Feature Story Friday, May 30, 2014
Chilliwack model plane fliers set compass on a professional dirt race course
Radio-control plane enthusiasts gathered on Ballam Rd. in Chilliwack for the annual Fun Fly.
or three days last weekend, 30-40 model plane fliers from all over BC and Washington were cut loose in the skies over Chilliwack during the Fraser Valley Radio Control Flyers (FVRCF) Fun Fly. Enthusiasts of all ages and their families spent an enjoyable weekend camping and flying.
On Saturday, dozens of radio-controlled (RC) model planes of every description, from drones and helicopters to float planes, covered the grass field that the club calls home on Ballam Road.
RC planes have evolved several times over the decades. In each case the fliers have embraced the transformation.
For instance, up until a few years ago, the sport consisted primarily of gasoline planes. Now, with the advent of the lithium battery, most radio-controlled planes are electrically powered.
There are some still some gas planes in use, but according to Chilliwack resident and ardent flyer Ray Nick, the fuel is pricey.
"It’s $25 a gallon and you can burn that in a weekend. A battery pack will last me two years for the same money.
Nick, who’s in his 50s now, has been flying since he was 12-years-old. It was a lot different back then. Fliers were tethered to the planes with cords.
"You went around in a circle and you had a little paddle and you had two lines; one on the top and one on the bottom and that just controlled the elevation. You could just go round and round with those things."
It's all about aerobatics now.
A stunt plane made from Styrofoam races down to the ground at breakneck speed stopping on a dime behind Nick. It dances vertically for a few moments before darting off.
Some maneuvers have names like the Immelmann Turn which is named after the German WWI fighter pilot. It's a modified and simplified version of the attack maneuver he used during dogfights. There's also the Split S, spins, rolls, inside and outside loops and something called a stall turn where the flyer does a vertical climb, then reduces power and slams on the plane's rudder forcing it to do a 180°.
"From the control lines I went to remote control with gas and then eventually to electric," reminisces Nick.
When it comes to crashes, flyers have to take the good with the bad. Nick counts his lucky stars and says he hasn't crashed lately.
"It's a lot of work when you crash your plane because you have to rip the cover off when you start fixing them. The wings are really delicate so you're careful," he said laughing.
"I bought this electric glider used at a swap meet. It only cost me $30. I had to put all the electronics in it and everything," explains Nick. "Originally, this thing was configured as a slope soarer."
Slope soarers utilize prevailing winds that come in and hit the mountain then travel upward. It's those updrafts that RC flyers try to harness.
Nick points to hang gliders from Mt Woodside.
"It's a lot like what those guys are doing," he said. They're slope soaring on a massive scale."
Nick then glances at the birds high overhead.
"They're on thermals. I want to get up there with those guys," he says.
According to Nick, thermals are a great way to conserve energy.
"You use the motor to get up there, then you shut the motor off and when you want to come down, you just glide to the ground," said Nick.
He talks about the newest flying apparatuses called "drones", sometimes known as quad-copters and tri-copters for the number of propellers on them and describes how a guy built one with 24 motors, then flew in it.
"There are a few guys with drones here. Some are what they call semi-autonomous meaning if you let the stick go, it'll go back to its pre-programmed flight, or you can program it to go here, there and then home. Other ones are just pure control and there is no autonomous feature to them. Some guys have goggles on and they're hooked up to an onboard camera so they're literally flying like they're sitting in it."
Club President Rick Samuels was thrilled to have so many people show up for the Fly-In.
"We have flyers coming from across the Lower Mainland, Canada as well as England and the US," he says.
The FVRCF has a primary grass field and also a pond their fliers and boaters just love.
The club tries to accommodate Americans who want to come up for the annual club 3-day event by tying it in with the Memorial Day long weekend.
"The reason we do that is we want to make it easier for our out-of-town travellers, especially on the island so they can book ferries and get out here, and it helps people out of the country in the states who want to come fly with us. So it works out nicely," says Samuels.
The FVRCF have been operating in Chilliwack for about 20 years. They've been at the current Ballam Road location for about a year and a half. Prior to that they were about a 4 minute drive down the road at another field.
"The owner sold the property and we had a new owner come in and he just wanted to use the entire property for farming
Willie Davis who owns the property here offered to give us a portion of land.
The Ballam Road field buzzes with activity on a daily basis.
"Every nice day, even sometimes when it's raining, if you come between 9 a.m. and noon, you'll usually get a group of retired people who come out here have a coffee and fly," he says.
Samuels talks about their plans to add a dirt track for radio-controlled vehicles.
"It will be for every club member. When you join up with the club, not only will you be able to fly and use float planes and boats in the pond, you'll be able to bring your trucks and buggies and actually use the dirt track," says Samuels.
He says their aim is to get the track certified for the ROAR circuit.
ROAR is the acronym for Radio Operated Auto Racers who are the sanctioning body of competitive radio-controlled car racing in North America.
"They have a whole network of race circuits all across the US and Canada and if we build the track to their specs, we can get ROAR sanctioned," he says adding "if we get ROAR sanctioned, we'll get big name RC Racers from all over the place coming to race here."
The club has had huge support from local hobby store Rebel Concept, plus, they've got about $4000 in savings to build the track and add more parking.
"We've had something like 300 truckloads of fill donated. We've been begging people for the fill because the parking area we have now was a giant hole with water at the bottom. If you saw this place a year and a half ago, you couldn’t even park here, we had to park on the road," explains Samuels.
The club holds flying events throughout the year such as the Huckfest, Helicopter Fly and a Fall Fun Fly.
But the flying season just doesn't cease at the end of summer. Surprisingly, it runs all year.
Snow won't stop these aces either. Members came out last winter and used a tractor to roll down the snow into a landing strip.
Age is just a number. One of the club members is 90-years-old. Samuels says he lost his driver's licence and so now he gets to and from the field in a motorized wheelchair.
"He ties his planes to the back and comes all the way from Gibsons Rd," said Samuels.
Fliers need insurance. They can't fly with the group without it. This is done to protect the property owner from lawsuits if someone is hurt on their land.
"Since I've been flying for 20 years, I've never seen an incident where someone is hit by a plane," notes Samuels.
To avoid the risk of injury to the public, the city has bylaws in place restricting radio-controlled plane use in public parks. If caught, fines range from $250 to $500.
For more information on events and to join the club, e-mail Rick Samuels here or visit www.fvrcf.com
See more photos below.
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