I remember when I was a little boy my dad and I loved watching Baa Baa Black Sheep on TV. Loosely based on real life WWII Marines fighter squadron VMF-214, the star of the show, Robert Conrad, played Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington. Pappy was in charge of the squadron who named themselves "Black Sheep" due to the general condition of their aircraft. Almost like cast offs Pappy and his crew went on to become one of the most famous squadrons in all of the war.
Being so young at the time, it wasn't the story line so much that captivated me, but the particular plane they flew and fought battles in; The legendary F4U Corsair. Something undefinable just captured my youthful heart and mind. The menacing giant nosed, gull-winged aircraft gracefully dancing through the Pacific skies with deadly consequences gift wrapped especially for the enemy.
Of course it wouldn't be until adulthood that I could fully grasp and appreciate the sacrifices made by so many brave men and women and the brutalities of war, but until then, I just knew I loved airplanes, especially those beautiful old warbirds.
Most boys my age loved trains, planes and automobiles. I was no exception of course, but nothing captivated me more than the magic of flight. I just could not get my eyes and heart out of the skies.
At that time the Cox control line gas planes were all the rage. I still remember my neighborhood buddy getting one for Christmas. I can still smell that distinct and nostalgic gas to this day. After some time went by I ran across an image of a beautiful remote control sailplane. I was transfixed. The idea of soaring among the clouds in a sleek, aerodynamic airplane with giant wings without an engine was just so...Magical.
I begged and begged for one but for any number of reasons I can't recall I never did get one. So after a few life detours here and there, I finally found myself in position to afford my own RC sailplane. I was in my early twenties at the time. Motion RC was still two decades away. Cut from the "Big Or Go Home" mold, my very first RC sailplane was a Mystery Ship with a 3 meter wingspan. Luckily, I met a great guy with a huge passion for RC sailplanes and he taught me how to fly it successfully, including "specking" it out several times (specking is a term that means catching a thermal and flying in it so high it looks like a tiny speck in the sky).
Today, having flown thousands of hours and hundreds of RC airplanes from UMX micros to giant scale composite warbirds and just about everything in between, I often think back on those early years, realizing my childhood dream of taking a beautiful motor-less sailplane to soar among the clouds (and a few bald eagles as well). Without my mentor's tutelage, patience, friendship and passion, who knows where I would be today?
R/C flight and aviation is one of my major passions in life that has not only provided me countless hours of pleasure and joy, but treasured friendships to last a lifetime. One of the greatest gifts we fellow R/C pilots can offer younger generations is the pure excitement, friendships, knowledge and commitment to safely flying the wonderfully diverse model aircraft available today.
It's hard to beat the satisfaction one feels when watching a child's face light up when they first pilot their own model aircraft. No video game out there can come close to the tangible, symbiotic nature of controlling an aircraft. Once the learning curve has been mastered, the visceral nature of the hobby is hard to beat.
Perhaps you know a child or young adult that shows interest in flight or aircraft? I bet there's many a kid out there that has their own "Mystery Ship" in their minds, just waiting for that gentle nudge from someone who can teach them the dream of flight.
You never know, you just might be the catalyst that opens the door to a lifelong passion filled with countless hours of friendship, fun, laughter, learning and the never ending love of flight.