Thursday, July 5, 2012

Airplane enthusiasts cleared local flying club for takeoff

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PEACEFUL HOBBY—Joe Minton, at left, who has beenflying model planes for about 40 years, launches his electric sail plane during Conejo Quiet Flyersflying time at Rancho Conejo Playfield on June 29. Above, Ric Narvaez and Arash Afshari work the controls of their airborne planes. The model airplane club was organized four years ago and worked with the park district tofind parks where its members could meet tofly their aircraft. PEACEFUL HOBBY—Joe Minton, at left, who has beenflying model planes for about 40 years, launches his electric sail plane during Conejo Quiet Flyersflying time at Rancho Conejo Playfield on June 29. Above, Ric Narvaez and Arash Afshari work the controls of their airborne planes. The model airplane club was organized four years ago and worked with the park district tofind parks where its members could meet tofly their aircraft.By Dashiell Young-Saver
Behind the automatic garage door of the Afshari home, a fleet of airplanes lie in wait, ready to soar through the skyline of Thousand Oaks.
Arash Afshari and his two sons, Sebastian, 16, and Spencer, 13, have amassed a collection of 36 model airplanes and gliders in the past two years, transforming the family garage into a hangar.
Scale models of all different shapes and sizes line the walls; repair kits fill the shelves, and replacement batteries clutter the tables.


Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers“For me, each one of (the airplanes) is kind of like a girlfriend,” said Afshari, a retired Amgen employee and professional photographer. “Ultimately, they do the same thing and fly the same way, but they look different. Each one is beautiful.”
Afshari and his sons are among the 56 model airplane and glider enthusiasts who make up the Conejo Quiet Flyers, a club founded four years ago to provide venues for model airplane flights and to build a flying community.
“(Four years ago), CRPD didn’t allow model airplanes in any of the parks,” said club president Richard Cox, a 41-year Thousand Oaks resident. “So we met with them a few times, brought them out to the parks and showed them how the planes fly.”
Eventually, after the club provided liability insurance from the Academy of Model Aeronautics, CRPD allowed the group to fly at Rancho Conejo Playfields and Wildflower Park, provided they flew electric aircraft (which are quieter than gaspowered planes) and vacated the areas for organized sports.
On average, about 12 to 20 of the club’s members from throughout the Conejo Valley, most of whom are retired and have been flying model aircraft for years, show up every morning at the parks to share their hobby.
“(The club members) all tend to be friendly, fatherly and giving of their knowledge,” Sebastian said. Although most of the members are much older than him, Sebastian feels that, because of their shared interest in flying, he fits in well with the group.
“When (my father and I) started flying, the guys were always so open to helping us. They are all nice guys and young at heart,” he said.
For many, the group’s purpose is as much social as it is aerial.
“Sometimes you come, and there’s all these guys sitting in a row, yakking away, and there’s no planes in the air,” said Martin Newell, a retired researcher for Adobe Systems and four-year club member.
“Some (retirees) go to the coffee shop; some go to the golf range; we come here.”
While most of the model enthusiasts prefer larger scale models, which have an average wingspan of 40 inches, Newell enjoys building microindoor aircraft, which are extremely small radio airplanes that can be less than 3 inches long and weigh less than a gram. Because the pieces for the small models are so tiny and delicate, they must be built by hand.
For Newell, it’s the satisfaction of constructing the smaller planes that makes it worth all the effort.
“The mass-produced, ready-to-fly planes are very, very good now,” Newell said. “While it makes the hobby more accessible, the bad side to that is the incentive to build your own plane is almost gone completely. That’s one reason why I do this—you can’t buy these.”
After long nights of fixing planes after crash-landings and adjusting wing angles for better flight patterns, many of the members willingly admitted that, for them, model airplane flying has become more than just a hobby.
“When you’re into (flying) as much as I am, it can’t be called anything but an obsession,” Cox said.
Cox has acquired more than 100 planes over the past 13 years, making him the leading collector in the group. He said he spends around $2,000 annually buying, repairing, maintaining and improving his models. He usually flies for about an hour every day.
“If you’re interested in (model airplanes), there are just so many opportunities out there to build different types of planes, fly them and talk about them that it does very easily become a passion,” he said.
Afshari said he often ponders why flight, whether achieved by piloting a large airliner or a small-scale model, has always been a dream of mankind. He suggested that maybe it’s innate.
“I don’t know if it’s the feeling of freedom, getting away from your hum-drum ordinary existence . . . or harking back to the days when the men who flew these (planes) had to be real men who were courageous just to get into them,” he said, overlooking a sky full of model aircraft swerving around one another. “But a lot of people are born with this lust for flying. There’s something in our DNA about it.”
To find out more about the club, visit www.conejoquietflyers.org.

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