The Art Of Taking Flight



Many of Dick Campbell's planes hang on a wall in his work room. Some are finished and have been flown more than a few time and others are in various stages of production.


Holding an engine, Dick Campbell explains how one engine can serve many different model planes.


Photos by Andy Towle/Roundup

Painting all the separate pieces of a model plane used to be the norm. Now, one can glue a fiberglass-based material called Monokote along edge surfaces and then use a hot blower device similar to a hair dryer to shrink and melt the material onto the balsa wood.


Dick Campbell demonstrates how joy stick movements control the different flaps on a radio-controlled airplane.

When Dick Campbell was a boy, model airplanes were powered with wound up rubber bands, and their parts had to be cut with a razor blade.

“You’d cut your hands on a razor blade if your mom would let you have a razor blade,” Campbell said. “Now they have exacto knives.”

And now, Campbell is 74 years old and his airplanes are slightly more updated. They have engines and remote radio controls.

Finished planes hang on Campbell’s garage wall, the models still in boxes line shelves just below the ceiling.

“My wife said, ‘you’re not dying until you finish’ all those planes,” Campbell said. “The only thing is, it doesn’t pay much.”

During Campbell’s working life, he was a field representative for Chevrolet. Besides some Chevy memorabilia, Campbell says he has tired of cars, and is now more interested in airplanes.

Campbell’s entire garage is devoted to the craft. The refrigerator and television tuned to Fox News belie how much time Campbell spends working on his planes — six to eight hours a day.

A sign on the wall says “Psychiatrist, one flight up.”

The planes are made of balsa wood, a light and bendable material. Campbell glues pieces together, and then covers them in fiberglass, which provides strength and creates a cohesive unit.

Building the planes is one art, and flying the planes another.

Campbell’s silver remote control has the programming capability to handle 16 different planes. Like a car seat that can be programmed to remember a specific user’s settings, the radio remembers a plane’s settings once Campbell switches the dial.

The control features two swivel sticks that resemble miniature versions of video game joysticks.

He moves the left one and one plane’s rudder moves. The rudder is a back flap that disturbs the air to control which direction the plane moves in.

If the control sounds cool, then its not surprising that some model airplane fans enjoy the flying more than they enjoy the building. For them, there are ARFs — almost ready to fly. Those planes come in a box, ready to be assembled.

Still, the art of flying shouldn’t be lost on the layperson. On takeoffs — push your plane forward as fast as it will go. The speed increases the plane’s lift factor.

Landing — is it more difficult? “It’s mandatory,” Campbell says. “Takeoff is optional.” He doesn’t quite answer the question, but said that practice increases ability.

Demonstrating how to land, Campbell turns his hand and slowly drops it, explaining that 90-degree turns help slow the plane down enough to prepare for landing.

Campbell meets with his club, the Rim Country Flyers, every week. The members get together to fly their planes.

They do tricks and fancy turns and friendly competition incites the members to excellence. “This is going to fly bigger and better and faster than anyone else’s,” Campbell said.

The planes Campbell flew when he was 8 stayed airborne for just the few seconds it took for the rubber band that powered them to unwind. Now, an eight-ounce fuel tank — filled with a mixture of nitro methane and methanol, among other things — can fly for 12 or 15 minutes.

But, it’s still like playing. Campbell stays in his garage working until the sun goes down.

Then, “I have to go in the house. It’s time for dinner.”

Some things never change.


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