Recently, while we were reading in bed one night, I looked over at my wall unit and noticed a winged migration: A balsa wood skeleton of a plane had landed unaesthetically close to my Bjørn Wiinblad bud vase. It was time for “the talk.”
“How many planes do you have?” I asked Karl, who was absorbed in a model aviation magazine.
The look on his face held the same mixture of panic and shame as it did the time I asked how old he was when he lost his virginity.
“Fixed-wing?” he said, knowing that would immediately lower the count. Hedging some more, he asked, “The ones that I’m flying or the ones in storage that could fly?”
He spent an agonizing few minutes ticking off numbers on his fingers like a Dickens character at his ledger. “Including tiny ones?” he asked.
Finally, he came clean. “Ten that can fly,” he said, sounding as if a weight had been lifted. “Okay. Eleven. I forgot about one of the tiny ones.”
When I didn’t react (an old reporter’s trick), he continued his confession. “This is not counting all the boxes and random wings, or the two backups that can fly.”
Then, he delivered the final blow. “And I have at least 10 more waiting in the wings.” No pun intended.
Welcome to the world of the radio-control — or remote-control — plane enthusiast, of which Karl happens to be a card-carrying member. He belongs to the D.C. Radio Control Club (DCRC), which flies at the Walt Good Field in Boyds. A quick online search turns up 32 other clubs within a 50-mile radius of our nation’s capital, with names such as the Skylancers (Washington) and the Mavericks (Frederick).
The clubs share one thing: Members must belong to the Academy of Model Aeronautics, a nonprofit association that ensures the special interests of these hobbyists. It also insures, should any of the ground-based pilots crash their planes into something or someone they shouldn’t.
RC piloting is a pastime that makes a cameo appearance whenever drones are mentioned — including in a recent cover story in Wired magazine (“Here Come the Drones!”). It has been a lead item on the news, such as last September, when the FBI nabbed Rezwan Ferdaus as he plotted to fly remote-control model planes packed with explosives into the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol. The hobby has even appeared on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” (stepfather Bruce Jenner is a noted enthusiast).