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Flying, Just Plane Fun

CATALYSTS: how personal initiative energizes our community

By Linda Leighty

“Up, down, flying around,

looping the loop and defying the ground.”


This verse from the once-famous song, “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” perfectly captures the North Carolina Space Cowboys’ motto: Flying is just plane fun! One club member, a United Airlines pilot, delights in flying his models so he can create his own air shows.

The North Carolina Space Cowboys is a Radio Controlled Model Aviation Club located in Greenville, North Carolina at 1254 Frankie Coburn Road

Spectators are welcome to come out and watch the pilots fly their planes in aerobatic maneuvers whenever they are at the field, especially at one of the open meets.  See a sample of some of the aerobatics on on this video of a helicopter at one of the club’s meets. The next meet, the third annual R/C Heli Fly-in: Saturday and Sunday June 9 and 10, 2012, will be just for helicopters (visit the website for more information). The helicopters flying will be powered by gas, electric, glow, or turbine engines. Flying “heli’s” is the fastest growing subdivision of radio-controlled flying, and about forty pilots are expected to participate.

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In general, R/C pilots can duplicate the feats stunt pilots perform in full-sized fixed-wing aircraft. Not so with rotary-winged helicopters. The pilot of a full-scale helicopter would never perform loops, spins, rolls, or the numerous variations thereof, or turn his plane upside down near the ground, using its blades to lop off the tops of tall grasses. 

 The men and women who fly the radio-controlled planes are pilots, just as the pilots of combat or surveillance drones are. Alike in that both are radio-controlled, model aircraft and drones have several significant differences. Drones, used for military, customs, border patrol, policing, agriculture, or other civilian uses, have an extended range, an altitude above six miles in some cases.

Model planes are limited to line-of-sight, going only as far as the pilot can see the plane and keep it under control. Although some drones could be mistaken for model airplanes, most drones have as least as much technology aboard as a small piloted plane.

Some flying models resemble scaled-down versions of piloted aircraft, while others are built with no intention of looking like piloted aircraft. A model built to scale is a small representation of a full-sized craft and seeks to maintain the relative proportions of the original.

This view of the inside of one of the pilot’s hobby trailers shows that the sport can become expensive. 

Radio-controlled aircraft have a pilot-operated transmitter that sends radio signals to a receiver in the model. The receiver activates a servo (a microprocessor-operated motor) which manipulates the model’s flight controls. These parts necessary for radio-controlled flight add to the cost.

With an initial investment of about $100 for a fixed-wing aircraft and about $225 for a helicopter, participating in radio controlled model aircraft flying is not inexpensive. If you ask the pilots, however, they’ll enthusiastically affirm that their pleasure far exceeds the cost.

“It’s a great bunch of people to fly with

and it’s one of the greatest facilities to fly

in eastern North Carolina.”

Davis Hudgins

Space Cowboys Instructor

Pilots come to the Frankie Coburn Memorial Field, named in memory of Frank Coburn’s father, from as much as 75 miles away. Frank Coburn owns the field and is the club’s President. One innovative pilot placed a small video camera just in front of the cockpit and recorded his smooth landing on the field. 

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Davis Hudgins, a Space Cowboys’ instructor and flier of all types of R/C aircraft, delights in his pilot friends and their field. “I feel it’s a great bunch of people to fly with and it’s one of the greatest facilities to fly in eastern North Carolina.”

Helicopter pilot Doug Jefferson lists the field’s assets: available electrical power to charge and recharge batteries, shelters for protection from weather, carefully tended grass that’s well-cut and great to fly on, and a concession stand operated on the honor system for the pilots’ convenience.

The Space Cowboys isn’t just a club for adults. Most pilots see the young fliers as the ones who will keep their sport alive, so they offer youngsters particular encouragement with free Youth Membership to anyone under 18. One youth member, William Green, 12, likes flying helicopters, fixed-wing planes, and, as he says, “any plane someone will let me fly” in the big, open field. Matthew Daniels, 7, is the youngest club member.

Pilots over 18 can be Associate Members in the club, paying an annual $85 fee and purchasing Academy of Model Aeronautics insurance. The oldest club member, Hugh Leighty, 87, has been flying radio-controlled aircraft since he was in his early teens. He’s shown here teaching his Granddaughter Laura Sundwall with a buddy-box, a device that allows him to intervene if she puts the plane in peril. 

 The final meet of the year, the 12th Annual Big and Little Bird Fly-in, will take place Saturday November 3, 2012. Models of all sizes, including many scale models, will be on static display as well as soaring through the air.

The Academy of Model Aeronautics sanctions all flying activities at the field. The club requires all pilots to have AMA insurance, valuable coverage that protects the pilots, spectators, and the field in case of flight damage.

If you want a wonderful show, come join this group of enthusiastic pilots!

 For more information email, and visit the website where you will find pictures, events, and membership information.

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