Is that a bird? Superman? No,
it's a radio-controlled model airplane
By Liz Lawyer
May 2, 2006 | LOGAN -- Jerry Cokely keeps a plaque
in his home that says, "Time spent flying is not deducted
from one's lifespan."
Cokely has been flying radio-controlled model airplanes
for 15 years. The retired law enforcement officer said
he used to build models as a kid and came back to the
hobby after several years
"Young kids can't really get involved because it's
expensive," he said. "[Though] it's not a rich man's
At an abandoned airstrip at Logan Airport, five or
six men gathered at the edge of the pavement, bent over
their model airplanes, testing propellers, fueling them
up, and checking engines. Most of the planes they constructed
themselves, although some came as ARFs -- Almost Ready
to Fly. Even these require some construction, Cokely
said, but they are reflective of society's need for
"We're just living in a faster society, he said. "With
the ARFs you've already taken the fun out of building
Planes of all kind were lined along the grass by their
proud architects. Nate Friedli of Logan had a replica
of a World War II fighter plane he had built completely
from scratch -- no kit, no mold. Just sheets of balsawood,
spools of wire, and a set of instructions.
"It's a dual passion: building and flying," he said.
"Not everyone splits it the same."
The group is only a small representation of the Bridgerland
Radio Control Club, which has approximately 32 members
from all over Northern Utah, said Cokely, a Wellsville
resident. The club, a chapter of the Academy of Model
Aeronautics, meets regularly at the airport to fly together
and chat. As Cokely puts it, the time spent there is
10 percent flying and 90 percent talking. Membership
even includes a few retired airline pilots, Cokely said.
The AMA is a national organization begun in 1936.
According to its Web site, it has 161,000 active members
and has more than 2,500 chartered clubs in the U.S.
The organization's vision, as stated on its site, is
to make aeromodeling "the foremost sport/hobby in the
Cokely's membership in AMA covers him for up to $2.5
million in liability insurance. Membership in the national
organization costs $250 initially, with a $50 yearly
For Cokely, the pleasure of the sport is balanced
pretty equally between building radio-controlled planes
and flying them. He said though summer is called the
flying season and winter the building season, the club
still meets occasionally in the winter with skis on
their planes to allow smooth landings on the snow-covered
"We don't want the weather to hold us back. We've
got the bug and we want to fly," he said.
Cokely said learning to fly can take time, and the
older you are the harder it becomes. "We've had some
fathers and sons come out and the boy learns in three
or four lessons and the dad's still struggling after
four or five weeks," he said.
Not only that, but flying a model is different from
flying an actual plane, he said. It can be difficult
to remember that when the plane is coming towards you
the controls are reversed: right becomes left and left
becomes right. He said some of the retired pilots in
the group struggle most with "thumb glitches," a mistake
in steering. The controls have several switches on them
to control altitude, rolls and turns.
Cokely said some members of the RC club fly for competitions
but he flies just for sport. L.R. Earl, owner of Earl's
Hobby Hangar in Logan, said interest in models ranges
from airplanes and helicopters to boats, cars and trains.
His store carries accessories and supplies for each
kind of model, but it was originally focused on planes,
"This is a hobby run amuck for me," he said. Earl
said he has been building models for 60 years, starting
as a boy in Mendon and eventually making his passion
into his career, first as a helicopter pilot in the
Army, and then as a hobby store owner.
He said his store began as an extension of his family's
store in Mendon, but as business grew, he eventually
moved. Then "the guys from Ogden" discovered his store,
and he moved it again when it outgrew its location in
2002. Earl said his store gets customers from all around
Cache Valley, and even as far south as Layton and as
far north as Burley.
"It's about the enjoyment, being able to reproduce
something in miniature," he said.
Earl said there are four major clubs in the area,
the Bridgerland RC Club being only one of them. With
radio control clubs in Ogden, Syracuse and Tremonton,
Earl said he stays pretty busy.
Though ARFs are becoming more popular in the hobby,
Cokely said he enjoys the process of putting his planes
together himself. Cokely's blue-and-white trainer plane
came from a kit, not an ARF. "This was a box of sticks
when I got it," Cokely said, proudly gesturing to the
Earl said whereas several years ago you would see
15 kits to one ARF in a hobby shop, now you see 30 to
40 ARFs to one kit. Kits can cost $130 to $140, whereas
ARFs have a much wider range, costing between $100 and
$350, according to Earl. However, the real sacrifice
comes in the time put into the models.
Cokely said his plane kit cost $70 and took about
35 hours to build, though they can take longer. "I'm
building a plane that I've spent 80 hours on and I'm
not done yet," he said.
Another trend in the sport is electric engines, Cokely
said. They make no noise compared to gasoline engines,
he said, and come in all sizes.
At the airfield, one man shouted urgently to another,
"Up, up, up!" The pilots stared in the direction a yellow
model was buzzing around a moment ago and saw only sky
"Where'd it go?" said one of the pilots.
"It's in the weeds," said the other as he headed off
across the runway to find what had become of the plane.
The two returned a few minutes later with the ripped
fuselage and wings of the plane in hand. Seeing the
inside of the plane was surprising. They look as sturdy
as a real airplane, but they're made of only soft, light
balsawood and durable plastic sheeting held together
"It hurts to crash a plane. They can revert to a thousand
pieces in a millisecond," Cokely said. "We have a motto
for the club: If you can't crash them, don't build them."
The Bridgerland RC Club has been meeting at the runway
in Logan for longer than Cokely's 15-year membership.
The airstrip is no longer used except in emergencies
and for training for the fire and police departments,
Cokely said. The blacktop is lumpy and lined with tar.
Hitting a small bump sends one of the light planes hopping
across the pavement, but he said they have big plans
for the future. The club has purchased 30 acres of land
west of Benson to build a private runway that will be
50 by 600 feet.
"And we need that much room," he said. Gravel has
already been laid at the site, and it just needs to
have the blacktop poured on top to have the makings
of a private club.
Cokely said the club is required to adhere to strict
safety standards. The planes on the runway had about
a 5-foot wingspan and Cokely said the models can go
60 to 80 miles per hour. Just like actual pilots, they
do thorough ground checks before taking off and carefully
maintain their engines. They make sure everyone in the
area knows they're flying and never "buzz" people or
"That is just verboten," Cokely said. "If a plane
hits you it can be fatal."
Cokely said every year the club has an air show at
the airport on Labor Day. He said the show has drawn
crowds of up to 2,000 in the past. The show will be
held this year as usual, from 12 to 3 p.m., and may
be preceded by a display in the mall the day before
to advertise the event, he said.