Photo: Missouri State Rep. Joe Runions visits with wheelchair bound Brian Mitchell at the ADA compliant park for radio control flyers. Photo by Jill Draper

Hobbyists  receive recognition for ADA compliant flying field

By Jill Draper

When Brian Mitchell first started coming to Longview Field to fly a hobby plane, he worried about his $250 controller rolling off his lap while he maneuvered a wheelchair along the grass and gravel pathways. That situation spurred other members of the Radio Control Sports Flyers club to take action. They met with John Johnson, superintendent of operations at Jackson County Parks + Rec, and within six weeks there were smooth concrete parking spots and paths, railings and an ADA-compliant portable toilet.

“It was incredible,” says Jim Adams, club president. “The timing was perfect. There was money available and bang! It just happened.”

According to Adams, the field at the southeast corner of Longview Lake Park is the only one of 2,400 sports flying fields in the nation to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. On Aug. 17 club members, friends and family gathered there to receive a resolution presented by Rep. Joe Runions from the Missouri House of Representatives honoring their achievement.

Members of the Radio Control Sports Flyers pose with State House Rep. Joe Runions at the flying field at Longview Lake Park. Photo by Jill Draper.

Club members also took the opportunity to show off a variety of remote control planes, some assembled from $300 starter kits and others built quarter-scale with 5-foot wingspans that cost $5,000 to $6,000. 

“There are some awesome pilots out here,” says Mitchell, who began flying last fall after building a model from foam board with plans he found online. “There’s a lot of engineering and technology that go into these planes.”

Club member Paul Tormanen has been flying radio control planes since 1982 and was twice named the Midwest section winner in national championships. He demonstrated how to make his Russian Thunder aircraft hover vertically in the air before swooping up in the sky to perform loops, rolls and inversions. 

Flying runs in his family. His father was a military pilot and his oldest brother was killed as a military pilot. His mother refused to let him fly. “This is the closest thing,” Tormanen says, revving up the gas engine and pushing the propeller of his large model plane.

Club member Paul Tormanen demonstrates how to make his Russian Thunder fly vertically. Photo by Jill Draper.

The Radio Control Sports Flyers are a local chapter of the Academy of Model Aeronautics and one of a half-dozen similar clubs in the area. Each club helps manage their own field, except for one that flies small planes in a church basketball gym.

On the other side of the Longview Field parking lot is an area for remote control helicopters and drones. And what about those drones? They’re OK, says Sean Catlin, club instructor, who admits to owning a couple, plus a remote control helicopter and car. But airplanes are the clear favorite—he has 12. He helps organize free flight training on Tuesday and Thursday nights during the summer, weather permitting.

The club is currently all male, but Adams says, “We would love to have female members.” After working with the Girl Scouts and a Belton school group, they’ve been encouraged to see interest from female students.

When beginners are ready to fly, they’re paired with an experienced member through a buddy box that connects the student pilot’s controls with the instructor’s. “It can be a steep learning curve,” says Adams. “If you crash the plane right away, then all of a sudden it’s not a lot of fun.”

According to Mitchell, who is still somewhat new to flying, landing is one of the hardest skills. It was landing wrong in a dirt bike wreck that put him in a wheelchair some 20 years ago after an active life of softball, basketball and rock climbing. Now he gets a different kind of thrill with a control board at his fingertips and a plane zipping through the air.

“Oh, yeah, this is an adrenaline rush,” he says. “It’s a great feeling.”

For more information, see rcsportflyers.club.

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