Up, up and away

| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 8:59 p.m.

Rick Altomari of Baldwin has been flying model aircraft “off and on” since the ninth grade.

The Monessen native has been fielding his passion for model airplanes with the Mon Valley Radio Control club nearly as long as members of the 52-year-old group have been sharing common aviation interests.

“It's relaxing. It's getting out in the fresh air,” said Altomari, who serves as vice president of the club. “And there are great people to talk to between runs. It's just enjoyable.”

The Radio Control club organized in 1960. In 1967, it began launching from a field at Cedar Creek Park in Rostraver Township on a site designated under the federal “Project 70.”

In 1984, the flying site was moved to another area of the park.

Over the years, the hobby has transitioned from flying aircraft in the form of control line to radio-controlled model aircraft technology.

“We are primarily devoted to model airplane flying,” said Al Kozusko, of Rostraver Township, the club's president. “In today's world, it's more what we call ‘RC,' or the remote control, that is used for a lot of electronics.”

Kozusko said all age groups and skill levels from beginners to experts are included in the 100-plus member club.

“Some of us build our own planes, but you can also purchase pre-built airplanes,” said the president.

Kozusko said members also do combat flying and various events with gliders and flight trainers similar to drone or military fly drills.

He said hobby enthusiasts also fly helicopters and jets.

“A lot of our people are actual full-scale jet pilots,” Kozusko said.

Model scales used by members range from miniature to giant. Motors can be powered by battery, electricity or internal combustion.

Kozusko said club members are required to belong to the American Modelers Association, which provides insurance in case of accidents and other benefits such as safety instructions and sponsored competitions.

“We all have certain rules and procedures and policies to follow,” Kozusko said. “We have a great safety record with no accidents.”

Kozusko said radio technology has changed over the years.

“That is something we stay on top of,” said the president. “For example, in previous years, there was a discreet radio frequency where only one person could be on that frequency at one time. With today's technology, we have multiple frequencies, so that it doesn't interfere with any of the aircraft so anybody can fly at any time.”

Kozusko said training by certified instructors is available to newcomers.

According to the president, featured stunt “fun-flys” offer excitement for members and onlookers.

“We do things like breaking balloons or doing a limbo to see who can fly the lowest,” Kozusko said. “A lot of crazy things like that.”

Other fun events include an annual Jan. 1 “Flyin,” where the aircraft fly on skis. Club members also float planes on the Acme Dam in Connellsville during the year.

The Radio Control club has Christmas parties and other events for its members, and recently donated $750 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Western Pennsylvania with proceeds from its Heli Fly. It offers demonstrations for youth groups.

Altomari, who has a commercial pilot's license, is among those who enjoys building replicas of actual planes.

“I'm a dying breed,” said Altomari. “I like to build my own planes, such as replicas of the (highly aerobatic) Edge 540 and (aerobatic two-seat monoplane) Extra 300 ... some with wing spans of five to six feet.”

“It's whatever you like to fly,” Altomari said. “I like mine to go fast. It's whatever is fun for you.”

Kozusko said “a nice calm day” is a prime time to fly model aircraft.

“During weekends, there is usually always somebody flying, especially in late afternoon,” Kozusko said. “Retirees have been in the club for years and years, and they enjoy the camaraderie and getting together and talking about their airplanes, their adventures and tidbits (of hobby-related information) they pass on to each other. It's a great hobby where people can get together.”

In 2010, the club celebrated its 50th anniversary. Three of its founding members were present.

The MVRC meets at 7:30 p.m. the first Friday of each month at the Rostraver Municipal Complex. For more information, visit the club's website at monvalleyrc.com.

Colleen Pollock is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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