John Appling yelled out, signaling a takeoff. Seconds later, he extended his arm upward, activated a winch to propel his model glider and watched the craft quickly ascend into the sky.
Appling toggled his remote control, trying to smoothly guide his plane to a higher altitude, then had it drifting up and down through the muggy air.
The 53-year-old Hampstead resident was a contestant in yesterday's Baltimore Area Soaring Society's August contest at the Maryland Polo Club in Harford County. Contestants flew model airplanes for a designated amount of time and had to finish by landing precisely on a spot on the field.
One by one, each maneuvered a wood and composite glider through the air for five to seven minutes.
Russell Bennett, 44, of Catonsville stole the show as his glider swerved through the air and came to a perfect landing. All Appling could do was watch.
"He's driving tack," Appling said. "I call him that because he is going to land right on the nail."
The contestants are among a group of hobbyists who spend much of their free time building and flying radio-controlled model gliders. The society holds regular meetings, puts on competitions and takes part in national and international glider contests.
During yesterday's event, the colorful gliders soared through the air as their grounded pilots, clutching remote controls, worked their crafts' wings, rudders and gears.
The task is not easy.
Randy Kleinert, 60, of Baltimore said it takes a great deal of training to master the skill, and many learned at an early age. And still, he said, they make mistakes.
During a test flight yesterday, Bennett flew a glider over a treeline and then into a large tree.
"You're gonna need a tree-climber to retrieve that," Appling said, joking.
Bennett and others were unable to find the glider in the woods. They vowed to return and look later; the gliders can cost as much as $800 each.
The draw is simple for these aviation enthusiasts. "It's the challenge of beating Mother Nature," said Joe Allulis, 73, of Loganville, Pa.
Weather conditions play a role in the competition, and yesterday's hot, moist and windless air did not make for good flying.
Allulis gave up after a few tries and walked back to his car with the glider under his arm.
"That's it for today; Mother Nature is winning," he said.
Others soon agreed. With temperatures climbing to 90 degrees and above, participants decided to stop the competition, though some stayed to practice and use electric gliders not allowed in the regular competition.
Marvin Tedrow of Aberdeen checked the battery in his electric glider, tested the propeller and sent the aircraft into the air.
After about 20 minutes of pacing around the field, Tedrow, 63, pulled off his hat, wiped the sweat from his face and sat in a lawn chair, fixing his eyes toward the sky, watching his plane glide.
"It's just floating up there," Tedrow said as moved his hands away from the remote controller. "The other night, I ate dinner as I watched it fly."
As players packed up their gliders and mingled under the shade, Tedrow continued to watch his glider fly through the air. After more than 45 minutes, even he had enough.
"It's time to bring it down now," he said. "It's been up there long enough."