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Sylmar | Valley Focus

Pilots Soar Without Leaving the Ground

May 01, 1996|ED BOND

Four planes, revving like high-pitched weed-trimmers, took off one by one into the wind over Sylmar.

They circled around awaiting starter Brian Soper's countdown when someone shouted, "We've had a midair." All eyes turned to watch an aircraft make a sickening spiral and a hard crash in the distance.

The wounded plane, the tip of its wing ripped away, made a safe landing. The other contestants were ordered down.

"There's two kinds of planes," said Ray Rycewicz of San Gabriel, the pilot of the wounded plane, as he sized up the damage. "The ones that have crashed and the ones that are going to crash."

But no lives were at stake here. This is air history in miniature as pilots fly remote-control scale model T-6 airplanes--World War II-era trainers--weighing about 2 1/2 pounds and costing about $100.

"I found part of the engine," said Paul Burke of Palmdale, tending his aircraft broken in two on a paved road nearby. But the crash was not a big deal. "I have another airplane in the car, but the engine got fried and I may be out."

Nearly 20 pilots had gathered at this miniature air strip near Mission College Sunday morning for the Port-A-Potti Pilots T-6 races. The planes--all with the same World War II design and using the same fuel--make 10 laps around the field in six heats. Pilots stand in the middle of the field as a "caller" stands next to them, silently counting out the distance between the course markers, then saying, "Ready . . . Turn."

The emblem for the Sylmar-based club--which has been flying model airplanes for two-decades--is an outhouse with wings.

"Most of us have RVs," explained Howard Cain, a club vice president. "So we use port-a-potties and we can go anywhere."

Cain, 75, flew real B-24s and B-29s as a test pilot during World War II, but that experience does not help him much now, he said.

"The big disadvantage is you're not behind the prop," Cain said. "As it goes around and it's coming at you, you have to reverse everything you do."

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