FORSYTH COUNTY - They zip across the brilliant blue sky to the sounds of “oooohs” and “ahhhhhs” like any air show. The aircraft turn and move with precision, the result of countless hours of pilot practice, then turn around for their approach and record a successful landing.
Just another day at the Georgia Model Aviators (GMA) facility in North Forsyth County. At any given time, dozens of pilots from across the state come to show what their elaborate planes can do.
The planes owned by the 250 members range from combat planes to civilian planes to helicopters to even jets. Some run on battery power and others on gas, but all require the devotion and attention of their pilots.
“It’s a very diverse group of people ranging from teens to seniors that have been in the hobby for 40 plus years,” said Chris Kennedy, a boardmember with the GMA. “Some might come here and fly two times and stay all day because they enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship.”
The members come from all different backgrounds from engineers to plumbers to airline pilots, Kennedy said.
“We even have one member who flies the same type of plane he flew in combat,” he said.
Hobbyists like Pedro Sanchez of Lawrenceville, who has been involved in the hobby for six years, creates planes that are exact replicas right down to the gunpowder. And he does it all from scratch.
Sanchez’s Corsair, flown by the U.S. off carriers in the Pacific during World War II, has been weathered to appear as if it, too, flew during the war.
“I spent about 300 hours on this one,” he said.
Some planes can boast final prices tags of $12,000 to $15,000.
GMA member Larry Towner said the planes can really turn some heads.
“Some of these planes can go more than 200 miles per hour,” he said.
Kennedy said there is no substitute for the feeling of flying your own plane.
“Can you imagine how satisfying it is to see something you’ve created actually fly?” he asked.
Others desiring to get into the air right away can buy ARFS (Almost Ready to Fly) that can be ready to go after some minor assembly. The cost? About $250.
Kennedy said advances in remote technology have eliminated the possibilities of losing control of your plane and watching all your time and money crash into a field in the distance.
“The limitation now is not the technology,” he said. “It’s your sight.”
In many cases, flying at the GMA airfield becomes a family affair. Eason Fromayan, freshman at Milton High School, comes to the airfield with his father, Edwin.
After being interested in remote cars and trucks for years, Eason started flying about one year ago and is now conducting his own solo flights. He actually took his first flights on a computer simulation that allows the controller to be hooked up to a computer.
While he is enjoying his current plane, he said he really wants to advance to the larger planes.
“That’s what got me interested,” he said as Sanchez’s Corsair flies by overhead. “I want to go to that.”
Edwin said his son became interested in the hobby almost by accident.
“This is a gem getting in here,” he said. “Eason’s grandfather was driving by and happened to see the airfield and wanted to find out more about it.”
Any scale you’d like to fly is out at the airfield, Edwin said.
“You name it, they’ve got it,” he said.
Ryan Finkenbinder, 13, has been visiting the airfield for seven months and learned flying from GMA boardmember Stan Erwin.The Riverwatch Middle School student managed to find an old plane that belong to someone else and made it his project that became “Ryan’s Express.”
“I fixed it up,” he said with a smile. “I learned to fly and did solos the sixth time I came out. I think I came here 10 times in the first month.”
Finkenbinder credits his success to STAN, one of the GMA board members who taught him to fly. Alexander said he loves to see people come out to the airfield and simply watch.
“We love people to ask questions and just come out with the family,” he said.
The GMA has events throughout the year. For more information on the GMA, visit their Web site at www.gmarc.com.