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Pilots show off their best at Salvation Army event


ELLENTON - Nathaniel Rocha has the right stuff.

Barnstorming for Toys
A radio-controlled plane hovers just off the ground at Saturday's event.

The 10-year-old came with his father Chet on Saturday from Wimauma to the Salvation Army's Barnstorming for Toys event at the Manatee County Radio Controllers' field, and got to fly a radio-controlled airplane on a computer flight simulation.


What: Barnstorming for Toys

Why: Christmas toy drive for the Salvation Army of Bradenton/Manatee County

When: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 11

Where: 7315 71st Ave. E., Palmetto

Admission: $10 or a new, unwrapped toy valued at a minimum of $10

Directions: Click here for a map

He and other youths - and a few adults - flew radio-controlled planes on computers with the help of an MCRC member, using a controller similar to the ones used by real radio-control pilots.

It's not as easy as it looks, and Nathaniel busted up a few planes along the way. He and his father are hooked, though.

"This is a good sport to get into for your kids. It has nothing to do with strength," Chet Rocha said. The software is good to learn on, too. "We're looking into starting off with this" because you can crash and nothing breaks.

"He can crash it 100 times and it won't cost me anything."

Bringing in the help

The event, which continues from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, collected 84 toys and lots of money by midday, said Ed Wickman, lodge manager for the Salvation Army's shelter.

The group also had an emergency vehicle, which is used when there's a need.

Don Chaffee, director of emergency disaster services gave a tour of the truck, which operates at fires, accidents, hurricanes and other disasters.

"We're fully loaded with a two-burner coffee maker, two-burner propane stove," he said. "We're set up so we can serve about 500 to start before they bring us anything else."

It also carries water and refreshments for disaster workers.

Barnstorming for Toys
Troy Hawthorne's B-25 Mitchell flies low over the field.

"Most of our supplies come out of Tampa," Chaffee said. "We have a disaster headquarters up there."

Wickman said that while it might seem strange to get started with Christmas in early October, the need is very great.

"We've actually had our Angel Tree registration this weekend," he said. "We signed up 1,600 families, roughly 2,400 kids."

A lot of people need help right now, he added. "We were averaging about 1,000 children a day" at their center on State Road 70.

Soon, they will be starting the can drive, then the Thanksgiving dinner, the Thankmas Dinner from Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays, and then the Christmas dinner on Christmas Day.

Buzzing the field

The Manatee County Radio Controllers have the field near Buffalo Creek Middle School and Virgil Mills Elementary School, and it's set up for radio-controlled planes as well as planes flown on a control line.

Most of the attention was on the radio-controlled planes, and some people were there to watch, while others were considering getting into the hobby. It's not cheap, but a lot less expensive than a real airplane.

James Saiff, District 5 associate vice president for the Academy of Model Aeronautics, said 25 pilots with 50 to 75 aircraft were planning to fly on Saturday.

He's been into radio-controlled planes for 50 years, since he was a teenager.

Barnstorming for Toys
Jonathan Bryans, 8, works on a plane after he flew it on Saturday.

"You could get into a basic kit or beginners outfit for $300 to $500," he said, but then you'd still have to buy fuel, starter box, and tools and accessories. "From there, the sky's the limit."

Bill Cryer, the club's president, said the club has about 190 members, and added that he was happy to help the Salvation Army.

"We are out here today for a benefit for the kids," he said. "We just gathered up a group of pilots and are trying to get them to donate toys for the benefit of the Salvation Army."

Watching the planes perform all sorts of aerobatics, Stan Marosz of Parrish looked a little pensive. The word on his hat, "Mooney," is a make of airplanes, a small, fast single-engine aircraft often seen at general aviation airports.

He was at the event with his wife to watch the planes. He quit flying and owning a plane because he couldn't fly it often enough.

"This is interesting stuff," he said, adding that he's thinking of getting a radio-controlled plane. "I've never seen a helicopter do that, flying upside down."

At the start of the event, a Hughes 500D helicopter - a real one - buzzed the field several times and then landed for a static display. Mechanic Bill Koens stood guard and talked about the chopper, which is used as a mosquito control aircraft, but can't do the aerobatic maneuvers the radio-controlled helicopter did.

It can spray chemicals to kill adult mosquitoes, he said, and has been busy this year.

Barnstorming for Toys
Don Chaffee describes the Savlation Army's emergency vehicle.

A cool place to be

Inside an air-conditioned trailer there was a place to shelter from the blast-furnace heat outside and to meet the man himself: Santa Claus.

Well, actually, it was Steve Hensell of Bradenton, who heard requests from children and said he's been Santa Claus for a number of years.

And the beard is real, he said.

Liam Miller, 11, has been flying radio-controlled airplanes for a while, and he was having fun running RealFlight G4, a flight simulator for radio-controlled airplanes.

"I just like the way they fly," he said.

Children were lining up to play and having to be limited to a few tries, and seemed to be naturals at flying after just a few brief instructions from an adult or another child.

Seriously into it

The planes outside were divided into those that represented real aircraft of some time and others that were just planes designed to be controlled by radio.

Troy Hawthorne of Anna Maria, a retired construction superintendent, had a very well-prepared trailer with 18 of his 60 planes. The trailer included racks for the disassembled aircraft, and two of them represented real aircraft.

Barnstorming for Toys
Pilots watch their planes flying overhead. They usually fly the planes for 10 minutes or longer.

One was a B-25 Mitchell twin-engine bomber from World War II, and the other was a Coast Guard C-130 four-engine transport.

Many of the planes at Saturday's event ran on some sort of fuel, but Hawthorne said he preferred electric-powered planes because of the time needed to clean the planes after they're flown.

Indeed, when he flew his B-25 later on, it made a low buzzing noise as it flew past and attracted a lot of attention.

Hawthorne said he has a wife who's OK with his hobby, a necessity when the B-25 has cost him about $2,000.

Back in the simulator and Santa trailer, Tammy Cryer made sure everything ran smoothly.

She's the activities coordinator for the Manatee County Radio Controllers and her husband, Billy Cryer, son of the group's president Bill Cryer, is an officer in the group.

"I'm just starting out, basically still on a simulator, but I will advance one day into bigger airplanes," she said. "It's very fun to do, and we're just glad all these kids could come and enjoy themselves, and maybe be pilots."


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