Originally Published: July 21, 2014 6:02 a.m.
It was all eyes on the skies Friday morning, when a group of teenagers met with members of the local Casa de Aero R/C Flying Club for a quick course in radio-controlled flying.
One by one, the teens took control of hand-held transmitters, putting a fleet of model airplanes through elaborate turns and dives in the sky above the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) campus.
They weren't totally on their own, however. Using a "buddy box" system, the seasoned R/C flyers were ready to step in if the planes appeared to be dipping too low or turning too erratically.
"It's kind of like driver's ed, if the kid gets in trouble," Dave Domzalski, president of the Casa de Aero Club, said, explaining that the system uses two transmitters that are linked together.
Even so, when the experienced flyers said the words, "It's yours" - letting the teens know that they were in control - the level of concentration intensified on the young faces.
"It's a little nerve-racking, because you don't want to crash the plane," Dillon Smith, a 17-year-old from Sumner, Wash., said after flying alongside club member Andrew Perry.
Patience appeared to be the byword in the veteran flyers' instructions.
"(With experience) you'll just do it automatically. You won't even think about it; you'll just know what to do," Perry assured Smith, as the two stood side-by-side, eyes turning in unison as Perry's plane flew overhead.
Smith, like most of the other teenagers, was on hand as a part of Embry-Riddle's Career Exploration Summer programs for youth.
Throughout the summer, the university offers week-long camps in varied fields, such as flight exploration, aviation discovery, aerospace engineering, aerial robotics and control, and global security and intelligence studies.
ERAU student Sierra Wilferd, the student coordinator for the group Friday morning, said the camps attract teens from all over the country, as well as some international participants. This week's camp - on flight exploration - attracted boys and girls from as far away as Hawaii and Washington.
The local Casa de Aero members - many of them retirees in aviation-related fields - turn out each week to pass on knowledge to the fledgling flyers.
For 15-year-old Andre Simmons of San Francisco, the collaboration with the experienced flyers was a good chance to broaden his experience with model planes. "I did this last year, and I have a small model of my own," he said. "You definitely get an idea of how an airplane flies."
In addition, Simmons said, "These guys have their own stories." Pointing to one of the local club members, he said, "He was telling me that he was in the Navy on a fuel tanker."
Most of the students appeared to have aviation aspirations of their own.
Simmons said he hopes to become an aerospace engineer, and 15-year-old Kelcie Yamashita of Honolulu said she plans to study to be a commercial pilot.
Of the chance to experiment with the models, Yamashita said, "I think it's pretty fun. It's cool to see a miniature version of the real thing."
Smith, who also plans to become a commercial airline pilot, said he is considering attending Embry-Riddle for his aviation education.
The local club's participation with the ERAU camp not only gives the experienced flyers a chance to introduce kids to R/C flying, Domzalski said, but it provides benefits for the members as well. "It keeps our skills sharp, and there is the social component," he said.
Indeed, camaraderie was apparent on both sides, as the teens visited and asked questions as club members set up their models on a row of flight stands bordering the runway.
Domzalski explained that the club leases space from ERAU for the 650-foot-by-70-foot packed-dirt runway, which is located at 3700 Willow Creek road, near the university's soccer field.
More than 75 members belong to the flying club, and about a dozen regularly turn out for the Friday morning flying sessions with the teenagers.
"There is a genuine interest for aviation here," said Domzalski, whose own career started in mechanical engineering and led to aircraft design with McDonnell Douglas.
The club has been in existence for more than 20 years, and conducts a variety of activities throughout the year including fun-flies, demonstrations, and picnics. More information is available on the club's website at http://casadeaero.com.
Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks.