On weekends, their aircraft are soaring above a private airstrip on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish.
They push their flying machines through stunts and races, in a hobby that many of the pilots have had since they were kids.
Kelly Field is a miniature airport that is tucked away at the end of a long gravel road, on the edge of a swamp behind the Town of Avondale. It’s a place where weekend pilots can launch their pint-sized aircraft, and remotely pilot them high above the landscape, or tryout stunts you would never do in a real aircraft, especially a helicopter.
“The helicopter can do anything an airplane can do, anything an airplane can do, upside down and backwards,” said RC pilot Wayne Armstrong.
The idea is to push the limits of a miniature flight, without crashing. That can drive up the cost of this hobby. The New Orleans Model Aviation Club has been flying in Avondale for the past 40 years. The club’s 65 members are able to keep all of this going with membership dues and donations.
“We don’t want to fly near any houses, we want to watch our altitude, we want to ensure that the people that are flying with us are capable,” said David Bertrand of NOMAC.
For some pilots, like Scott Heath, part of the thrill is shooting aerial video. A camera on his plane gives him a birds-eye view of the area.
“I’ve got a few drones at home that I attach a GoPro on and shoot over the neighborhood and what not,” said Heath. “[I] get some good shots of mainly the weather. The weather is really cool to me.”
They zip through the air like flying insects, at speeds averaging 60-80 miles per hour. It’s the latest fad is remote-controlled flight.
“I wanted to be a pilot,” said drone pilot Kevin Williamson. “This is about the closest thing to it. You really feel like you’re sitting in there [and] you are flying it.”
In the nose of their aircraft, they fly through the obstacle course, shooting through hoops and gates and weaving their way around flags, trying to stay airborne and beat the competition to the finish line.
“The speeds that you go at, it’s insane, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Williamson.
There are model aircraft to fit a variety of interests. Some of the most impressive are the hand-made replicas of vintage airplanes.
“I compete in scale events,” said RC pilot Phillip Koury.
One of the aircraft used is a wood and fiberglass plane which is an exact one-fifth size replica of a World War II Navy Wildcat.
“That squadron was the first US force to sink a Japanese battleship warship in World War II,” said Koury. “It’s a very interesting story called the Wake Island Wildcats.”
Most of the pilots started flying model aircraft as kids. Their flying has improved with the technology, which is now attracting a new generation of younger pilots.
To become a member of the New Orleans Aviation Club, they want to make sure you know how to fly a remote-controlled aircraft. If you are still learning, they offer lessons. For more information, click here.