Local Aeromodelers Take to the Skies

Stuart Hoiness during Seven Lakes Aeromodlers Club's 11th annual SLAM Fly-In, also known as their Mayday event. Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot


Insider Staff Writer

Accelerating swiftly, the plane hits cruising speed overhead as all eyes turn skyward to track its path. The biplane loops the farm field once, then twice, climbing then dipping gracefully.  

Jason Scribner manipulates the controls, aiming for a high score before executing a smooth landing. It looks like a perfect run until the last second when a breeze catches the wing and the plucky craft flips belly up on the ground.

“Most of these planes are made out of foam so we can tape and mend them,” said Scribner, with a wry smile. “We have lots of crashes.”

Members of the Seven Lakes Aeromodelers Club have been taking flight over 60-acres in West End, owned by the Auman peach farm family, since 2010. Here in the Sandhills, they are one of two local clubs affiliated with the Academy of Model Aeronautics, an organization for hobbyists who dream, design, build and fly their model aircrafts for fun and competition. 

Stuart Hoiness operates his aircraft while Doug Grissom provides the live play by play audio broadcast. Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot

On Saturday, May 4, the Seven Lakes Aeromodelers held its 11th annual SLAM Fly-In — also known as the group’s Mayday event. Members brought their winter build projects to show off and flew their remote control (RC) planes in a variety of competitions, including loopy rolls, a taxi test and to see who could maneuver the most touch-and-go landings in a 2-minute period. The club’s acting president, Doug Grissom, served as the air traffic controller and official timekeeper.

A retired commercial airline pilot, Grissom said he’d long been interested in RC flying but only took up the hobby two years ago.

“I was always busy with work, then kids: life gets in the way. Once I retired, I knew I wouldn’t be flying anymore and thought this would be fun. It certainly isn’t the same, you’re not sitting in the cockpit. It is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be,” Grissom said. “But this is a great club and I enjoy it very much. We are a small club and we could certainly add a few more members. Maybe someone is sitting out there on the sidelines and will read about us and give it a try.”

Stuart Hoiness participates regularly with the club and, like Grissom, holds a pilot license. A lifelong aviation enthusiast, he flew RC planes as a child, earned his first pilot rating at 18 and is a glider instructor.

“Being in this group is just for fun. It is spending time with like minds. You can wreck your plane and it only hurts your ego,” Hoiness said.

Asked how many RC planes he owns elicits a laugh. “Too many – probably a dozen. But you need to ask Louie that question.”

Louie Scribner, Jason’s father, is parked adjacent to the field with his minivan door open. The inside is modified as a portable hanger for his planes. He estimates he owns over 100 of them, from tiny models to huge gliders.

The little planes are popular with members because in the winter they’ll fly them inside the gymnasium of Seven Lakes Baptist Church, says Club Secretary Bob Rich.

In between competition events, members bring out different planes to test their mettle.

Hoiness has a showstopper —- an EDF (electric duct fan) military-style jet that looks and sounds just like the real thing, in miniature.

Rich notes that no experience is necessary and club members are quick to help newcomers by showing them the ropes — in this case, the handheld flight controls — to get them started.

Mike Scribner his dad Louie Scribner work on their plane. Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot

In addition to registration with the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the Seven Lakes Aeromodelers hold a FRIA designation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which means they are recognized and may fly their planes within the boundaries of the West End field.

“The late Watts Auman didn’t fly but was always supportive of the club,” Rich said. “For me, the best thing about the club is the camaraderie. It’s meeting men who have similar interests and many of us have similar life experiences.”

Keith Dunbar, who’s been flying RC planes since 1960, describes himself as a “frustrated pilot.” he built airplane models as a child and was excited to shift his passion to remote control planes. Asked what’s the hardest part about the hobby, “Not crashing,” he laughed. “It’s tricky when the plane is flying directly at you because the controls are backward.”

As the SLAM Fly-In wound down, members pulled out a gas grill and began cooking hotdogs for a member barbecue. On the far end of the field, Jason Scribner wasn’t done flying, and whirled around in a tight circle to launch one of his competition gliders. “If you get lift, you can get them to stay up in the air for an hour or so,” he said, as he watched the elegant craft head silently towards the heavens.  

The Seven Lakes Aeromodelers encourage new members to join them – no experience is needed. Email Bob Rich rgrich@centurylink.net  (write “SLAM membership” in the subject line), or come out to watch the planes fly on Wednesdays and Fridays, 9-11 a.m., at 2163 N.C. 73, in West End. Spectators are welcome.

Contact Laura Douglass at laura@thepilot.com or call (910) 693-2475.