of Webb City takes his turn flying a radio-controlled airplane around
the gymnasium while other members of the GymDandy Flyers watch.
Participants generally fly just one airplane at a time since the
larger, electric-powered planes could easily destroy slower, lighter
rubber band-powered models.
You could walk faster than
the plane flies as it rises higher and higher toward the ceiling. A
rubber band-powered propeller moves just enough air to keep the tiny
craft creeping forward in a delicate flight that only barely defies
In a moment the plane stops,
its flight interrupted by a rafter high above the gym floor at Carthage
High School. Everyone laughs while a telescoping fiberglass pole is
produced to retrieve the tiny aircraft.
"Anytime you have rafters
you're going to end up hanging up once in a while. It's just part of
it," says Jerry Combs, a model airplane builder from Wyandotte, Okla.,
who joins a group of dedicated indoor flying enthusiasts from southwest
Missouri for the twice-monthly meeting of the GymDandy Flyers.
The group, also known as
the Small Model Airplane Lovers League of the Four States, gathers on
first and third Mondays to fly not only rubber band-powered craft but
also radio-controlled model airplanes propelled by tiny electric motors.
These are evenings of friendship and conversation more so than friendly
of Wyandotte, Okla., releases a rubber band-powered airplane after
retrieving it from the rafters of the Carthage High School gymnasium.
Two Mondays each month Combs joins other model airplane enthusiasts
from Missouri and Oklahoma for an informal indoor flying gathering
at the gym.
"We've always had a good
humor about this hitting the walls, shattering everybody
laughs and has a good time. Or we applaud when somebody finally gets
it going," says Bob Selman, an electrical engineer who first organized
the gatherings. "It's a good, friendly group. People will sit here the
whole night helping somebody get their airplane ready to fly."
A former Air Force pilot,
54-year-old Selman says he has flown model airplanes since he was 6.
Until recently, his hobby involved gasoline-powered model airplanes
flown outdoors. About four years ago Selman decided he wanted to try
his hand at indoor flying a relatively obscure segment of the
model airplane hobby that dates to the 1930s with so-called "free flight"
planes and was just then taking off with the latest miniaturized, lightweight
electric motors and radio controllers.
Selman, a New-Mac Electric
Cooperative member, lined up use of the Carthage gym and began looking
for people to join him in his pursuit.
"I ended up forcing some
people to come in," Selman says. "I twisted arms of a lot of people
at work. I said, 'This is good for your kids. Let's all go out and play
with model airplanes.'"
Judging by the group gathered
at the gym during a flying session in November, the "kids" today are
mostly of the grown variety. A half dozen men take turns launching model
airplanes, most guided by radio controllers. The predominance of sophisticated
electronics reflects how far the informal club has progressed in a few
"We started out with just
rubber bands and gliders. We went out and bought the 50 cent wind-up
stuff. They were pretty funky airplanes. They didn't do much," Selman
says. "But the next time we were out we already had some of these little
electric powereds. We had two or three of those going and it just started
can be as simple as the rubber band which powers this $4 toy plane.
Other airplanes cost several hundred dollars and include electric
motors and radio controls.
It wasn't long before Combs,
a retire bicycle mechanic from California, discovered the group. Combs
started flying model airplanes when he was 5 and has set national records
for time aloft. While he occasionally flies the radio-controlled model
airplanes favored by other club members, Combs prefers the ultra-lightweight
rubber band-powered planes like the "mini-stick" he's flying on this
"This is my first love because
it is such a challenge," Combs says. "It's a challenge to do as good
as you can possibly do and hopefully beat your buddy."
The object of these planes
is keeping them flying as long as possible. "The record is 64 minutes.
The best I've done is 45 minutes," says Combs who still participates
in national and international competitions.
Literally built from a balsa
wood stick, Comb's tiny plane has gossamer wings which span just 7 inches
and are covered with a clear Mylar film, 3 microns thick. The plane,
which weighs barely more than a single sheet of paper, is powered by
a special rubber band that costs $39 a pound and is available from just
one source world wide. Combs
winds the rubber band with a crank that includes a revolution counter
resembling a handheld calculator. Only when the needle on a home-built
torque meter indicates the correct tension does he place the band on
the plane and release it to fly.
Selman watches a plane respond to the commands of his radio controller.
While Combs goes to elaborate
lengths to keep his diminutive flyers in the air, other GymDandy Flyers
enjoy their hobby on a much simpler level. Many of the planes flown
in the Carthage gym are no more sophisticated than the wind-up Delta
Dart planes that sell for just a few dollars in toy stores and hobby
"It's an affordable hobby,"
says Ken Spencer, a model airplane builder from Webb City. "For $5 you
can be up and going."
Others, though, are not satisfied
unless they can control the plane. Selman says he's watched with enthusiasm
as indoor radio-controlled airplanes burst on the European hobby scene
about five years ago and rapidly have become smaller and lighter.
"I'm an engineer so I love
the electronics involved in the little airplanes," says Selman, who
designs and sells model airplane electronics as a sideline to his job
at a Webb City industrial scale manufacturer.
"My goal is flying in my
living room some day just being able to sit down in my chair
and fly around in front of me. It's a long ways from that yet," he says.
"I already have them that
I fly in my living room," counters Combs. "We've even been known to
glue a fly to the front instead of a propeller and have a fly-powered
airplane. You probably shouldn't do it but it will work."
While Combs and Selman represent
two extremes of the indoor flying hobby, they come together in the Carthage
gym where the "heavies" get along just fine with the lightweight crowd.
Both are attracted to the same advantages that indoor flying offers.
"We've never been rained
out and we don't have to worry about wind," says Spencer, who also has
a pilot's license. As yet another model gently nosedives into a wall
he adds "and there's a lot of things you can do with a toy that are
frowned on with a real airplane."
For more information about
the GymDandy Flyers call Bob Selman at (417) 358-9521, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or look for their Website at www.janics.com/~bselman.