Hopes take wing in competition for remote-controlled sailplanes


Although he stood barely 4 feet high, Chris Burns felt nothing could stop him from soaring more than 100 times his height.

"It's a lot of wind out here today, but I can stay in the air for a while," said Chris, 7, holding a balsa-wood plane whose wingspan was two feet longer than he was tall.

"Sometimes, It'll go so high, it just becomes a speck," he said.

Chris' craft was among more than 40 model planes that took to the skies above McDonogh School in Owings Mills yesterday at the Baltimore Area Soaring Society's competition for remote-controlled sailplanes.

Pilots earned points toward trophies and honors by keeping their planes airborne for five or 10 minutes at a time, and by landing them on target.

But for many participants, the sheer enjoyment of flying their aircraft outweighed the lure of winning.

"I started to do it because my dad did it," said Chris, of Harrisburg, Pa. "It was a lot of fun. Then, as I kept doing it, it got funner and funner."

His mother also was drawn into the sport.

"I became a reluctant participant because I'd never see my husband or son on the weekend otherwise," Eileen Burns said. Her husband, George, also pilots model planes. "I guess it has become my activity by default," she said.

don't know when I found time to work between building them and flying them," said Phil McShane, an Ellicott City retiree who has been flying remote-controlled planes since 1947. "It kept me busy mentally and physically."

Guy Dickes, director of the two-day contest, said each plane is an extension of its pilot.

"The planes are a reflection of your personality," he said. "You see some competitive pilots and they have detailed planes.

"I'm flying a tired old beast, about 6 or 8 years old, that I brought out of retirement for the contest."

Mr. Dickes' vintage craft sailed smoothly, but some entries did not fare as well. One crashed into a tree. Another was pulled apart by the stress of too much tension in the 200-pound nylon cord attached to its underside to help launch it.

"In the old days, if you came down with an airplane intact, it was unusual," Mr. McShane said.

"I named one of my planes 'Bushhog' because it was always landing in the bushes. But you still come out to fly again."

Young Chris already has adopted that philosophy. His plancrashed far from its target but he was able to to fly it again.

"I've been doing this for about a year and a half now," he said. "I'm getting pretty good." He touched the wing of his plane and smiled.

"I'm about to launch. Want to watch me fly?"

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