ZEPHYRHILLS — Hundreds of remote-control airplanes performed eye-level maneuvers for spectators thrilled to see them but also eager to help the children of service men and women killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The three-day event last weekend attracted remote-control airplane enthusiasts from as far as North Carolina and benefited the Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund. The Zephyrhills Can-Am Flyers played host at their home field and partnered with the Florida Freestyle Aerobatics Association. Dave Johnson of Plane Addicts, a plane and parts distributor, organized "Z3D'' and expects it to be an annual event.
Planes at the event came in all sizes, from small jet-propelled foam craft to large-scale propeller models that cost up to $10,000 and run on gasoline. Three-dimensional refers to the airplane's ability to pull off moves such as hovering and snap rolls (a violent rolling turnaround in midflight) that real airplanes could never achieve. Different planes can do different things, but all RC planes have one thing in common: an airplane "nut'' at the helm.
"These planes do things that real planes can't do," Johnson said. "We have some that have engines up to 200 cc (cubic centimeters) coming out here that have thousands of dollars put into them. The guys you see out here all love flying and showing off their planes. We fly all day and into the night thanks to lights we had donated, so if you're into this stuff, this is a great event to be at."
Crashes are not unusual and can cost a pilot thousands of dollars, but it's part of the territory. Ray Kaufman helped friend and fellow pilot Steve Schott of Atlanta rebuild his plane after a crash only to see Schott's plane go down again in a practice flight Friday.
"That's all part of it," Kaufman said. "Yeah, it's expensive. I hurried and helped him finish that plane right before we drove down from Atlanta. He just bought a new wing a couple of weeks ago, and I rebuilt the other one after he crashed into some trees. It's tough, but that stuff happens when you fly these things."
No matter whom you talk to in the field of acrobat flyers, everyone loves flying and the camaraderie the hobby creates. Jeff Stanley is a white-water rafting guide from Boone, N.C., whose childhood love of flying was rekindled during a divorce. He needed a diversion.
"Flying is great because you can do it alone, but then you come out here and get around all these people that you know from other events that share your passion, and you can't help but have a great time," Stanley said. "I come out here and visit with friends and show off the plane and go home happy."