Good News from A Great City Haverhill, MA
The Heartbeat of Haverhill and I visited a place in Haverhill where airplanes regularly streak by less than 200 feet above the ground and nobody actually complains. There’s a part of Haverhill where Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s or drones) hover almost silently overhead capturing video of people, animals and the surroundings below and their actions elicit no more than a laugh, a wave, or flight instruction.
This is the gathering place for the Massachusetts Model Aircraft Association, a local radio controlled (RC) aircraft club with over 20 members from across the Merrimack Valley that meets semi-regularly by special permission at Crescent Farms (and ice cream stand!) in Bradford. We took the opportunity on a beautiful but windy afternoon to join several members of the club to observe their flying aeronautic creations. The aircraft are regulated by air traffic control rules that keep them in touch with Lawrence Airport tower, under 200 feet, and under 100 mph. Also, you must have constant visual contact with your craft.
Quote from the pilots: “Rule number 1, call the tower.”
They are also under the regular scrutiny of the Crescent Farm staff who make sure that their animals and crops are not disturbed, and drop by just to watch the planes and say “hi”. It is a very fair request especially since this is a working farm and a crashing helicopter with carbon fiber propellers could cut through a picnic table as well as livestock, and although unlikely when flown safely, gasoline engines could start a fire. The pilots are very aware of the safety protocols necessary and either temper or avoid members who might want to showboat dangerously.
John Benincasa is the president of the club, where he describes many of the members as “a bunch of retired engineers and military veterans looking for something to do”. Each of the RC pilots flying this weekend built their own aircraft from scratch primarily of balsa wood from their own plans, not kits. There were a variety of what THOH admiringly called “contraptions”, from relatively conventional monoplane and biplane models with small gasoline engines to the aforementioned drone (with video camera) that was pieced together from Home Depot metal towel holders to a delta-winged craft of fluorescent oranges and yellows powered by an electrical engine.
Quote from the pilots: “If you can’t deal with the crashes, collect stamps. The crash ratio is estimated at 1 in 10 flights.”
The Delta, unfortunately, tried to make a turn a little too tight around a tree, with less than desirable results. Crashing and/or rebuilding is a regular occurrence in this line of play but we were assured that this aircraft and another with a broken wing tip and propeller (it was blown off landing by a last minute gust) would be in flyable condition again within 24 hours. The perils are many for these delicate aircraft: trees, gusts, dogs (especially retrievers!), and hawks to name a few. A story of a cranky bird of prey attacking a plane in flight had us calling out “Hawk” whenever one came into view.
One stunning highlight of the afternoon was a demonstration of extreme RC helicopter flying by 20 year old, Top 10 competitor, Andrew Merlino, who performs what looks like a number of seemingly insane aeronautics feats with just a flick of his thumbs. At Extreme Flight Competitions, Andrew flies to music and in competition his routines are a combination of compulsory and freestyle movements synchronized to the music that the audience and judges also hear. Check out this video by Jonathan Campbell of Andrew’s helicopter in flight.
His copters are electrically powered by high capacity lithium batteries. The advantage of electrical (as opposed to internal combustion) engines is their instant power response, demonstrated aptly in the video.
You can also check out Andrew’s website http://www.andrewheli.com/ . Andrew like most of the pilots work through their routines on simulators before taking their expensive equipment to the sky. When it comes to his copters, they start as a kit but his dad Bob supports his son’s talent by acting as mechanical engineer. Andrew is talented enough to have corporate sponsors (AMainHobbies.com) and gives demonstrations across the country. (THOH thinks the Haverhill High School robotics team would love a demonstration of this!)
The Heartbeat of Haverhill fought with her camera trying mostly unsuccessfully to capture the 60-70* mph planes zipping by. The helicopter with all its unexpected twists and turns, flying on its side, its tail, its nose, upside down, was even more challenging because we couldn’t anticipate the next move. THOH wondered aloud whether manned helicopters could ever be built to mimic these moves. The answer was a resounding “No”. And considering the crash record for the models, I think that’s good. We saw two crashes within in an hour. Enough to make THOH worry that we were somehow jinxing the flights, so we headed to the ice cream stand before the last couple of pilots flew. (*In comparison last year we flew with 11 other people in a 1929 Ford Trimotor with a cruising speed of 90 mph. Here’s a link to that post in my Brain4Rent blog http://wp.me/p13Md6-Np )
The MMAA is a registered club with the Academy of Model Aeronautics, a national umbrella support organization for aeromodeling. Local area residents who might be interested in finding out more about this hobby are encouraged to contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s a bit expensive to start out, and you must have insurance to protect against damage your craft could cause. There are about 20 other clubs in Massachusetts but this one based in Haverhill is tops with THOH.
No club women were in attendance during our visit, but let’s face it this club is predominantly male through inclination, not design.
Quote from the pilots: “None of our wives have any interest in this whatsoever.”
Meanwhile, after a fascinating afternoon observing these magnificent men and their flying machines, THOH and I made our way by the Crescent Farms ice cream stand for a much needed coffee frappe and some time stilling our adrenalin-charged hearts with a bit of zen-like farm animal patting.
Massachusetts Model Aircraft Association: email@example.com
Academy of Model Aeronautics (National club headquarters) http://www.modelaircraft.org/membership/membership.aspx
Andrew Merlino sponsored by A Main Hobbies http://www.andrewheli.com/
CHECK OUT UPCOMING EVENTS at Crescent Farms http://www.crescentfarm.com/
Jonathan W. Campbell – Air traffic controller at Lawrence Tower, photographer and contributing technical writer for this post.
(c)2014 by Alison Colby-Campbell and Jonathan W. Campbell