Earlier this year, my dad, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army who dabbled in RC airplanes in the late 1970s and early ’80s, unexpectedly passed away. I was fortunate to be with him as he passed. Although I was shaken by the abrupt nature of his death, I was also comforted to know that he did not endure pain and that the life my family had with him was one well lived.
So, what does his passing have to do with flying RC? As it turns out, a lot. His passing made me take stock of what’s truly important to me, eventually causing me to draw parallels between our lives together and the RC flying hobby.
As any RC pilot will attest, flying is an important part of our lives. Day in and day out, our craft is a part of our lives, as much by our sides as the smiles and conversations of the people who have graced our lives.
Although I don’t have pictures of my dad’s airplanes that lined our dining room table in the late 1970s while we were living in Berlin, Germany, I do know that his interest in model aviation, although fleeting, very much mimicked that which all RC pilots share. Our furniture was lined with random parts, pamphlets were left open on countertops, and the dining room table was, in essence, more of a hangar than a place for my mom’s meatloaf.
His interest in airplanes, however, segued into involvement of all things amateur and shortwave radio. Just as I have a host of airplane parts in my car, bedroom, and on the kitchen table, he too had all kinds of radio hobby elements adorning the house, his vehicle, and the yard.
For the Love of a Hobby
He spoke of CQ DX (calling any distant station), CB handles, and radio call letters just as often as I talk about Warbirds Over Delaware, wheel pants, and dihedral. As a child, I was familiar with the sound of our car’s long whip antenna clanging as it scraped every overpass. Now, years later, I find myself adorning my vehicle with items that make my RC flying hobby possible. In some ways, I’ve been following in his footsteps all along.
Just like his whip antenna and radio paraphernalia, I’m sure the propeller resting on my car’s dashboard or the small electric-powered models in my back seat draw the attention of other drivers.
My dad’s love of radios paralleled my love of flying, both offering a fun outlet that allowed us to temporarily escape the daily life of bill paying and errands, and instead have a great time and interact with other like-minded people. I may not have been into radios as he was, but we shared a passion for a hobby that kept us happy.
Caring for People and RC Aircraft
I also learned that there are parallels between family members and our wonderful hobby. Airplanes and the people close to us are a part of our lives—always with you wherever you go.
Like family members, our RC aircraft are talked about and cared for, and it’s not uncommon to travel a long distance to be in their presence. And yes, sometimes they can make you a little crazy, too. Still, we’re happy to have airplanes as well as loved ones by our side, and with absolute certainty, feel a lingering pang of emptiness when they’re taken away from us too early.
Whether life with them (people as well as our airplanes) is short lived (darn those ill-fated test flights) or they’re with you until their tattered, grass-stained underbellies are faded and cracked, what always matters is that in the end is that we found joy in having them with us in the first place.
Dedication and Enthusiasm
As RC pilots, most of us are well aware that dedication is often the name of the game when it comes to making sure our flying experiences are good ones. For some of us, it’s constantly tweaking nose weight. For others, it’s finding the perfect propeller or always reading up on the latest AMA regulations. The more we stay involved, the more we perfect our ability to fly well.
My father used to stay up late some nights, his voice echoing throughout the house as he tried to make contact with other countries. What followed was the distinct scrambled radio squelch of a response, no doubt thousands of miles away.
In much the same way, I too stay up late nights filled with determination. If not poking around for D.VII parts, I’m resting in bed, thinking of that crosswind landing I pulled off the other day. Flying is often on my mind, and I try to approach it with an enthusiasm that even excessive heat can’t undo.
Having passion about a hobby, be it ham radio involvement or flying at Warbirds Over Delaware, means forging on despite limitations. Antennas will bend under an overpass and wings will flex in the skies, yet we remain steadfast to keep going and do so until our bodies and minds know we’ve simply had enough.
Surrounding Oneself with Friends and Family
For me, flying RC is just as much about meeting new people and catching up with longtime friends; much of the fun involves conversations.
I see a similarity between my father and me in this regard. We both enjoyed talking with others; the only difference is that he often did it from behind several radios and I do it from behind my transmitter at the local flying field.
My dad loved to talk with people, always making others around laugh and feel at home in his presence, even if it was in the middle of a store or at work. I’m reminded of this as I think of the flying fields at which I’ve been a member.
In the past, I belonged to a club that had monthly airplane contests, filled with plenty of jokes about particular people’s flying techniques, right down to their personal habits such as exiting a conversation by walking away backwards. Currently, I enjoy the jokes about our field’s self-designated mower and get a kick out of the pilot (you know who you are) who says he never gets a chance to fly because everyone keeps talking to him.
What My Dad Taught Me
In the end, we fly because it’s interesting and fun, right? It’s important not to lose sight of this. Always remember why you fly in the first place.
Whether we’re all about a 12-foot wingspan World War II model or rubber band-powered flight, we take to the skies, putting our skills to the test. We often deal with some curveballs along the way. So it is with life.
Although my dad and I never flew together, he gave me wings. He showed me that it’s good to pursue and stick with a hobby or passion. He showed me that conversation with others is fun and essential. “All humans put on their pants the same way,” as he liked to say, and therefore, should be seen as people to approach, not avoid. Most of all, he loved a good laugh even during stressful times.
My last time with him earlier this year showed me the most powerful father/daughter lesson of all, and it’s one that parallels my love of flying. You see, it was in his last moments that he reminded me of the importance of enjoying every aspect of life’s flights—literally and figuratively.
After all, much of the beauty happens when our craft departs the earth, soaring to the skies with wings proudly outstretched into the unknown that is before us.