December 7, 2012

The treatment of model boats in the District [“Architect of folly,” editorial, Dec. 2] mirrors the experience of the radio-controlled model airplane club in Bladensburg, of which I am secretary. In early 2009, without explanation or opportunity for discussion, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned all model aircraft from flying within 12 miles of Reagan National Airport. Through our 150,000-plus member national organization, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, we have twice appealed for an exemption from this prohibition. Both requests have been turned down with little or no comment, although the person pleading our case was reminded that our field is “only four miles from the National Mall.”

Radio-controlled model aircraft can be flown only 400 to 500 yards from the pilot. Any farther, and the plane cannot be seen well enough to be controlled and would quickly end up an expensive heap on the ground. What the FAA (and, one assumes, the people at Department of Homeland Security who are calling the shots) fear are drones, which are getting cheaper and more numerous every day. We share the concern about the use of drones (which have cameras and other equipment that allow them to be controlled from much greater distances) for terrorist purposes, and our club rules ban drones at our flying field. Efforts to explain this critical distinction to the FAA have so far been met with a stony silence. When we were out pursuing our hobby, we made sure no drones flew from our rather isolated field. Who does that now that we are gone?

Not surprisingly, our more-than-50-year-old club’s membership has evaporated, and that is sad. We have had some terrific people. Our founding president, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Solko, died a couple of years ago at age 87. He piloted P-38s in World War II and later flew VIPs all over the globe for the Air Force in the ’60s and ’70s. Our current president, Foster Blair, is a retired nuclear engineer for the Navy who is a consultant for companies all over the country.

Why prevent folks like us from enjoying our hobby and introducing young people to the world of aviation merely to satisfy official paranoia?

The writer is secretary of the Fly Away Radio Control Club.

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