The whine starts slowly, high-pitched and jarring, soon turning to an unearthly shriek. As quickly as it begins, however, it is replaced by a belch of smoke and exhaust and the roar of the propeller blades.
Two spindly pieces of landing gear skip and jitter across the grass onto the runway, the noise coming and going, changing pitch as the engine is throttled up and down. Ailerons are flexed and checked, and the pilot hollers across the runway in preparation for takeoff.
Nose into the wind, the plane takes off down the runway, jumping into the sky over eastern Toronto, and immediately going into a shocking vertical climb.
Staring up, squinting against the sun, the pilot seems as focused as if he were guiding the plane’s movements from inside a cockpit. Welcome to the Radio Control Flying Club of Toronto.
Established in 1957 by six men dedicated to the sport of model aviation, the group, known originally as the Toronto Radio Control Club, came into being at a time when a runway-sized field was still easy to find in Toronto. The club flew its planes first from a field at Pharmacy Avenue and Huntingwood Drive—and as the decades rolled on, it made its home in a succession of sites as the city continued to expand ever outward. In 1992, it settled in its current airstrip near Markham Road and Finch Avenue East. By then, the club’s membership had grown to close to 140, making it one of the largest model flying clubs in Canada.
On any given flying day, the field is full of pilots, planes, and spectators. The flying is in full swing as soon as the weather improves in the spring, and then continues right through until October or November. Some diehard fliers even pilot year-round, their only stipulation being that they need a clear, sunny day.
The range of models on display and in flight is staggering. You have the small, beginner models with spindly landing gears that look as if they might break upon landing, with a fuselage to match. There are the mid-range models, whose power output is much greater—flying higher and faster, they meet the needs of weekend warrior pilots. Next come the behemoths: the giant, gasoline-powered, smoke-belching, “I can cut your arm off with my front prop” model airplanes. These are in a class of their own, as they are much more powerful, expensive (reaching into the many thousands of dollars), and demanding to both fly and maintain. The dedicated semi-pro fliers are the only ones at the controls of these giants.
Finally, there are the true gems of the model flying world—custom-made models, which are the products of hundreds of build-hours and a great deal of expertise. We saw, for example, a huge, gleaming, silver, scaled-down version of a B-29 World War II bomber. “The most difficult part was syncing all four engines,” said the model maker. “With the four props, if one isn’t tuned correctly, the whole plane can shake itself apart.”
These model builders and pilots take their hobby seriously: their attention to detail, their level of dedication to the craft and to the sport, set them apart from many of your average model makers.