Thunderous cheers greeted the Spirit of St. Louis upon its pinpoint landing. A crowd converged on the single-engine plane as it slowed to a stop on the tiny airstrip.
The pilot abandoned the controls and basked in the success of the record-setting long-distance flight.
Just like Charles Lindbergh landing in Paris--only on a smaller scale.
Quarter scale, to be precise.
"Everyone was cheering, and the runway was lined with people," recalled John Pahlow of Granada Hills, founding member of the San Fernando Valley Giant Scale Squadron, a club for radio-controlled model aircraft enthusiasts.
"It was, I think, what got giant-scale [planes] off and running--proving we could fly for almost five hours from the back of a moving vehicle."
The year was 1979. Pahlow, a retired mechanical engineer, constructed a quarter-scale replica of Lindy's famous plane--right down to the numerals on the wing and lettering on the fuselage--then modeled the Lone Eagle's historic 1927 transatlantic flight by navigating nonstop 210 miles across the California desert before landing near Las Vegas.
Pahlow's stunt led to the creation of a distance-flight competition during the annual convention of the Quarter-Scale Aircraft Assn., a 40,000-member international organization whose members assemble each fall near Las Vegas.
Pahlow's plane ultimately landed in the Academy of Model Aeronautics Museum in Muncie, Ind. However, an identical model, built by Pahlow, will be among about 40 giant-scale planes on display and in the air Sunday at Apollo 11 Model Airport in the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area.
The Giant Scale Fly-In and Swap Meet is the third of four annual events sponsored by the group, which also holds monthly meetings at the Reseda Recreation Center and gathers informally for weekly flights.
By definition, giant-scale models must have at least an 80-inch wingspan (60 inches for biplanes), or be at least a quarter-scale replica of an authentic aircraft.
The Apollo 11 Model Airport, property of the city of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, also is home to the San Fernando Valley Flyers and Blacksheep Squadron, clubs whose members pilot smaller radio-controlled planes.
Radio-controlled model aviation has existed since the 1930s, and hobbyists have been piloting their planes near Sepulveda Dam for more than 40 years. But only within the past decade, club members say, has the popularity of giant-scale models soared.
Many of the more than 80 members of the Giant Scale Squadron, which formed in 1980, have built replicas of famous planes, detailing their creations with authentic paint jobs, lettering and serial numbers.
Planes are constructed primarily of balsa wood and lightweight fabrics. Members estimate start-up costs at about $350, including a hand-held controller and accessories.
But the sky's the limit, as far as how much one is willing to spend.
Eddie Baker of North Hollywood, a retired Los Angeles police officer, spent more than a year constructing a 96-inch replica of a 1932 Northrop Gamma, the plane that once held the record for the fastest flight from New York to Los Angeles. He estimates its value at more than $2,300--not including the Elvis Presley figurine sitting in the cockpit.
"My son found the Elvis doll and it fit perfectly," Baker said. "Forty bucks, I paid for it."
Bob Adams of Reseda, a retired press operator, each Friday pilots his pride and joy: a single-wing World War II Spitfire fighter plane, valued at about $600.
The plane can reach a speed of more than 70 m.p.h., typical of most giant-scale planes. More sophisticated models can exceed speeds of 200 m.p.h.
"It will take off at half throttle and it just floats," Adams said.
Mort Katz of Palisades, a former aerospace engineer and a private pilot, has lost track of how many planes he has built since he started as a youngster. "How many planes have I built?" Katz said. "About as many as I've crashed."
As in full-scale aviation, everything from crash landings to midair collisions are a reality--and inevitable, club members say.
However, crashes are rare, and injuries almost nonexistent.
"There are two kinds of people," Katz said. "Those who have crashed and those who are going to crash. A friend of mine said to me, 'Gee, I have too many planes.' I said, 'Do some flying.' "
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WHERE AND WHEN
What: Giant Scale Fly-In and Swap Meet.
Location: Apollo 11 Model Airport, Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area.
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Cost: $6 for pilots. Spectators free.
Call: (818) 768-0855 or (213) 758-2935.