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."