Flight commanders

Members of Steamboat's new Skyscrapers Club have a high time flying their RC planes

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— Bob Adams Field provides the perfect backdrop for Jim Noppe to fly his model airplanes and helicopters. While the much larger aircraft glide in and out of Steamboat Springs, Noppe's smaller versions buzz about the sky, much lower and always in vision.

The pavement of the local airport's parking lot has served Noppe well since summer. He's able to utilize the open sky and take his own aircraft ever higher.

But Noppe knows he could get booted any day. The people at Bob Adams Field have been gracious to allow him to stay, but Noppe would rather find his own place to fly, away from houses, mountains and departing airport traffic.

He, along with about 10 other men and boys, have started the Yampa Valley Skyscrapers, a free club formed to bring together acting or aspiring remote control pilots in the Routt and Moffat county areas.

For many in the Skyscrapers, their childhood passions have never left.

Darin Bennett wishes he could be a pilot. He would love to take flight lessons if they weren't so expensive, so he tries to envision himself in the cockpit of one of his smaller planes

"I have some sort of fixation with aircraft," Bennett said.

Dan Humrich actually spent one year of school learning large aircraft maintenance. Now, he pilots from the ground as one of his 20 or so planes sails through the sky.

Noppe, Bennett and Humrich represent the handful of men that have come forward to join the Skyscrapers. Others have followed, but they all want more men, women and children to join, particularly youths.

Noppe believes being a remote control pilot is the perfect hobby for a kid. He bought his 14-year-old nephew William Homer a couple of planes so Homer could become more familiar with flying.

Now, the boy is hooked.

"Not to brag, but I've done a little better than my uncle," Homer said.

Because Steamboat Springs doesn't have a hobby shop, airplanes, helicopters, fuel and parts have to be purchased out of town or through mail orders.

Members of the Skyscrapers believe forming this club will enable those unfamiliar with remote control aircraft to seek advice on what to get and where.

However, it's the safety issue that served as the biggest reason to form the club.

Remote control cars, for example, operate on a ground frequency, while remote control aircraft, and all aircraft for that matter, operate on an air frequency.

Noppe said if he and another person were flying their planes in the same area on the same frequency, the two aircraft would likely crash.

By forming a club, all members know what frequencies to be on, as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission and the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Certain frequencies are set aside for remote control aircraft, so the Skyscrapers require their members to obtain an AMA card.

"Anyone interested in learning to fly is urged to join the club," Noppe said. "The main objective is to get everyone together with the same interests and let them fly. Safety is an issue."

It's a misnomer that flying remote control aircraft means simply sticking the plane or helicopter on the pavement and letting it go. Remote control aircraft has become very technical, operating more and more like their commercial counterparts.

"They are pretty realistic, except they can do more moves than a real airplane or helicopter," Humrich said.

However, flying remote control airplanes isn't an expensive hobby to get into. Noppe encourages kids to start with a Firebird XL training plane that costs about $100. It's stronger and more durable in case of a crash, which is likely to happen when first learning to fly.

Noppe still crashes his helicopter, and he's been flying for more than a year.

Piloting remote control aircraft, on the other hand, can become expensive depending on what the pilot wants to put into it. An International Miniature Aerobatic Craft, or IMAC, could cost about $6,000. It is about 33 percent the size of a real airplane.

The average price for a prebuilt airplane is about $300, David Hood said. But he and other members of the Skyscrapers admit building the planes and helicopters is half the fun.

There are different types of airplanes with different engines. The altitude makes landing and taking off harder, Humrich said, but there are devices made to help even the beginning pilot learn to fly.

Just like in driver's education, where the instructor is able to brake on his or her side in case the student driver develops a bit of a lead foot, a rookie pilot can hook up his radio transmitter to another pilot's transmitter so the more experienced pilot can take over at a moment's notice.

Because of this device, Noppe is hoping to let 14-year-old Joey Ike take to the skies this weekend.

Ike doesn't have an airplane, but Noppe said interested pilots don't need their own aircraft to join the Skyscrapers. People like Ike are strongly encouraged to get involved. The basics are not that technical or tough to pick up.

"I just want to learn more about it," Ike said.

The winter weather hampers flying a bit, Noppe said. Helicopters with more electronics need warmer weather to fly, while airplanes can fly at subzero temperatures if the pilot desperately wants to put it in the sky. Noppe said there's a good rule of thumb to follow.

"If you don't want to stand outside," Noppe said, "don't fly."

The next meeting for the Yampa Valley Skyscrapers is Tuesday and it's tentatively scheduled to be held at the Yampa Valley Electric Association conference room. It is free and members are hoping to find an open field to fly on, especially by the spring.

Anyone interested in joining the Skyscrapers or anyone seeking more information can call Noppe at 736-0081.

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