ANNVILLE, Pa. -- "I traveled the world, and everywhere I went I found a radio-controlled aircraft club," said Donald "Bud" Klopp, of Myerstown, who cites years of experience piloting full sized planes.
Luckily, no one in the Lebanon County area needs to travel the world — they need only look in their backyard. There they will find the Lebanon County Radio Controlled Aircraft Club, the county's own organization for model aeronautics and remote-controlled aircraft.
It is as place for enthusiasts and newcomers alike to share their hobby, as well as a dedicated space for the activity.
"I like to watch others fly," said Don Sudbury of Cleona, "and talk about designs together. You meet a lot of diverse people, from all walks of life."
The club has rented a scenic field near Hill Church Road and Thompson Avenue in Annville for the past 35 years. The airstrip is open to the club's current 26 members seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
The club was originally known as Montieth and Friends, until they chartered with the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Based in Muncie, Ind., the AMA is the largest model aviation association in the world and is run entirely by volunteers.
"It's definitely a well-managed organization," Klopp admitted.
The AMA provides guidelines including safety rules and size limits, as well as insurance for members and property. Any prospective member of the local club must first become a member of the AMA.
A beginner can get the equipment needed for an investment of $350 or less, Chris O'Dell of Lebanon explained. Cost depends on the flyer's preferences and what kind of gear he wants. Planes can be bought in any stage of construction, from minimal kits to those almost ready to fly. Many veterans even go so far as to design their own planes and build them from scratch.
Common body materials for radio controlled airplanes include foam, balsa wood and hard plastic, and body styles can be as varied as the imagination — jets, Cessnas, sailplanes and even conceptual aircraft designs.
A number of different fuels can be used as well. In the past, the aircrafts depended on either alcohol or gasoline fuel, but they are now moving toward electric power.
"Technology changes so much, and there's so much variety out there," Sudbury said.
"These aren't toy planes," Klopp added. "They follow all of the same aerodynamic rules as full sized aircraft."
The receivers use frequencies based on 2.4 gigahertz to communicate with the planes, ensuring that no two operators' frequencies accidentally interfere with each other.
"It's the same technology as a cellphone," Sudbury explained. "This technology is the same thing that allows two people to use their cellphones while next to each other without interference."
And though the hobby may begin to sound complex, O'Dell said a wealth of technical knowledge is not as necessary as curiosity when first getting started.
"You need to be willing to learn; that's the only skill set you need," he assured, "along with an open mind."
Younger people may even have an advantage because they are more familiar and proficient with video games, which help provide the joystick control and hand-eye coordination necessary for flight. Klopp affirmed this point, recalling a student he had once taught to fly remote-controlled aircraft.
"He was all over the place, so I told him to go home and play a flight simulator," he explained. "The next time, he was flying much better."
Sudbury, who has been flying since he was six, including aeronautic competitions, remembered a more touching story of hobby turned healing.
After his father, himself a long time aircraft enthusiast and member of the club, had a stroke five years ago, Sudbury looked for an activity that would provide him with both therapeutic relief and mental stimulation. He decided to bring his father planes and supplies in the hospital and, once discharged, bring him back out to the field.
Sudbury said he could tell the old hobby was bringing energy back to his father, as well as providing a reason to get outside and stay active.
"I was amazed at how it made his mind work again," Sudbury confessed. "It did wonders for him."
In addition to Sudbury's suggestions of the health benefits of the hobby, Klopp elucidated one simple reason which struck a chord with all of the members present.
"I'm an airplane nut," he said. "There's nothing else in the world to do."
"Same with me," agreed O'Dell, "and everybody here, pretty much."