activity innocently enough; 12 years ago, his 8-year-old son expressed an interest in becoming a pilot. His son continued to fly – he earned scholarships from the U.S. Air Force and the Academy of Model Aeronautics, and will begin Air Force pilot training after he graduates in December – and Teke kept on flying, too.

Teke built a grass airstrip outside his house (a sign near the road cautions drivers about low-flying aircraft). Workbenches lining the airstrip allow pilots to perform maintenance on their aircraft. And he converted his garage to a hobby shop that houses more than 20 planes in various states of repair.

“I enjoy the air shows, I love working with my hands,” the homebuilder said. “This is a natural opportunity for me to be creative and enjoy the fun of flying. Why do I do it? There’s always the danger of crashing.”

The fun of flying is what brought Lone Tree resident Dale Pahl and his children to the event. Pahl, a United Airlines pilot since 1979, got his first wings as a 9-year-old flying models. Saturday, he was using a bungee slingshot to launch his sailplane at speeds close to 100 mph, simulating the launch from an aircraft carrier. Using thermals, or uplifts of warm air, Pahl navigated the plane to well above 1,000 feet.

“This was my first love,” Pahl said. “My career grew out of this. And coming up here is great because I get to hang out with my kids.”

Pahl’s daughter is a telescope manufacturer and volunteer Arapahoe Basin ski patroller, and he has two sons, a Keystone Resort employee and Snake River firefighter. Stephanie Pahl said she’s made a few solo flights and got help learning the hobby from computer flight simulator connected to the remote control box.

“The first time I tried, I crashed,” Stephanie Pahl said. “It’s fun, though. And it’s an easy way to spend quality time with my dad.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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