Pylon Racers descend on Arlington Airport
August 27, 2008 · Updated 3:51 PM
ARLINGTON The Arlington Municipal Airport hosted a different type of flying
Sept. 22, as pilots from Olympia to Spokane showed up to show off their top speeds on radio-controlled aircraft.
The Pylon Racers of Puget Sound drew nearly two-dozen members to the airport to compete in the sport-quickie, expert-quickie and quarter-40 categories, a relatively low turnout which contest director Thom Martin credited to a similar pylon-racing event taking place that weekend in California.
We normally have three or four members come up from California, but because were the local club of a national organization, they have to compete in their own district if its a choice between here and there, said Martin, an Olympia resident whos been RC flying since 1972 and pylon-racing for the past six years. Otherwise, weve had people come from Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming, and weve toured to Wenatchee and Whidbey Island.
Martin explained that all categories of RC aircraft race 10 laps around two pylons, for a total course of two-and-a-half miles. He elaborated that sport-quickie aircraft fly approximately 120 miles per hour, while expert quickies go about 180 mph and quarter-40s can make 200 mph.
Its hard to get these planes to fly in a straight line, said Martin, wearing protective headgear like everyone else on the airfield. We have judges at each pylon, to make sure theyre racing all the way around the pylons and not cutting inside. We also have to remain very careful of the full-sized aircraft that are using the airport. Weve shut down two heats for them. Were flying models, but they have real people inside of theirs so theres no doubt whos got the right of way.
Martin touted the diversity of the local clubs members, from hobby store owners and auto shop mechanics to firefighters and retirees, who range in age from their teens to their 60s.
Weve got guys who have been doing this for 25 years, Martin said. I started because I saw some guys flying RC planes during a drive through the Virginia countryside. It looked like fun and within the week, Id built my own flyer. Racing was just a natural progression of that, from the competitive end to the technical skills. Theres a great camaraderie here.
Seattles Tim Strom, like many PROPS members, comes from a family tradition of pylon-racing, shared by both his brother and his father. Strom, who manages a Jiffy Lube, has been racing sport-quickies, the beginner category, for the past three years. He admitted that even the relatively less expensive RC flyers have eaten into his wallet.
With the beginner class, you can spend as little as $200 per aircraft, said Strom, holding one of the sport-quickies he recently crashed when the battery died. While both the sport- and expert-quickies are boxy and made of wood and foam, the quarter-40s are fully composite and much more streamlined, and can run from $1,200-$1,500 as a result.
Ive been racing since I was 3 years old and flying since before I could walk, said Strom, who won the sport-quickie category Sept. 22. Its a family affair. You win by listening to everybody whos been doing this longer than you. Its hard to remember sometimes that were just doing this for fun since we can get a bit competitive, but we all support each other.
Eric Ide, who owns a door company in Olympia, races both expert-quickies and quarter-40s, and was eager to elaborate on what sets the quarter-40s apart from the quickies.
They almost have to be scale models of actual aircraft, said Ide, whos been pylon-racing for 15 of his 20 years of RC flying. The wings and the bellies are like replicas.
Even though Ide spends as much as $400 for each of his expert-quickie planes, he still considers it worth the sacrifice to race two categories of RC aircraft.
Obviously, at those prices, you hate to see them get wrecked, Ide said. But I love to fly too much to do just one race in a day. I love the mechanics of it and I have my pilots license. I guess Im an adrenaline junkie. Turns are tight and midair collisions happen in these races. Theres a lot of strategy in racing. You have to listen to your callers, who help you watch the course, and think about when to make your turns.
Tacomas Eddie Graves, a FedEx driver, returned to his childhood hobby of RC flying after he and his dad bonded again as adults.
I flew with him from the ages of 10-15, but then, girls and college got in the way, laughed Graves, whos been pylon-racing for three of the past six years that hes gotten back into RC flying. Im not really that competitive, but I do like the feel of a good, close race when youve got three or four planes neck-and-neck, constantly switching positions.
Graves estimates he spends roughly $2,000 a year on a hobby that he dabbles in, but he considers the demands on his time to be a more significant expense.
It takes me 45 minutes to an hour to drive to a decent flying field, Graves said. I have to take a whole day off, just to make it worth my while. I always have fun, though. Its a good family-friendly outing, with a great group of guys.
One of those guys is 14-year-old Allie Russell of Spokane, whos been trained on both RC flying and full-sized aircraft piloting by her father, a Southwest Airlines pilot.
Ive got 40 hours of flight time and I started calling [pylon-racing] for my dad when I was 4 years old, said Russell, whos been racing for the past two years. Im not really athletic, so its nice to have something Im good at. Its challenging and requires a lot of mental focus, but you meet the coolest people in the world. Flying is amazing in general. I cant imagine not doing it.