Grounded and soaring Hobby: Members of the Baltimore Area Soaring Society are builders and pilots of radio-controlled model gliders.

August 03, 1998|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN STAFF

For Bob Trimble of Cockeysville, who spends much of his time piloting a motorized wheelchair, it was a chance to soar with the swans above a sun-splashed field.

For Joe Radoci, a 79-year-old former fighter pilot and Martin Marietta Co. engineer, it was an afternoon spent doing what he has always loved best. For Pete Schlitzkus of Rosedale, a 56-year-old tool maker at Edgewood Arsenal, it was as close as he's ever likely to get to his dream of building and flying his own aircraft.

All are members of the Baltimore Area Soaring Society, a group of about 50 hobbyists who spend their weekends building and flying radio-controlled model gliders. And yesterday, as on most summer weekends, a few of them gathered at Cal Ripken Jr. Field at Villa Maria School near Loch Raven Reservoir to practice their graceful, silent sport.

"In our hearts, we're all pilots," said Schlitzkus. "You kind of dream your dreams out here."

Model aircraft with gas engines aren't allowed at soaring society gatherings. The difference between model gliders and model aircraft with engines, said Steve Pasierb, 36, an advertising executive from Cub Hill, is like the difference between power-boaters and sailors.

"This is probably a little more cerebral," he said. "You've got to really fly. You've got to find a core of rising air to fly."

And there is a sense of tranquillity that comes with soaring, these pilots say, even if the aircraft's wingspan is only 10 or 12 feet.

"It's very clean, it's very pure," said Al DeRenzis, 53, of Baltimore, a stockbroker at Legg Mason. "You're just up there with nature."

For some, flying these miniature planes creates the illusion that they themselves are airborne.

"A lot of times, when we're talking with somebody, we'll say, 'How does it feel? How does the plane feel?' " DeRenzis said.

They loft the gliders using an electric winch that launches them about 500 feet high. Once aloft, they can stay up as long as the pilot can find updrafts and the batteries that power the plane's controls don't run out. (The club's record-holder has kept a glider in the air for eight hours.)

If the on-board battery gives out, all control is lost and the plane can drift for miles. Many of the pilots recalled canvassing neighborhoods, searching for lost aircraft, which can take months to build and cost $800 or more.

"Sometimes, they have just disappeared," Pasierb said.

Trimble, 36, crashed his own model aircraft last week. So yesterday Radoci lent Trimble one of his 10 planes and coached him as he flew.

Trimble, who has muscular dystrophy, maneuvered the big blue plane with a joystick pinched between the thumb and first finger of his right hand.

"You're doing fine," Radoci said. "Keep it going, keep it going."

Trimble spun the plane in lazy circles, searching for an updraft. At one point, he soared up to about 1,500 feet, more than eight times higher than Baltimore's Washington Monument.

Trimble squinted through rose-tinted aviator glasses, his face shaded by a camouflaged porkpie hat. His arms were tan and freckled from hours spent sitting in the sun. A pair of swans flew overhead.

"Don't stall it now," Radoci said. "Take it easy on the stick."

Radoci flew a variety of planes -- P-47s, P-51s and F-86s -- for the Maryland Air National Guard back in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1965, one of the fighters he was flying over the Chesapeake caught fire and went out of control. He bailed out before it plunged into the water.

After retiring from the Air Force, Radoci worked as a co-pilot and flight engineer for Martin Marietta in Middle River. He would prepare aircraft just off the assembly line for their first flight and then ride along to make sure everything worked.

After he retired from that job in 1977, he still hungered to fly. So three years later he and two other model builders founded the Soaring Society.

"I still have it in my blood," Radoci said. "You have it as long as you live, I think."

Pub Date: 8/03/98

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