The Herald, Sharon, Pa.


July 13, 2014

Models in flight

Wingsnappers dwindling, but staying airborne

SHENANGO TOWNSHIP — Piped fences, lawn ornaments blowing in the wind and a wide open field add up to the Hubbard Wingsnappers’ runway.

Not many would expect a runway in the fields outside West Middlesex, but the group of model aircraft enthusiasts couldn’t imagine a better spot.

“They don’t want to give it up,” President Mike Montana said.

Montana, 72, made suggestions to the club to move to its namesake town across the border, but the idea was shot down.

While the group is registered in Hubbard, members are committed to continue launching their planes for years off the model airplane field at Stoney Hill and Fetsko roads in Shenango Township.

Dan Scott, 66, was always interested in planes, and can still recall the first time he saw one.

“I remember my mother shelling peas on the back porch. I was about 8 years old and I saw an airplane,” Scott said. “I asked, ‘Is there a man in that?’”

He became fascinated with airplanes and started building models.

“There are a lot of good model builders in this club,” Montana said.

He’s seen replicas of planes from both world wars that were done spot on from the committed members.

Scott started the club 35 years ago, hoping to find others sharing his passion. He hung a sign-up sheet in a Hubbard hobby shop and waited.

When we went back to collect the list, he couldn’t believe the turnout. More than 50 signatures filled the sheet he’d expected to be mostly bare.

“I thought the hobby shop was joshing me,” he said.

But the names were real, and the club grew to 60-plus members.

It now sits at around 25.

“It’s growing back up,” Montana said.

The ideal number of members is around 30, he said.

Too many people can clutter the field, with limits of four planes in the air at a time. Even then, some prefer to wait until there are fewer to avoid crashes.

Spotters must stand with each pilot to keep the flier aware of the other planes’ locations. That way he never has to take his eyes off his own plane.

Some members didn’t just stop with models. A few have their pilot’s licenses, Scott and Montana included.

“I’ve been flying airplanes for a long, long time,” Montana said.

But models offer an easier way to stay airborne.

The planes, powered by either electricity or nitrofuel, can fly from 30 to 70 mph. The electric planes, which are much lighter than nitrofuel models, are more popular and considerably cheaper.

“Most of the guys are flying these now because they’re not dirty, they’re convenient,” Scott said.

Any new investor can expect to spend at least $150 on a plane.

The club meets once a month May through October, but the field is open every day.

Montana goes there almost daily, even if it’s just to sit on a bench and watch other fliers. It is, after all, his favorite spot.

“It’s fun to sit and watch this,” he said.

It can make for a family affair, too. Scott’s son is a jet pilot.

“If there’s such a thing as seeing your kid actualize learning,” Scott said this would be it.

Montana’s son, Michael, is the safety officer for the club and is a natural.

“You give him an airplane, it just flies,” Montana said.

Anyone is welcome to come watch the members fly their planes.

In order to use the field, fliers must be members of the club and the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

The exception is summer “Fun Fly” days, when the field is opened to members of any other clubs, who still must be members of AMA.

Today is the first one for the summer.

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