FORT EDWARD — Learning to fly is not that easy.
Even after a few mini-lessons and assurances that the co-pilot can take over instantly, anticipating the first flight is a bit frightening. And when the plane, with its 100-inch wingspan, taxis on the field and lifts off, the virgin pilot is prone to shrieks and worries, even when the plane is only model-sized.
On Saturday morning at the North Country Flying Tigers Model Airplane Club’s gathering on Route 43, this reporter piloted a small aircraft at the urging of club members. But the plane’s turns dipped too low, accelerations were too fast and straight and the aircraft was quickly too far away. Right turns went left and lefts went right.
There were too many pleas to the co-pilot, “Take over! Take over!” And in what seemed a split second from crashing the valuable aircraft to bits, it again soared as if a pro took control. And he did.
The patient instructors, Ernie Hoenigmann and Steve Thayer, said it was OK, “It takes lots of time and practice.” And Thayer, the co-pilot and the club vice president, was quick to say, “I’ve already got it,” meaning he had rescued the plane from certain devastation before the trainee even knew it was in trouble.
Less than eight minutes later, the aircraft was back on the ground, unscathed. When asked, Thayer agreed, “Yes, you would have crashed.”
Saturday’s event was the club’s free open house to celebrate National Model Aviation Day, which was on Saturday. The public was invited to their airstrip to watch some of the advanced flyers swoop, twirl and fly upside-down and to give it a try if they were interested. And several residents from the Washington Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Argyle came to enjoy the show.
“The point of Model Aviation Day is for newcomers,” said Bob Lippman, the club president. “We build models to understand aviation.”
Boy Scouts from St. Mary’s in Glens Falls, Troop 2, also tried their hand at neophyte flying the beguiling planes. And they did it with much more ease. Still, even they admitted to problems mixing up the lefts and rights.
“It’s fun,” said Danny Cheney, 14. “But I get confused from left and right.”
And Nolan Moore, 11, said his experience was “pretty good,” but it was hard to turn. Moore has never personally been on a full-sized plane. “And I don’t want to,” he said.
Cheney’s dad, David Cheney, owns the field the club uses for flying and rents it to the club for $1 a year. They have a 10-year lease.
David Cheney is a commercial jet pilot for Warren Buffett’s company, Netjets, he said, adding that he flies a Challenger 350. He is also the assistant Scoutmaster for Troop No. 2.
“We camped out here last night,” he said.
Given his 22 years of experience piloting a jet, it might seem that piloting a model plane would be an easy feat.
“They ask me to try it all the time,” David Cheney said. “But you can’t get me near one.”
To fly the model plane, the pilot holds a control box that has the accelerator and a joystick that moves with even the slightest touch. And these fingertip controls look easy, but they take years of training and practice to get the flight engineering accurate and safe.
Elizabeth Conant’s son, Elihu Conant-Haque, flies a helicopter at the field and is a member of the club. “He is legally blind,” she said, marveling at how he does it.
Then, Conant recognized the men who came to watch from the Argyle health-care center. “Hey guys,” she said, obviously happy to see them.
“I lead karaoke there,” she said as she walked over to retired farmer Arthur Hunt, who now lives at The Washington Center.
“He loves to sing ‘You are my sunshine,’ ” she said, and she began singing, with Hunt quickly joining in.
President Bob Lippman said being part of the aviation club is educational, fun and is a chance to socialize with people who share similar interests.
Safety is paramount for members, and club member Nick Garvin is the field marshall. “I make sure the field is ready to fly and safe,” he said.
In July, the club held a FunFly Airshow and raised more than $2,000 for Make-A-Wish of Northeast New York.
Additionally, because David Cheney is so generous with the field, the club also makes a donation to a charity Cheney chooses, Brian Douglas said, adding, “I am the club’s second most senior member. I joined in 1982.”