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VALLEY FOCUS | Encino

Model Plane Group Still Flying High

July 23, 1998|MICHAEL BAKER

Launching their meticulously detailed model airplanes into the sky and sharing in the thrill of flight, a group of aviation enthusiasts have met at Lake Balboa Park every Sunday, weather permitting, for nearly eight years.

"We started flying at the park before there was water in the lake," said Robert Hall, 74, of Valley Village. "There's fun in it, camaraderie and it's a learning experience. Plus, you get out and run around a lot because you have to go chasing the planes."

The group started out relatively small, but as people began watching and grew more interested, the squadron enlarged to 30 to 40 planes.

The pilots usually get started around 7:30 a.m. and fly their self-propelled machines until the wind gets too strong to control them.

Powered simply by the wind or rubber bands--or more complicated setups, such as electric motors and carbon dioxide engines--the models represent aviation from the beginning of its history to the modern age.

"Most of the people have models from the beginning through World War II," said Otto Kuhni, 70, a Sherman Oaks resident who was one of the first to start flying his planes at the park. "But some of the younger guys have even moved into the jet age."

Most participants either grew up interested in aviation or have worked in a related field and are now retired, Kuhni said.

A typical flight might last from a half a minute to five minutes, but all offer a different thrill. While most flights land safely, some planes end up in trees, atop apartment buildings or simply fly into the wild blue yonder never to be seen again.

"I had one visible for 18 minutes and then it finally flew away," Kuhni said. "Sometimes with the whims of nature, occasionally, we'll lose one when we hit a thermal and there it goes."

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