Model-aircraft pilots gather to fly

Jamie Robertson of Claremore, Okla., started flying model helicopters when he was 13.

Last year he finished seventh in the Extreme Flight Championships — one of the premier competitions for radio-controlled airplane pilots.

This year, at 16, Robertson won the event in Muncie, Ind., in a competition that drew contestants from around the world.

He is in Wichita this weekend, demonstrating his piloting skills at the Central Plains E-Fly Spectacular, which drew several hundred fans and hobbyists to Century II on Saturday.

"This is just fun flying," Robertson said as he got ready for one of his demonstrations. "This is just guys getting together to fly."

Robertson's secret to success?

"I practice on simulators a lot," he said. "And I do a lot of flying on weekends."

Robertson, a quarterback on the Claremore High School football team who hopes to become a football coach, said he averages five or six helicopter crashes a year.

Most, he said, are caused by mechanical problems. Repairs usually aren't that expensive.

"If it's a pretty good crash, it's probably $100 or so," he said. "If it's not too bad, you can probably keep it under $50."

Brandon Chitty, a sixth-grade teacher from Tulsa, flies airplanes about as well as Robertson flies helicopters.

Chitty said the plane he was flying Saturday was made from Depron foam, which is light, sturdy and inexpensive.

"You could relate it to a to-go box at a restaurant, but much better quality," he said.

Among those attending was Mike Bailey of Wichita, who said he got serious about making model airplanes after he was laid off from Cessna last year.

He said he now sells about 20 kits a week, which cost as little as $25, not counting the engine and remote-control equipment.

Bailey said every radio-control pilot has crashed an airplane or two.

"It's not if, it's when," he said.

Although most mishaps are relatively inexpensive, Bailey said he had the misfortune of destroying a friend's $6,000 airplane several years ago at the model airplane strip at Lake Afton.

Bailey said the accident occurred when he started his radio-controlled helicopter using the same frequency a friend was using to fly his top-of-the-line airplane.

"It was real high-end, expensive stuff," Bailey said. "I helped him pick up the pieces."

Bailey said his homeowner's insurance policy covered the damage.

"I called the agent and explained exactly what happened," he said. "He said it was like hitting a baseball through a neighbor' s window."