In the far reaches of East Mesa, planes buzz overhead, but on a smaller scale.
Arizona Model Aviators fly from Superstition Air Park located at Levee Drive in Mesa. Arizona Model Aviators board member Tim Dickey said the club is of ongoing interest to everyone involved in building and flying in the wild blue there.
“It’s been an evolution for me from childhood on and off,” Dickey said. “I got back into it about 12 years ago, and really liked the modeling aspect of it in the shop.”
From October 20-23, the club will host the 41st annual US Scale Masters Association National Championships which will attract more than 50 pilots from across the country and more than 400 spectators daily.
The Scale Masters competition venue changes every year and last came to Mesa in 2002.
“It’s actually the biggest event we’ll have this year,” Dickey said. “It’s a very big event for us.”
Model aviation has multiple disciplines, with this event focusing on large-scale flight and each aircraft’s resemblance to existing large-scale aircraft, including World War I biplanes, World War II P-51 Mustangs World War and fighter planes flown in Korea and Vietnam.
Judges examine aircraft based on scale documentation, as well as how well they fly compared to the real thing.
Pilots also stage planes on the tarmac so planes can be judged for craftsmanship, color, markings, and outlines.
The criteria for the flying part are based on 10 different maneuvers.
It can take at least two years to build an “accurate, high-quality scale model,” Dickey said.
“I came more from the standpoint of the fun of modeling things in general,” Dickey said. “And it really comes from my desire to be in the store and build things with my hands from scratch.”
Dickey said “hand building”—building the models by hand—has declined with the advent of ready-to-fly kits.
“It’s becoming a lost art because now you can buy these models that have been fully built and just need to be put together,” Dickey said.
Most model parts are made of a lightweight wood like balsa or composite plastic and the planes go down to the finest detail, including decals and rivets.
Starter kits can start at $400 for a foam battery-powered plane and remote control and go up to $20,000 for a quarter-scale gasoline-powered Beechcraft King Air utility plane.
The club has been in existence for over 40 years and has over 260 members aged 8 to 80.
The club uses the Superstition Air Park as it offers an 850 foot long paved runway and bays for staging aircraft.
“It’s one of the nicest, if not the nicest track set-up, certainly in Arizona, and maybe even in the west,” Dickey said.
Lt. Col. (Retired) Larry Wagy enjoys teaching flight instruction to other members, which he did while serving in the United States Air Force for 24 years.
Wagy said interest in the hobby has waned and fears the hobby he has enjoyed since he was 7 will eventually crumble and burn because “the health of the club depends on the arrival of young people.
Rodger Hoover, who will compete in the national championship and has spent more than 35 years working for Douglas Aircraft in the manufacturing and repair business, agreed.
Hoover said younger generations are always welcome, adding, “There’s always someone to teach you how to fly.”