By Alex Ferri
Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA
Updated September 19, 2014
For most members of one Mesa aviation club, flying has been a lifelong pursuit – all without sitting in a pilot’s seat.
John Mangino is vice president of the Arizona Model Aviators, a model aeronautics club based in Mesa.
“We’re all about flying radio-controlled model airplanes,” Mr. Mangino said in a phone interview. He has been flying model airplanes since age 7, spent eight years as a Navy jet mechanic and the rest of his career working in aviation.
Members fly scale models of airplanes that range in size from 2 feet to 12 feet in length, Mr. Mangino said. They feature the same major components of real airplanes, he added.
“They’re basically the same thing as a real airplane, except you’re not in it,” he said.
The model aviators will hold its free monthly race Sunday, Sept. 28, at Superstition Airpark, which features a 760-foot by 100-foot concrete runway near Brown and Meridian roads. Members can be found there practicing their flying nearly every day, Mr. Mangino said, but the biggest turnout is on weekends and for special events.
To get to the park, follow U.S. Highway 60 to Signal Butte Road and go north to Brown Road, then east to Meridian. Take Meridian north for half a mile, cross the floodway and immediately turn left on Levee Drive.
In addition to varying in size, the model airplanes flown by club members can be electric-, nitro- or gas-powered, Mr. Mangino said. There has also been a recent rise in popularity of “quadcopters,” he added, which feature GPS systems and cameras and can be operated outside of line-of-sight.
While some enthusiasts with bigger budgets prefer the more authentic turbine-powered models, Mr. Mangino said most new members fly electric planes.
“Electric is more convenient,” member Bob Brantley said while flying his HobbyKing Flybeam Sept. 18 at the airpark. “But out of all of them, I still love my turbine. I love the realism of it.”
The Arizona Model Aviators organization was founded in 1981, Mr. Mangino said, and has spent the last 15 years at the current field. There are 272 members, but Mr. Mangino said membership fluctuates with the season. The club has had as many as 315 members in the past.
“You won’t find that many people out there at one time and a lot of them are winter visitors,” he said.
He said 10-30 members visit the field on the weekends to practice flying and up to 200 people attend the club’s larger events such as the Arizona Electric Festival in January.
Steve Ross, a spokesman for the club, said in a phone interview that the larger events draw attendees from across the nation and even from outside the country.
“We’ve had more people coming in from farther away, especially California, but also internationally,” he said.
While the monthly races don’t draw huge crowds, Mr. Ross said they can be exciting.
“Once in a while you’ll get a mid-air collision or something like that,” he said. “We have one of the best fields in the country and one of the best set ups for pilots.”
The club will host its Fall Auction at 9 a.m. Nov. 3, and its annual Jet Rally Nov. 16-18. The auction is for members to sell aviation-related materials and has a buy/sell fee of $3; entry to the Jet Rally is $6 per car. Proceeds go toward maintaining the runway, Mr. Mangino said.
“If we don’t have a runway, we don’t have a club,” he said. Members pay annual dues of $75, he added.
People who are interested in flying model airplanes can visit the park and learn from veteran members, Mr. Mangino said.
“Anything that people are interested in, I’d be glad to talk to them about it,” he said. “It just depends on what facet they’re interested in.”
New members can fly for up to two months without having to buy special insurance; after that period, it costs around $60 per year, Mr. Mangino said.
Getting into the hobby costs about $100 for an electric model, Mr. Mangino said. It’s possible to get started for less, but he warned of buying too cheap and having the product break down.
No background in aviation is necessary, Mr. Mangino added. The learning process for controlling the planes is different for each person, he said.
“I’ve had people who I’ve taught for two winters in a row who don’t get the hang of it, but I’ve had other people figure it out in a day,” he said.
The club is always looking for new members of all ages, he added.
“Come out, look around and see if you’re interested,” Mr. Mangino said. “See what facet interests you and then go from there.”