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LI model plane enthusiasts let it fly

Mike Dieck, of Amityville, flies an electric model

Mike Dieck, of Amityville, flies an electric model plane at the Cradle of Aviation in East Garden City, where enthusiasm for model airplanes ran high as the museum hosted its annual Warbirds Weekend. (April 3, 2011) Photo Credit: Erin Geismar

John Sabini’s love of flying started with model planes as a kid.

Now the Brentwood man flies planes for a living as a captain with JetBlue Airways.

“My dad got me into it and I kind of made a life out of it,” said Sabini,39,  who still makes time for his model airplane hobby and belongs to the Edgewood Flyers model airplane club.

Sabini said his club is full of families with young children that are taking an interest in building and flying model airplanes. Enthusiasts fear the love of model airplanes may die out because of how expensive the hobby can be and because of the lure of more high-tech pastimes.

But this weekend at the Cradle of Aviation in East Garden City, enthusiasm for model airplanes ran high as the museum hosted its annual Warbirds Weekend, when remote-control flying clubs turn out to exhibit the planes their members have built and show off their flying skills.

On Sunday, it was too windy outside for the bigger planes to fly -- some of them weighed as much as 50 pounds and had a 138-inch wingspan -- but the practically weightless Vapers, simple model planes made out of plastic, zipped around one of the museum’s hangars alongside full-scale war planes.

Bob Grassick, 59, of Babylon, said the model airplane business is large enough to have something for everyone. The hobby draws people who fly Vapers, which come ready to fly out of the box, as well as those who spend a year or more building one plane and even need a special permit to fly the bigger model planes.

The hobby also draws history buffs, he said, because many of the members go to great lengths to build exact replicas of old warplanes and other aircraft.

“There’s no limit to what you can do,” said Grassick, president of the Long Island Cobras, a model airplane club based out of Copiague.

Though he has seen interest wane, he said, especially with a younger crowd, he sees a lasting future for the business as it makes modern adaptations and more planes are made with electric motors rather than fuel, which make them less expensive and easier to fly.

Grassick said he was happy to see so many people coming in and out of the museum throughout the weekend.

He said for most people, airplane models are a lifelong hobby.

“Once you get it into your blood, you just can’t get it out,” he said.

For Sabini, who trains pilots to fly full-scale planes and his two sons, 6 and 7, to fly model planes, the hobby has come full circle.

“It is a very constructive hobby,” he said. “It involves problem solving, building and there’s nothing better than seeing something you built and be at the controls of it and try to fly it.”

Mike Dieck, of Amityville, flies an electric model plane at the Cradle of Aviation in East Garden City, where enthusiasm for model airplanes ran high as the museum hosted its annual Warbirds Weekend. (April 3, 2011)

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