Club keeps model planes flying

Mike Riska decided to become an airplane pilot 16 years ago, after he retired as a welder from Gener
Fran Reed of Johnstown, left, starts the right engine of his model airplane as Mike Riska keeps it steady in a field off Route 131 in Johnstown on Thursday. Both are members of the Lazy 8 Radio Control Club
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Fran Reed of Johnstown, left, starts the right engine of his model airplane as Mike Riska keeps it steady in a field off Route 131 in Johnstown on Thursday. Both are members of the Lazy 8 Radio Control Club

Mike Riska decided to become an airplane pilot 16 years ago, after he retired as a welder from General Electric.

But Riska didn’t want to fly a commercial passenger airplane — he wanted to become an RC pilot, using a remote control to fly giant-scale model airplanes.

Riska, now 66, said the airplanes have a minimum wingspan of 80 inches and travel about 30 to 40 mph. Some airplanes have wingspans over 10 feet and others can travel 140 mph, he said. An average giant-scale airplane weighs about 6 pounds.

“It’s very satisfying to get out there and fly something that you’ve built from scratch,” he said. “It’s just a great hobby.”

The airplanes are made of thin wood and have a plastic cover. Planes typically fly at 400 to 500 feet and travel several hundred feet away from the pilots.

“These things are quite fast,” he said. “They’re powered by engines that range anywhere from maybe 1 horsepower to 12 horsepower.”

Many airplanes are powered by gasoline in 10-ounce fuel tanks. Some use glow fuel, an oil combination commonly used to power remote-controlled vehicles.

With the price of glow fuel around $30 per gallon, Riska said, many fliers are converting to gasoline.

“At $4 a gallon, that’s a bargain compared to the $30 per gallon for glow fuel,” he said.

Ten ounces of gasoline lasts for 12 minutes for most airplanes, according to Riska.

Riska’s club, the Lazy 8 Radio Control Club, based in Johnstown, holds an annual fundraiser in August for the James A. Brennan Humane Society of Gloversville.

The society educates people to help prevent animal suffering. Riska said it also helps seniors pay for food for their pets if they can’t afford it. Last year’s event raised $1,400 for the group.

The event will be held behind the Rogers Family Orchard off Route 131 on Aug. 15 through 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Tickets are $3 for people over 12. Kids under 12 are free. All of the gate proceeds go to the humane society.

The Lazy 8 Radio Control Club has about 40 active members who range in age from 15 to 80.

Riska said future pilots can get started in the hobby for about $400. Each pilot also pays his group $40 per year and another $48 per year to a national organization for insurance.

The group takes safety precautions and always yields airspace to real aircraft if they see or hear one.

“They take priority,” Riska said. “We have to get our plane out of the sky because life and limb is more important than a model airplane.”

Although crashes happen occasionally, Riska has only seen one major collision in his 16 years as a pilot, when someone hit a bird in midair. The bird was killed. The plane was not damaged.

Sometimes pilots lose sight of their airplane and the “runaway” can be found crashed as far away as 20 miles from the airfield.

“A number of years ago, we had a fellow lose control of an airplane, and about a week later a guy called from Broadalbin,” Riska said.

It turns out the plane landed about 10 miles away on someone’s back porch. Both the airplane and porch were undamaged.

Categories: Schenectady County

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