“After that plane hit an oak tree at the speed of sound, it sounded like a .38 pistol being shot,” Koenig said. “Parts went everywhere.”
Although he’s a more seasoned flyer now, Koenig’s experience with RC planes has been filled with memorable mishaps.
One of his longest-lasting planes met its end after hitting a lamp post at dizzying speeds. The force of the impact sheared the tiny plane in half and sent the engine spiraling hundreds of yards away from the crash site.
Now the treasurer of the Johnson City Radio Controllers, a group of aviation aficionados who fly model airplanes at a landing strip off Lancaster Road, Koenig has had time to hone his craft and has even been recognized at a national competition for his deft handling behind an RC controller.
Aviation is something Koenig has loved since childhood.
“I was always smitten with flying,” Koenig said. “Always.”
Although he never made a career out of piloting an aircraft, Koenig knew he wanted to fly RC planes the moment he saw them in action. Now, he and other members of the club are hoping to pass that passion on to wannabe RC pilots who are new to the hobby.
On Saturday, the Johnson City Radio Controllers hosted an all-day event at the Tri-City Model Aircraft Airport located at 120 Lancaster Road. The event, Fun Fly Day, also acted in part as a grand reopening of their model plane airport, which had been closed for the past few months in order to repave and grade the concrete runway.
“We decided to open (the field) up to the public simply because part of our objectives and our mission is to foster new people coming into the program, build interest in model aeronautics, (and) build interest in safe RC flying,” said Glenn Ross, the organizer of the event.
The event acted as a primer on RC airplanes for many people. Participants had the option to fly the contraptions themselves and watch as members of the club demonstrated various airplane models in flight.
The event also featured a competition for flyers of all ages. This included a limbo event in which controllers had to pilot their planes under a low ribbon; a drop event, which tested pilots’ abilities to accurately deposit an item onto a drop point; and a landing event, requiring pilots to land their plane in a pre-set area, simulating the subtlety required to land a plane on an aircraft carrier.
At around noon, members of the club dedicated the field in memory of Ed Fennell, an employee of Johnson City who helped the club secure the field on Lancaster Road.
“He has always been a model airplane flyer, so he had a soft spot in his heart for us,” Koenig said.
The city provided the runway, and the club worked to add the other amenities currently at the site.
The club is full of people who live and breathe airplanes. For one member, George Baker, the event on Saturday marked his 365th day in a row flying a model airplane outside. To reach this goal, Baker would bring model airplanes with him on family vacations and oftentimes had to guide his tiny contraptions through tough weather conditions.
The toughest obstacle he had to face?
“I would say it’s a tossup between 35 mile an hour winds or a Virginia park ranger running us off of Hungry Mother Lake,” he said.
Baker owns dozens of model airplanes of all different sizes and had many on display during the event Saturday. He’s also a member of another RC club, TiredIron Aviation, and sees the hobby as a good pastime for members of younger generations.
“It gets them off the iPhones and the iPads and gives them something to do outside,” he said.