August 14, 2013 - There are many ways to become a pilot.
Max Nordlie, an 11-year-old Lake Orion boy, is the type of pilot that lives for the rush, the crash and the landing.
He earned his Skymasters' Miniature Aircraft Pilot License Sunday, August 11 after flying his prototype foam airplane under the careful scrutiny of Skymasters' instructor Neil Krohn. Max received his sign-off flight certificate at the Skymaster's RC field off Scripps Road.
Max started in the "buddy box" last year, with radio-control in hand and an instructor at his side, wired to his control. If the plane took a plunge, the instructor took over with the flip of a switch. After a couple of flights this summer, he was granted his wings.
Orion Township resident Brad Muzzy used to fly full-size planes in college, and recently took to radio control flying in the last two years.
He earned his license certificate right quick.
"I came out here with the white plane after flying on a simulator for a year because I didn't have time to get a plane and come out here. On the second flight the guy said, 'ya, I'd sign you off,'" Muzzy said. "So after four flights I was a pilot. But I spent hundreds of hours on the simulator."
The simulator is more or less a videogame, using the same mechanics of his radio-remote control that launches his real, 192-ounce model plane to the heavens.
Some people, like Clarkston resident Dan Berry, simulate flight in the mind.
"It's kind of like shooting a basket and seeing it go in, and then actually have it happen," he said. "That's what I did as I kid."
Fifty years ago, in the "I wanna be a pilot when I grow up" stage," he slept with his radio controller.
"I held my transmitter and laid in bed at night just dreaming what it would be like to move the sticks, and then it actually worked for me," he said. He has been flying since he was eight years old.
"For young people, it's not only a way to get them off the streets, but it brings them into the sciences and aviation. A lot of pilots start their careers flying model airplanes," he said. "There's a lot to learn. There's electronics involved, internal combustion, engine operation, not to mention aerodynamics. There's a lot to it as far as education, plus when you put it all into one ball, it's just a lot of fun for everybody."
What goes up must come down, and sometimes it comes down fast.
"You just get another one if you crash," new pilot Nordlie said. His goal is to buy a radio-controlled jet, which goes a lot faster than the average model plane. He had a major crash two days before he got his license, but didn't hit anyone.
He will get a new card in the mail saying "Pilot" instead of "Student" for the Skymasters' RC of Lake Orion.
Skymasters' Instructor Bill Saunders from Rochester Hills flew his plane into his 'buddy' at the time of sign-off, chief flight instructor Greg Brausa.
"I usually get hit by an airplane and not hurt, but still, it was just a nick," Brausa said, showing off his scar on his elbow where the plane sliced him.
It took a lot of "blood, sweat and tears," to pass Saunders, but Brausa explained the trickiness of using the sticks. He learned how to fly by himself.
"You'll have a problem with it coming back to you," he said, referring to turning the model plane around in the sky after flying it away from you. "It took me six airplanes to figure out which way you're going to turn it to make it go the right way, when it comes back at you the ailerons (wing flaps) seem reversed, when you push the right stick to the right, the airplane seems to come to the left," he said.
Saunders flies a T-28, which is easiest for him, and also a P-51 Mustang.
"I like any challenge, I like getting new planes and trying to learn how to fly them and hopefully not crash them. I've put two in the dirt this season already, and those two are gone," Saunders said.
But crashing is a part of learning, and each pilot moves on happily to the next plane, never even wincing with the money or time invested in a crash landing.
"That's what you do all winter, you build up these planes. You bring them out over the summer, and you hope that they survive," Saunders said.
A crash here and a crash there is neither common nor uncommon, it is just accepted on the field, and a bit of entertainment.
"The nice thing about this club is that everyone is willing to help," he said. "I would never have learned how to fly and do the things I can do now without the support of the people with experience who are out here."
The Skymasters RC club was created in 1974, and located in fields all over South East Michigan since its inception. It finally found home at Bald Mountain State Park a little over 15 years ago, laid down its sod and called itself a runway.
Flight instruction is available every Wednesday night until Labor Day, from 3 to 8:00 p.m. at the Skymasters' Field including a potluck dinner at 6 p.m. The Skymasters' RC Club is always looking for fresh pilots, girls and boys.
"I would say young boys' parents want them to do something and they bring them out and we put the transmitter in their hands and teach them. But it's nice to see some women come out here and maybe get a start in aviation. That's pretty exciting," Berry said.