Soaring to great heights

Published 1:19 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jack Bena, left, and Ron Mielke both take to the skies in their replica model planes. Ron goes so far as to make his from scratch. -- Eric Johnson/

Ron Mielke and Jack Bena have been flying for more than 20 years without ever leaving the ground.

The two fly radio controlled model planes and are part of the Freeborn-Mower Radio Control Society.

Mielke has been interested in model planes since he was 7-years-old.

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“I’ve always been plane nuts,” said Ron Mielke.

Jack became hooked 20 years ago, and prides himself with flying at least once in every month of the year for 20 years, including winter. Pontoons or skis can be attached to a plane for landing on snow in the winter or on water in the summer.

“I use it for relaxing,” Bena said. “Once you’re in the air, you have so much concentration on the plane, you forget all your troubles.”

Mielke noted that flying isn’t always a walk in the park.

“The definition of flying is … hours and hours of boredom broken by moments of sheer terror,” he said.

The model planes mostly run on castor oil, though electric is becoming more prevalent. The planes are controlled by controllers that resemble those for remote-control cars. Older controllers operate on AM and FM frequencies, but newer models change frequencies repeatedly.

Flying can be difficult because the controls going away from the pilot are a reversed when the plane turns around. However, the terror comes in landing the planes.

“Take off is nothing,” Bena said. “Landing gets a little more involved.”

The plans can do acrobatics because most enthusiasts admit simply flying back-and-forth becomes a bit monotonous.

The planes are made from light weight balsa wood and plywood. Mielke builds planes from scratch and has a chest full of balsa wood. He’s even built a biplane with a 7-foot wingspan. Other planes can be bought and easily assembled.

Some people go so far as to build a plane to exact scale. Many model planes even have a smoke system to mimic crop dusters.

“You can get as detailed as you want,” Bena said.

A typical flight lasts only about 10 to 15 minutes, but Bena said the pilot is typically read to land, as their neck is often sore from following the plane through the sun and clouds for a while.

The planes are capable of flying great distances, but the difficulty comes in being able to see them fly.

“When you get older, you start building bigger planes so you could see them,” Bena said.

Even though it’s not entirely uncommon to crash a plane, Mielke and Bena both said it’s a worthwhile past time.

“It’s just like any other hobby.,” Bena said “You sit and you make these things, and when you see them fly you feel so much full of pride.”