Radio-controlled airplane enthusiasts will descend on the SeaGate Convention Centre for the Weak Signals R/C Club’s annual model show, which club president Dale Rupert calls the “largest and best radio-controlled expo in the world.”
The show, which is in its 54th year, runs April 4 through 6. In addition to demonstrations, a swap shop and about 200 dealers showing off “the newest, latest, greatest stuff,” Rupert said, it will include a model display in which builders from across the country will show off their abilities and compete for prizes.
Club member Jim Skolmowski of Toledo said visitors will be shown an array of model planes, some of them with wingspans as wide as 10 or 12 feet, with technology that “I’m sure they’ll be amazed to see.”
“If they’re not familiar with the hobby, I think they’re in for a big surprise when they come to see what we’re working with, what our hobby’s all about,” Skolmowski said.
Members of the Weak Signals R/C Club say building and flying radio-controlled airplanes is a family-friendly hobby that brings the satisfaction of not just building something, but being able to put the fruits of their labor into action.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction I get in building something that works. It’s kind of the engineer in me,” said Rupert, who holds a civil engineering degree from UT and now works for the city.
Rupert said an engineer’s background isn’t needed to enjoy flying radio-controlled planes.
“It’s amazing, the whole broad spectrum of guys in the hobby,” he said.
Some fliers also get their families involved. Skolmowski taught his two sons and his daughter how to build and fly planes; now, he said, his eldest son’s wife is getting involved as well.
“It gives us something in common to be able to hang out and do together,” he said.
Skolmowski said his family jokes that in the winter they get to spend time making planes together, “and in the summertime we get to go out and crash them so we can build them again the next winter.”
Club member Dave Leach of Sylvania Township, who said he’s been interested in the hobby since he was old enough to ride his bike out to the fields where people flew, also has passed the hobby on to his children.
“It’s a good, clean hobby,” he said. “It’s technical, the technologies change, and you can learn and change with them.”
It’s also less expensive than people might think, Leach said. Rupert estimated it takes about $200 at the low end to get started flying radio-controlled planes.
“Between $200 and $400, you can have a really nice setup,” Rupert said.
“There’s no top end to it,” he added, recalling one year when an exhibitor at the Toledo show brought a scale model of the Concorde SST that cost about $80,000 to build — “a little out of my reach,” Rupert said.
Skolmowski said he recommends that anyone interested in learning the hobby start by finding a mentor. Without guidance, he said, people can get frustrated and give up if they encounter technical issues early on.
“Any of the clubs around are always willing to help new people get started,” he said.
Skolmowski, who is the club’s safety officer, said Weak Signals fliers must also join the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which provides insurance coverage for its members.
Rupert said the club’s 147 members range in age from about 12 to about 90. The club consists mainly of men, although there is one female member; Rupert said flying contests can never be scheduled on Mother’s Day.
The club has a flying field on Minx Road just north of Rauch Road in Michigan’s Monroe County. Rupert said the club welcomes spectators.
If you go
What: The Weak Signals R/C Club’s 54th annual radio-controlled airplane show.
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 4 and April 5; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 6.
Where: The SeaGate Convention Centre, 401 Jefferson Ave., Toledo.
Admission: $8 per person per day, with active-duty U.S. military personnel and children 12 and under admitted free.