Radio Control Modelers of Baltimore

Jack Stites, of Baldwin, president of the Radio Control Modelers of Baltimore, prepares his model plane to fly at Kirk Field, in Parkton on Aug. 26. (Photo by Steve Ruark / September 19, 2012)

Like any good pilot, Jack Stites prepared his plane for takeoff by inspecting the wings and body and by moving the wing flaps to make sure there were no obstructions.

Satisfied with its air-worthiness, he piloted the red-and-white plane as it took off and soared over lush green hillsides.

But Stites, 75, didn't take to the air with his plane. In fact, the cockpit was empty. Stites stood on a grassy field in Parkton and used a hand-held radio to control the 14-pound plane.

"Ahh. Look at that. Look at that. It's windy today, but not too windy," he said as his plane made wide arcs through the Parkton sky while he moved two joysticks to control its path.

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He said it becomes difficult to control a plane if the wind is more than 15 mph.

The gas-powered plane landed safely several minutes later on a paved runway. It turned and bumped along the grass until it stopped a few away from Stites, the president of the Radio Control Modelers of Baltimore. The club meets at Kirk Field at the Parkton landfill, named for John Kirk, of Towson, a World War II fighter pilot and former club president who died in 2004.

"I never get tired of flying," said Stites, a retired Loch Raven High School band director, who lives in Baldwin. "I'm out here flying as often as I can. I even have a plane on skis so I can fly in the snow."

But for those not as hardy as Stites, the club offers indoor flying. It meets at Carroll Manor Recreation Council's gym in Jacksonville each Wednesday afternoon to fly planes and helicopters.

The indoor battery-run helicopters and planes are so light — some weigh less than an ounce — that the gym's air conditioning is turned off to prevent downdrafts that could send a plane crashing to the floor.

Jerry Stevens, 81, of Forest Hill, recently maneuvered his single-blade helicopter around the gym, keeping along the same flight path as six other planes and two helicopters.

He joined the club in 1981 and now owns six planes and three helicopters. He flies at Parkton several times a week and in the gym weekly.

Career springboard

The club, which is an associate member of Seventh District Recreation Council, has about 125 members. Most are men, but there are a few women members, though they aren't currently flying.

The members have varied backgrounds — doctors, engineers, dentists, store owners and businessmen — but they are united by their passion for planes.

"I owe my career to this club," said Ron Stahl, 53, of Reisterstown, a club member for 35 years, referring to his job at AAI, the Hunt Valley based corporation that manufactures high technology equipment for the government. "When AAI started making unmanned airplanes, they approached the club for some advice and several of us were eventually hired, including me. I'd say 10 percent of the club is retired from or still works for AAI."

Like Stites, Stahl comes out to the field every chance he gets. He recently flew an electric jet at about 90 mph. He built the 6-pound jet with a 42-inch wingspan from a kit and had no trouble landing it on the 300-foot paved runway the members built.

But Stahl has had his share of accidents, including one day when two of his places crashed — a problem that was later traced back to faulty equipment.

"If you fly and you say you haven't crashed, you're lying," he said. "But that's partly the fun — repairing or rebuilding a plane."

Stahl and Stites are two of about a dozen members who are instructors. They invite anyone age 9 or older to come out to the field for a test flight. The novice will fly one of three training planes the club owns, using a buddy box that allows the instructor to take over at any time.

After three successful take-offs and landings on their own, as well as some maneuvers in the air, students get a pair of wings and are invited to join the club.