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Model airplane fliers looking for a landing strip

Adam Hamilton, left, and Dave Morrison, members of the Perry RC Flyers, show model planes at the Houston County Commission meeting Nov. 15. They are seeking a piece of land where they can fly the planes.
Adam Hamilton, left, and Dave Morrison, members of the Perry RC Flyers, show model planes at the Houston County Commission meeting Nov. 15. They are seeking a piece of land where they can fly the planes. wcrenshaw@macon.com

Some pilots in Perry need an airport.

For years the Perry RC Flyers have struggled to keep a piece of land for flying their radio-controlled airplanes. They lost their most recent landing strip next to the Haunted Barn when the owner sold the land.

Now they are putting out the word hat they would appreciate anyone with a few spare acres to let them use it. In exchange they will pay the property taxes and maintain it.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Hamilton said there’s a bigger issue than the hobby of a small group of people. He is a member of the club and started flying model airplanes as a child. That led him to take an interest in aeronautics, and he went on to have a 26-year career in the Air Force, where he flew B-1 and B-52 bombers. He still flies as a corporate pilot.

He said there is a shortage of pilots worldwide, and that’s expected to only get worse in the coming years.

Hamilton said many pilots are introduced to the career by flying model planes as children. He thinks the local club is important because it offers children that same opportunity. It can be a difficult hobby to pick up because the airplanes are expensive, yet without training novices will typically crash the plane.

Members of the club offer free training through a two-controller system that lets an experienced pilot take over if the beginner gets in trouble.

“We have struggled to find a home for this hobby for a decade now,” Hamilton said. “We are seeking public or private assistance to develop a permanent home where we can reach out to members of the community.”

They have considered buying land, but one problem with that is growth in the county. They could make that investment and then have people start building houses around the property, which wouldn’t work.

Although they need only about five acres for the flying field that they use, they need about 70 acres around it to be relatively free of homes or busy highways. That’s what makes it difficult to find a permanent spot.

On Nov. 15, about a dozen members of the club came to the Houston County Commission meeting to seek their help. They asked the board to consider either letting them use some piece of county land or help them find a willing landowner.

Although the board did not offer any specific tracts, commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said the county would see if it had a piece of land that would be suitable for them.

Commissioner Larry Thomson, who lives near the tract that the group recently lost, vouched for the club. He said the planes they fly are not noisy and have never bothered him.

“They are very good neighbors,” Thomson said. “We enjoyed watching the planes go up and down.”

Wayne Thompson, the president of the club, said most of the planes they use are electric and not that noisy. He said it’s a good hobby for children, even if they aren’t interested in an aviation career.

“It’s as much about learning to cope with difficulties and problems as it is flying,” he said.

The group also claims responsibility for luring a major employer to Perry. In the early 1990s the club held a fly-in in Perry, and some fliers from Florida came who worked for Graphic Packaging. Thompson said the company happened to be looking for a new location then, and those fliers went back and told the company Perry should get a look. The company ended up locating there, and it now employs 285 people, according to the Houston County Development Authority.

Anyone with a piece of land who would like to help the group out can call Thompson at 478-952-5460.

Wayne Crenshaw: 478-256-9725, @WayneCrenshaw1

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