June 23, 1997 in Nation/World

Small Planes, Large Hobby Flying Scale Model Planes Is The Real Thing For Farragut State Park Contestants

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:feature

You wouldn’t know it by looking at the guy. Johan Prendergast, 61, has been modeling for years.

But the runways he’s into have nothing to do with Armani - they’re the long, grassy strips he uses to land his giant model airplanes, hopefully in one piece.

So huge is his hobby, Prendergast’s wife had someone build him a 600-square-foot hangar in his Post Falls back yard.

“She wouldn’t have a toilet or a bed put in, because that way I’d have to come in the house occasionally,” he joked.

On Sunday, Prendergast wasn’t alone - he had a 46-person support group. Modelers from Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Canada and even Alaska converged at Farragut.

They showed off their planes’ paint jobs and tried to see who could figure-eight the best, all hoping for a chance to compete at a national fly-off in Texas.

“There’s everyone out here from doctors to auto mechanics,” said Al Culver from Potlatch, decked out in a silver flight jacket reading “Idaho Scale Squadron.” Now in his 60s, he’s been building model planes since 1941.

“Most of us were always gonna be pilots instead of doctors or firemen.”

On Sunday, they were pilots. Competitors in the Scale Masters Qualifier took each run very seriously. And at $200 to $2,000 per plane, it’s easy to see why.

From the ground, the models looked so big in the sky, they seemed almost real.

“Physics people will tell you if it occupies space, it’s real,” Culver corrected. “They’re real airplanes.”

Above, a biplane and something red that looked like a Cessna chased each other in huge, swooping arcs. The air buzzed from the sound of the engines. When they landed, the planes bounced and sputtered. It did sound pretty darn real.

The wind was sharp and cold. A few fliers called for rain delays. The whole thing made steering the planes by transmitter a little tough, but for die-hards, it’s all part of aiming high.

“These people fly year round, weather permitting,” organizer Clarence Haught explained. Many even train in bad weather, just for meets on gloomy days.

Jim Burns wasn’t quite up to that. The Boise man’s banana-yellow plane crashed during a Saturday flight, and he didn’t want to try again Sunday.

“It’s her first wild ride,” he said of the Barbie doll in the pilot’s seat. “We can’t get too excited.”

It was his first competition, too. “But not my last.”

Jack Collins from Seaside, Ore., knew all about crashing. One of his favorite planes was smashed up on a previous run, so he had to use another - a shiny, silver Air Coupe. The real, er, original large plane was produced in 1946.

Collins knew all about it. “They didn’t have rudder pedals,” the 70-year-old explained. “They were converted. Elevators and ailerons were coupled with the wheel … these were cute when they came out. A little more modern than some planes.”

Fortunately, it survived the afternoon. All weren’t as lucky.

One model approaching the runway hit the ground prop-first, and hard. Orange flaps and fuselage flew everywhere. Silence oozed over the crowd like maple syrup.

“That’s what happens,” a man told a little boy. He nodded somberly.

“This is a character-building hobby,” Collins figured, his silver beauty safe on terra firma. “They’re just temporary creations.”

Prendergast disagreed.

“The earth sucks,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos


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