By Scott Graves

Triplicate staff writer

The airplanes cut through the air in Fort Dick at 30 to 60 mph. One does a corkscrew. Another flies upside down. A third screams toward the ground at a frightening speed, pulling out at the last possible minute.

There is no air traffic control at this empty field. No lights or lines on the runway. Still, when airplanes collide or crash to the ground, as they often do, there are no human causalities.

Thats because the pilots are safe on the ground, guiding their planes using remote control radios. Their aircraft are small-scale home-built replicas of real airplanes and helicopters.

All the laws of physics that affect real airplanes affect model airplanes, said Dan Weyand, president and long-time member of the Redwood Empire Modelers Association (REMA). Its harder to fly these planes than the real things.

On almost any day, but especially on Sundays, Weyand and a half-dozen other members can be found launching and landing their model airplanes from a mowed field near Morehead Road in Fort Dick. Visitors are encouraged to show up.

There are very few hobbies that can be enjoyed by such a wide range of ages, Weyand said.

On Thursday afternoon, Crescent City resident Don Beard, 39, and his 9-year-old son Matt, the youngest club member, stood side-by-side taking turns flying a military-style Piper L-4 plane through a series of steep banks and turns.

I havent been doing it for long, but its a lot of fun, Matt said.

His father smiled, knowing how easy it is to get hooked on flying RC airplanes.

I was 14 when I bought a cheap, 2-channel foam glider, Beard said. Then I was lucky enough to find a guy willing to teach me how to fly and build planes.

His collection now boasts 15 aircraft. Seven of his airplanes and two helicopters are in flying shape. Beard looks forward to rainy days, when he can spend hours building or repairing his planes.

Its not uncommon to put 200 to 300 hours into one plane, he said, then added: I get the most satisfaction from sitting down with nothing, just a bunch of pieces, and ending up with a plane that can lift off and land.

The length of most RC airplanes is five to 6 feet, with an average wingspan of 6-feet. They generally weigh 10 to 12 pounds and are usually made of glued wooden frames covered with thin plastic.

The airplanes are complicated machines powered by two-stroke or four-stroke gas engines the size of a mans fist. The planes fuselage contains a receiver and a collection of wires and servos that operate the rudder and various flaps.

Veteran flyers say it takes a year to two years to master the training stages of flying. From there, a pilot can advance to aerobatic planes, scale aircraft, giant-scale aircraft, gliders, electric planes, turbine-powered jet fighters and float planes.

Its not as difficult as you think. Like anything, it just takes time and practice, said Gene Petrik, 67, of Gasquet. Hes been flying RC airplanes for 37 years. Ive built two dozen planes easy.

But Petrik enjoys flying his planes more than building them.

As a kid I enjoyed watching birds, then kites, then model airplanes, he said.

On this particular day, Petrik is flying a high performance CAP 232 designed for aerobatic maneuvers. With slight finger moves on the controller sticks he sends the aircraft into a dizzying display of rolls, loops and corkscrew dives toward the earth. Other members at the field stop what their doing to watch.

The RC airplane club was established in 1978 and currently has approximately 37 members from both Del Norte and Curry counties. The group is a charter member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which provides clubs throughout the country with insurance and other benefits, Weyand said.

The club has several pilots who are willing to teach people how to fly. Each instructor uses a two-controller system that allows the teacher to take over almost instantly when, not if, the student loses control.

When a new student flies solo for the first time, they can expect to crash.

Its inevitable, Petrik said. Youre always going to crash the first time.

People interested in learning more about RC airplanes are invited to attend the associations weekend fly-in scheduled for Sept 16-17 at the Klamath Airport. The event will draw RC airplane enthusiasts from throughout the west and will feature a variety of aircraft, competitions and performances, Weyand said.

The public is also welcome to attend the associations regular meetings, which take place on the last Sunday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Del Norte Senior Center on Northcrest Drive.

For more information call Dan Beard at (707) 464-7105.