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Model aircraft above Sunken Meadow State Park dazzle fans

Tony Simonetti prepares to throw the Scat Cat

Tony Simonetti prepares to throw the Scat Cat speed plane in the air for takeoff, as his son, James Simonetti, left, mans the controls at the annual radio-controlled aero show at Sunken Meadow Park on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

About 100 people, most prepared with folding chairs and picnic lunches, came out to Sunken Meadow State Park Sunday to watch brightly colored gliders, vintage fixed-wings and an impressive range of other planes take flight.

The only catch? The aircraft were a fraction of the size of the real thing.

The event, started more than a decade ago, was hosted by the Long Island Flying Eagles model airplane club. It's not a judged competition, but a chance for hobbyists to exhibit their radio-controlled model aircraft.

The participants, who call themselves pilots, dazzled with dizzying aerobatic twists and turns. Club secretary Bruno Sidor served as announcer, commenting on each pilot's performance. A smooth landing, the hallmark of a seasoned pilot, was enthusiastically applauded. Not all fared so well: One plane met an unfortunate end in a nearby swamp.

"Besides the visuals of watching a scale airplane fly, it's also very challenging to control in the air," said one spectator, Tony Senz, 67, of Center Moriches. "It's not a sport where you get into it immediately; it takes quite a while to get proficient."

Senz, a model plane hobbyist himself, said part of the allure is constructing the aircraft. Most planes come partly built -- "Almost Ready-to-Fly," hobbyists call it -- but still require hours of careful assembly.

These planes range in cost from under $100 to the thousands, depending on size and quality. Some were pint-size, others were nearly one-third the size of an actual aircraft. Though all were radio-controlled, some engines were electric and some gasoline-powered.

Lou Merola, 89, grinned as he watched a plane deftly spiral. The Eastport resident said he has loved flight since he was a little boy building planes out of clothespins. He still builds planes out of balsa wood, which are equipped with only a rubber-band motor.

Steve Siedlecki's 3-D Hobby Shop plane, which runs on gas and boasts an 87-inch wingspan, was the opposite of a paper plane. These planes can't be flown in backyards. Siedlecki, a member of the Flying Eagles, flies his at the club's flying site in Manorville. He became a hobbyist as a boy after building a model airplane from scratch with his dad.

Bay Shore resident Michael Lepore, 17, flew an aerobatic medium-sized model plane. He's been flying for about two years with his dad, a commercial jet pilot.

"I've been exposed to airplanes my whole life, it's kind of a natural progression," said Lepore, who joked that he's better than his dad at flying model planes. "Being a pilot would be the next step."

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