Cruising down Bluff Road on a sunny Saturday, drivers may have noticed small airplanes swooping acrobatically through the sky above a pavilion just outside of Columbia.
These small aircraft are flown by members of the Columbia R/C Flying Club, a group of passionate guys who have been flying model radio control airplanes for decades.
As the temperatures grow warmer and the spring season settles in, club members will be visible at the site nearly every day it’s nice out.
The club has 68 active members and many attending non-members from both Illinois and Missouri. They come from all over — Columbia to Millstadt to Ballwin, Mo. — to take off into the rural Monroe County sky.
In addition to the regular days of flying, the club also hosts several events throughout the year, including barbecues and an annual swap meet, which serves as the group’s biggest fundraiser.
Another activity the club regularly hosts is what is known as a “fun fly.” This event consists of a series of friendly competitions that in the past have included components such as an egg drop and limbo that test the flying and acrobatic skills of the pilots.
The next fun fly event will take place June 8.
Like any club or organization, the Columbia R/Cs have an executive board of officers, including president Jeff Dixen and his father, Ken, who is the vice president.
Jeff said he has been flying for about five years and got interested in it when he saw his brother fly a small electric plane up at a park.
“I started looking into it and my dad wanted to get into it too,” Jeff said. “It gives me a chance to spend a lot more time with him. We’re together pretty much every weekend flying.”
Jeff and other group members mentioned that people often stop as they’re driving by, trying to figure out what group members are doing out at their site.
“A lot of people with kids stop, and people will come and set up lawn chairs and watch us,” Jeff said. “Our guys’ll go over and talk to them. If the interest is there, we’ll tell them how to get started.”
Warm and welcoming, group members encourage prospective members to get involved and learn how to fly on the “club trainer,” a radio control aircraft that is owned by the entire club and is ideal to learn on.
“There’s nothing like the feeling, the shakes and the anxiety you get when you’re flying a plane for the first time,” Jeff said.
Instructors teach new members on a “buddy box,” which allows the instructor to take over with the flip of a switch if the student loses control or needs help.
“Crashing? It happens,” Jeff said. “I’ve crashed my fair share.”
Many of the planes aren’t too difficult to piece back together if they crash into the field, but others require more work to put back together.
“The planes these days are so cheap, though,” he said. “You can easily get into this hobby for less than $200 and have a blast doing it. It can be as expensive or as inexpensive as you want it to be.”
Club members’ planes vary in power from electric to gas to nitro powered. In the last two or three years, Jeff said the electric planes have gotten popular. They are generally quieter.
He said most of the club’s members have found out about the club just by word of mouth or driving by.
“They come on down, and next thing you know, they’re hooked,” he said. “It’s not a hobby that’s out in the mainstream.”
On Sept. 14, Show-Me R/C Air Shows from St. Louis will present an exhibition of giant aircrafts out at the Columbia flying grounds.
Member and newsletter editor Dave Pavlakes said this is one of the most impressive events of the year because the aircrafts are massive and cost several thousand dollars.
Jeff described the size of the aircrafts by saying a small child could fit in them.
“The motors are basically the size of a motorcycle,” he said. “They probably have close to a 12-foot wingspan.”
The festivities will also include a barbecue out at the Columbia flying grounds.
“Everybody brings a dish and we barbecue,” Dixen said. “Families come out and it’s just an all-around good time.”
They meet in the meeting room at West Park Bowl in Columbia every even month on the second Thursday. The next meeting will be June 12 at 7:30 p.m.
For more information, the club’s website is www.columbia-rc.net.