NAPLES — All eyes looked to the sky on Saturday as radio-controlled aircraft pilots and enthusiasts gathered on a wind-swept field in southeast of Naples for the annual “Fun Fly.”
The weekend-long event, sponsored by the Collier Model Aeronautics Club, is being held four miles east of Collier Boulevard and features radio-controlled airplanes and helicopters that performed air acrobatics and hit speeds at over 200 mph.
Clifford MacMorris, a field trainer with the Collier Model Aeronautics Club and former warrant officer in the U.S. Army, said that “Fun Fly” attracts people of all ages and backgrounds – from teenagers and retired housewives, to former military pilots.
“Just because you’re a pilot doesn’t mean you can fly these things,” MacMorris said as he repaired a tail rudder that broke when he crashed it in high grass on the periphery of the makeshift airfield.
He points out that kids get the knack for piloting the radio-controlled aircraft much quicker than adults. He chalks this up kids playing video games.
“It’s not like flying from the seat of your pants,” MacMorris said. “It’s flying from your eyeball to your hand.”
MacMorris said that he hopes the “Fun Fly” will spark interest with the younger attendees, and that he wants to engage a new generation of pilots.
And for many of the pilots, flying these aircraft has become a lifelong hobby.
Club member Dick Allen said that he first started piloting remote controlled airplanes in 1953 and is amazed at how far the technology has come.
“Golf is just like it was 100 years ago, but his hobby…” Allen said, trailing off and shaking his head.
Allen said that his love for the hobby led him to meet astronaut Neil Armstrong, who is also model airplane enthusiast.
“He was quite shy,” Allen said. “I was surprised.”
Allen added that over the years of being involved in model airplanes, he has noticed that for kids, this hobby is a good deterrent from trouble.
“Kids that get into this hobby don’t get into drugs,” Allen said. “It keeps them busy during their inactive time. That’s the beauty of this hobby.”
Wally Weickert, a club member and seasonal Naples resident, built a flying red lawn mower that has been a crowd favorite for the last 11 years.
I started out fooling around trying to make a flying saucer,” Weickert said. “But that’s so ordinary though. I was thinking - ‘what can I do?’ - a lawn mower!”
“I have a hell of a time flying it,” Weickert said, laughing.
Tom Campan, a club member from Marco Island and former private pilot, said that the club is a kind of fraternity.
“We all get together and shoot the breeze,” Campan said, adding that he comes to the field two to three times a week to practice flying.
Campan said that piloting the radio-controlled planes is more difficult than piloting a real airplane.
“You’ve got to get your head in the cockpit of the plane and keep orientation at all times,” Campan said. “They say there’s two kinds of planes – the ones that have crashed and the ones that haven’t crashed yet.”
Around 3:30 p.m., Larry Kramer fired up his turbine-powered “Bobcat” – a yellow, white and red jet that runs on kerosene. As Kramer launched his plane for the appreciative crowd, onlooker Ken Corrado leaned against the fence to watch the jet do several fly-overs at over 200 mph.
“I’m glad I came,” Corrado said through the chain-linked fence. “It’s awesome. I think that’s the best word. Awesome.”
The “Fun Fly” continues on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The field is located about 3 miles east of Collier Boulevard off U.S. 41. From the west, take a left on Greenway Road, then a right on Fritchey Road, which winds to the field.Admission is free. Parking is $3. For more information on the Collier Model Aeronautics Club or attending the “Fun Fly”, contact Clifford MacMorris at (239) 450-5650.