A fascination with flight

Wild West Air Fest plays to people's wonder with planes

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Flying a radio-controlled airplane can be more difficult than flying the real thing.

Bert Sutton, a radio-controlled airplane pilot, has seen a number of pilots of full-size airplanes crash the radio-controlled versions to the ground when they first try to fly.

What's makes the radio-controlled version a little trickier is that the pilot isn't in the seat, but he or she is on the ground flying circles in front, Sutton said. The first turn is usually fine, but completing that circle is like flying in a mirror -- everything is reversed.

With changes in technology, radio-controlled airplanes are more accessible to anyone who wants to learn -- there are computer programs to learn how to fly, and the basic models start at $400.

The planes that Sutton flies are several feet long and top-of-the-line aerobatics models that cost $7,000.

Sutton and several other pilots of radio controlled airplanes and helicopters gave an aerobatics show Sunday morning at the Wild West Air Fest at Steamboat Springs Airport.

Before a crowd of more than 100 people, the radio-controlled aircraft flipped and dove, made figure eights and flew low to the ground, corkscrewed upside-down and spun seemingly out of control.

One trick that no full-sized airplane can do is to stay completely still in a vertical position in the air, then accelerate straight up. That is made possible by the radio-controlled airplane's 2-to-1 ratio of power to weight.

Sutton's passion for radio-controlled airplanes was sparked 12 years ago when he walked into a crafts store with his wife. He saw the small model airplanes the store offered, and with his Christmas bonus still in his pocket, he thought he might give radio-controlled airplanes a try.

He does not pilot full-size planes, but he always has been interested in flight.

"The idea of flight in itself is fascinating to people," Sutton said. "Just an airplane flying by, you wonder, 'What's holding it up there?' It's sort of a little magical sky hook up there."

The audience watching Sunday's air show clapped and whistled after the most unbelievable tricks.

People who came to the Wild West Air Fest found a variety of things to do. Families with children watched the radio-controlled air show and explored the airplanes and cars on display; some took 15-minute plane rides in a helicopter, biplane, or T-6, a plane used in World War II. Children signed up to take a free plane ride on Monday as part of the Young Eagles program.

Howard Hart, who lives in Wisconsin, remembered learning to fly in 1956. He was 16 years old. World War II had ended, and he was fascinated with airplanes. He ultimately gave up flying after he "became smart" and got married.

Brothers Grant and Mitch McCannon couldn't keep their eyes off the radio-controlled airplanes.

"We've seen little ones, but these things are huge," said Grant, 12.

Thaine Mahanna and his 11-year-old son, Colton Mahanna, explored the A700 airplane, a very light jet so new it is in the process of being certified by the FAA.

Thaine said he had read about the plane but had never seen it in person. Colton said he thought the plane looked fast.

And, he said, "it sits more than you would think."

The airplane has what looks like two tails that connect to the wings and are connected to each other. That tail is so large it provides extra stability, said Bob Shank, regional sales manager for Adam Aircraft, the Colorado company building the A700. And, the airplane is made of carbon fiber, which is stronger and lighter than aluminum.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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