At the Union City Masonic Home, residents are experiencing the thrill of flight – right in their own backyard.
The Home’s Flying Club, which has about two dozen members, meets between 8:00 and 10:00 each morning to hone their model airplane and drone flying skills at the on-site landing strip. Officially dedicated in February, the strip is 100 feet long and made of asphalt and cement. A 30-foot carpeted extension is in progress.
“We have people flying there six to seven days a week weather permitting,” says Jack McClellan, one of the Home’s novice pilots. Several residents have learned to fly since the airstrip was created. The Club has a flight simulator and two model planes that can be borrowed by those looking to hone their skills before purchasing their own aircraft.
McClellan bought his plane in April and started flying in May. Since then, he has completed about 140 flights. He describes his plane as “an overgrown Cessna.” Specially designed for those new to flying, it can operate in three ability-based modes and has a panic switch that stabilizes the plan if the pilot loses control. (All Club members join the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which provides educational resources, as well as a liability policy in case a plane hits a person or property.)
A highlight of the Club for McClellan is getting to fly his model aircraft alongside seasoned pilots of commercial and military planes. Jack Wright flew with the Blue Angles. Dick Sullivan was an Air Force pilot who flew B-25s. “They tell me that it’s harder to fly a remote control plane than a conventional one,” McClellan says. “When you’re landing, the model plane comes straight at you – it’s not like sitting in an aircraft.”
All Masons – in addition to Masonic Homes residents – are invited to join the Club or to just stop by to give flying a try. The Club includes several off-campus members, including one from San Jose who just completed his third degree. Members are hopeful that by the spring they’ll have more experienced pilots to serve as instructors so that they can invite Masonic youth to campus to experience the delight of flying.
“I get a real sense of accomplishment,” says McClellan. “It’s not easy to take off and land perfectly every time. The first time I flew it was kind of scary – I even had shaky knees. But I kept trying. I’s really fun to fly.”
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