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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Radio Control Geeks

On my way to work yesterday I found myself arriving a bit early. I got a call from my carpool partner after I'd left the house. He said he was at his kid's soccer match, was running behind, and not to bother picking him up. Already en route, I decided to drive directly to work without the detour.

As I got near the aqueduct I spotted a plume of smoke rising into the sky. I'd seen these Radio Controlled (R/C) aircraft flying here before, and since I had extra time, I decided to take a half mile side-trip and see what it was all about.

I drove down a very rough road until I got to the gate that led into a small air strip. There were several RVs, trucks, and small pavillions set up, with a 'main thoroughfare' going through the center of it all. There were perhaps 20-25 people there, with fascinating aircraft.

The model jets were pretty cool. I saw models of the F-4, F/A-18, and the F-117 stealth fighter. I have no idea how the guy got that F-117 to fly - supposedly the real thing is inherently unstable and requires several computers to constantly reposition its control surfaces to keep it stable.

Anyway, I was very startled to see that these aircraft are now powered by small turbojet engines! Being a power plant guy, that of course was where my attention focused. The engines are about the size of a "Big Gulp" cup.

Unfortunately it was twilight by the time I arrived and the jet fighter guys were done flying for the day. I noticed that each of these modelers had a leaf blower to get the engine spinning up to firing speed, and also a 10lb CO2 fire extinguisher, for reasons best left to the imagination.

Socially these guys were friggin weird. I tried to initiate a couple of friendly conversations, but there was *no* interest whatsoever. You'd think these guys might possibly be keen to show off their very expensive and intricate toys, but they treated me like I was the IRS - or maybe a leper.

I mentioned to one guy that things had come a long way since I'd been to a model airfield, and that back then 'ducted fans' powered by piston engines were the only option other than propellors. He turned to his friend as though I'd not even spoken and said "You know, I have an old model D8V ducted fan in my garage. I think I might rebuild it and put it in my Falcon". Then they started a big conversation about it, ignoring me completely. It just seemed a bit odd...

Next I wandered over to a guy who was setting up a propellor driven plane with a small real-time camera on it. I mentioned to him as well that aircraft power plants had come a long way, what with the gas turbines. I mentioned that I worked at a gas turbine power plant nearby, and pointed to the plume from the cooling tower. No interest: He quickly cut me off with "I have a brother in law that works at one of those."

He was setting up an LCD monitor on the passenger seat of his truck, and an antenna on the roof to get the signal from his on-board camera. I was very impressed and told him how cool I thought this was. Two more R/C owners then came over and quickly got between us, and started asking questions about the output of his video transmitter and how many amp-hours his battery was good for (Ha - as though I am ignorant of such things!), basically being rude and exclusive.

The view on the monitor was fascinating however. Now I know how birds feel - wow. You could see the entire valley, the airstrip, the aqueduct, and the group of campers - all in a single view.

He did a flyover and one of the guys started waving while watching the monior. Everyone commented on how bright and clear the picture was considering how poor the abmient light was. I was impressed as well.

And by that point it was time for me to be back on my way to work. So I congenially said "goodbye" to the group clustered around the monitor, and headed for my truck. Nobody bothered to respond. The obsessive/compulsive model builders that I knew in grade school are all grown up!

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