Dennis Raymond has been flying high ever since he got his first hobby model airplane in 1999.
The model Cessna was the perfect Christmas present for the career electrical and hobbyist mechanic. After building and naming it Cessy, he went on to fly her hundreds of times every summer. He loved his hobby so much that he became president of the Terrace Model Flying Club and later joined the 100 Mile Model Flyers.
“It’s a lot of fun. It calms you down when you’re stressed and it makes you feel really good when you build something and you fly it for the first time,” Raymond, 63, said. “There are always butterflies but when the flight goes great and they almost always do you feel really proud.
“It’s a great hobby filled with great guys who will always lend you whatever you need at the field.”
Flying model planes fulfilled a lifelong desire for Raymond.
“My parents took me to the airport in Elliott Lake Ont., where I grew up, and there were models there flying around and I was like ‘Ooh I want one, can I have one mom and dad?” Raymond said. “They were like ‘well, get a job, save your money and buy it yourself.’ So I did but I also got in a lot of trouble for starting the motor in the basement. I didn’t realize how much smoke it would make.”
When he first started flying, Raymond said he was nervous he would crash. With time and experience, he learned that as long as a plane is balanced and its condition is checked before every flight, flyers can go years without an accident. It was not until last year that Cessy had her first major crash when a gust of wind flipped her upside down while coming in for a landing.
It didn’t mean Raymond wasn’t grounded, however. In his basement workshop, which he jokingly calls ‘The Dungeon,” he has close to 30 different model airplanes in varying stages of completion. From Tigger, a large plane with floats designed for water take-offs, to light and maneuverable foam battery-powered planes, he has every kind of model plane represented, except a model sailplane.
He lost the one sailplane he had on its maiden flight. Designed to fly by catching thermals and wind currents, Raymond said he happened to hit a really good thermal that took his plane outside his radio control.
“It went up really, really high and then it never came back.”
While most of the model plane flying community is beginning to transition to using exclusively battery-powered planes, Raymond still has a soft spot for the planes powered by “glow” engines. These high-compression little engines run on a nitro/methane fuel mix and create a sound like “a little Harley” that Raymond loves to hear.
“I love the sound of a two-stroke gas engine, you just can’t get that with an electric engine. I was a hot-rodder when I was a kid and it’s something that’s hard to shake.”
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Raymond said gas and nitro-powered engines are falling by the wayside because of the cost of fuel and the fact glow engines can stall mid-flight if they’re improperly tuned. Older model pilots like Raymond pride themselves on being able to tune their engines properly by adjusting their revolutions per minute (RPM).
Learning this skill takes time, however, and new members of the hobby tend to prefer the simple reliability of an electric plane. Raymond noted model flyers still need to be careful charging their batteries, as some can explode if they’re charged improperly.
He noted these days, technology has made learning how to fly model planes easier than ever. Using RealFlight 8, a flight simulator, and a virtual reality (VR) headset, Raymond can simulate flying hundreds of different remote-controlled model planes from the comfort of the Dungeon.
“You can see the runway at your feet, and every time the plane flies by you can turn your head to follow,” Raymond said.
His advice to anyone considering getting into the hobby is to not be afraid to ask for help. Raymond said no one should just buy a plane and expect to learn how to fly it on their own. Instead, they should join a club like the 100 Mile Model Flyers and learn from the oldtimers.
“It’s perfectly safe because I’ll get my students up to what I call two mistakes high and as soon as I see they’re in trouble all I have to do is flick a switch on my radio and now I’m flying it.”