Originally Published: December 27, 2009 10 p.m.
Robert Shanks Jr. has had a love of flying since his youth, but poor eyesight prevented him from being a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
"I ended up going into intelligence work," Shanks, 68, said.
Shanks spent 31 years with the Air Force, including 20 years as a reserve officer, before retiring at the rank of colonel in 2001. His career highlights included helping to coordinate the exodus of 6,000 Kurds from northern Iraq in 1995 and teaching at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., from 1999 to 2001.
"I guess the most rewarding job was being a professor at the Air War College," Shanks said. "We had 45 officers from 45 different countries."
Shanks said he and his wife, Cindi, moved to Williamson Valley from Tucson in 2006 because he prefers the climate here. He teaches part time at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, and revived an interest in a hobby that he pursued as a child growing up in Nebraska: model aviation.
"You build it yourself," Shanks said, referring to model airplanes. "You put electronics in. You've got to understand a little about aeronautics."
He joined the Chino Valley Model Aviators, served as its officer, vice president and president, and edits its newsletter. The club has more than 100 members who fly remote-controlled model aircraft at an 800-foot runway in Chino Valley.
Shanks' service to the club inspired Randy Meathrell, its outgoing president, to nominate him for the Carl Goldberg Vital People Award from the Academy of Model Aeronautics. The award is named for a model aircraft designer, model-club founder, educator and business owner who died in 1985.
"It is for the people who sit in the background but do a lot for the club and the community," Meathrell said. He described Shanks as a "super guy."
Shanks and four others received the award earlier this month from the academy, which is based in Muncie, Ind. Erin Dobbs, its programs coordinator, said a committee of academy officers reviewed paperwork from nine nominees.
The award came with a $200 cash prize, which Shanks indicated he will invest in another model plane. He builds model planes, mostly of World War I and World War II aircraft, from kits and scratch.
Shanks said he is trying to interest children in the hobby.
"It can improve their study habits," he said. "They can set some life goals."
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