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Miniature planes, helicopters take flight in Pasco gymnasium

HUDSON — With the click of a button, the propeller starts and Jim Gorby's helicopter sails toward the roof of a gymnasium, the mini-aircraft weighing slightly more than the air it cuts through.

Gorby, 60, has been flying remote control helicopters since 1970. In the last six years as an employee of Pasco Parks and Recreation, he has created an outlet for indoor fliers in the Pasco area, a hotbed of hobbyist fliers. Gorby created "free fly nights" in Holiday at the J. Ben Harrill Recreation Complex a few years back. Now he has organized "free fly" events at Veterans Memorial Park (the "free" part means pilots can maneuver as they wish; there is a $1 fee).

"I started in Holiday but when I transferred to working (in Hudson) I decided to have a night for this here too," said Gorby, a New Port Richey native. "I get all levels of experience coming in here to fly. Some of them know what they're doing, others need a little guidance. The big thing is the camaraderie, it's good to be around other people who fly and who share a common interest."

Gorby makes some of his own aircraft out of recycled materials such as pizza boxes, but also pilots some planes made from carbon fiber and plastic that weigh as little as half an ounce. With the latest technology available from local hobby shops and websites, there is a competitive market for electronic RC planes and helicopters.

The free fly sessions average about 20 people with helicopters or RC planes in the gym, but according to Gorby, the numbers will continue to grow because of the cost efficiency of the hobby.

"When I started flying it was a lot more expensive and it was all outside flying," Gorby said. "With everything being digital now, a beginner can get into it with a basic plane for around $60. It's a popular hobby around this area. I think the free fly sessions will continue to do well."

Dave Webb, owner of B&B Hobbies, attends the free fly nights to promote his business as well as talk planes and do a little flying of his own. He loves the free fly because of the opportunity it presents hobbyists and what it does for his business.

"Up north they have to fly indoors all the time. But just because the temperature is nicer here doesn't make it much easier to fly these lightweight planes or helicopters, because it gets so windy being this close to the water," Webb said. "It's hard to fly this stuff in the wind and people need a place to fly other than their living room, so this night is great."

Richie Leischner has only been flying his remote control helicopters for a little over six months, but he has fallen in love with it after selling his Warrior single engine airplane in 2002. Leischner, a former pilot, may be grounded these days, but with his RC helicopter he can zip through the sky through the remote control in his hand.

"I sold my airplane just after Sept. 11 because of the restrictions that came along with owning one," Leischner said. "I've always been interested in helicopters and when it came to these (RC helicopters), it's tougher to learn and keep up with than the RC planes and I like the challenge. The best part of this free fly is the environment because you can come fly with your friends and you don't have to worry about the wind or weather conditions."