The Flaps club was honored in the Finger Lakes Times newspaper.

Here is the article and some shots that were published.


finger lakes times article

Posted: Sunday, January 13, 2013 5:00 am

Story and photos by SUSAN CLARK PORTER

SENECA FALLS — Every Thursday morning in the winter, the Seneca Falls Community Center is transformed from a gym into an indoor airfield.

 Members of the Finger Lakes Air Pirates (FLAPS) club wander in at about 10 a.m., their arms filled with planes and tool kits. They push their belongings against the gym wall, take out their flying machines and before you know it it’s time for liftoff.

Conversation among the men takes place against the backdrop of whizzing sounds, as several of the planes fly through the gym. One pilot gets fancy and tries some loop-de-loops. Another retreats to the corner of a gym to try out some new moves in a safe space.

The group — which also flies Monday evenings in the Cady Stanton school gym in Seneca Falls and at the Geneva YMCA when it can secure space — has about 40 members. In the summer, members gather at the FLAPS flying field off of Carter Road in Geneva.

Jack Roberts of Wolcott has been flying model airplanes since the 1980s and has about 20 to 25 at his disposal. He came to the hobby later in life; he didn’t fly planes as a youngster, although he said he wanted to.

“It’s a second childhood,” Roberts said. “I like the electrical part, the building and the flying. Some models are way more challenging than others.”Roberts builds some of his planes from scratch, including his pizza-box model, made of Styrofoam.

Bill Birkett, of the town of Seneca, also had his pizza-box model out for a spin and described it as a very durable plane.

“You can bounce it off the walls and it survives very well,” he said. “And when you’re tired of flying it you can put it on the ground and run it like a car.”

Birkett and Fred Jensen of Waterloo, who started flying in August 2011, next pulled out a buddy box — a remote control device that lets both novice and experienced pilots fly the same plane at the same time.

“It saves money on repairs,” said Jensen. “It can be an expensive hobby. A lot of these [planes] go for big money.”

Tom Kelley of the town of Seneca also praised the buddy boxes, which he considers indispensable for newcomers. Kelley started flying model planes about four years ago — as a retirement hobby — and laughed as he recalled one of his first flights.

“I had this foam plane and I said ‘I can do this.’ After about a minute and a half it crashed in a cornfield. With the buddy box system you don’t run into that,” he said.  

Perhaps he should have been using the buddy box that Thursday morning.

Kelley’s Cessna model collided with a helicopter in mid-air, leaving the plane in pieces on the gym floor. Kelley was having a tough morning. Earlier, his plane flew too high and its prop became lodged in the gym’s dividing curtain. The curtain was lowered so Kelley could retrieve the piece.

“I’ll just slap anther rubber band on it and it’s ready to go again,” he said. “That’s what’s nice about the prop savers.”

Kelley joined the club after running into Birkett. He said he knew he needed something to do once he retired and flying model aircraft sounded like fun.

“Basically, I enjoy the socialization,” Kelley said. “To me, you can’t just hibernate when you retire. You have to have things to do. This is a good group.”

Members not only get together to fly their planes, but also travel to air shows together, he said — noting some may attend the WRAM (Westchester Radio Aeromodelers Inc.) show at the Meadowlands next month.

Several of the men even braved the snow on New Year’s Day and gathered at FLAPS’ outdoor field for some winter flying.

“That’s a tradition, the first flight of the year, weather permitting,” said Dave Mayne of Waterloo. The 15 or so club members on hand put skis and floats on their planes so they could land in the plentiful snow, and also enjoyed coffee and chili on a wood stove in the shelter.

Birkett said the Air Pirates attract a wide range of members — from engineers and doctors to construction workers.

“They’re from all sorts of backgrounds,” he said, noting members come from Wolcott, Penn Yan, Romulus, Varick, Seneca Falls, Waterloo and the Geneva and Canandaigua areas. “It’s a good bunch of people.”

At one point during the morning fly session, two toddlers ventured into the gym with their grandfather to check out the action. Birkett knelt down to show young Jacob Davis of McMurray, Pa., one of his planes. Davis was content to watch the dipping planes, although his younger sister seemed more interested in heading to an adjacent room to play.

Both Jensen and Kelley noted younger fliers pick up the hobby quickly, perhaps benefiting from that generation’s experience with video games.

“It’s fun to watch the young people fly,” Kelley said. “They can do remarkable things.”

Learn more

FLAPS is open to new members and can teach you how to build, as well as fly, your creation. There is a club trainer and buddy box system for those who would like to try the sport before owning a plane. Visitors and guests are welcome at the FLAPS field off Carter Road, however you must be a member of Academy of Model Aeronautics to fly. Club meetings are at 7 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month at the American Legion, Geneva. Warm weather meetings are held at the field.

bill kid