On a perfect Saturday afternoon, Ted Brito watched his lovingly crafted radio-controlled model airplane circle Mary’s Pond.
As he used the controls on the RC unit to guide his mini-Cessna through various loops and turns with the joystick radio control unit, the plane gliding across a clear, blue sky, you could see how someone could happily do it all day.
“I’ve had this one maybe three years. Someone else built it, but they never flew it,” Brito said. “Some people are afraid to fly on water.”
Then, Brito tried what is a fairly routine rudder turn maneuver and … SPLASH! His Cessna divebombed into the middle of the pond, ending the relaxing afternoon for him.
“Another one for you!” someone called out to the two men in a boat whose job it was to recover crashed planes. When they got back to the shore, Brito’s plane was done for the day, but not in terrible shape; the other plane, however, was in two parts and would be going back into the shop for sure.
Brito was one of a crew of around 25 RC plane and flying boat enthusiasts who took to the shores of Mary’s Pond on Saturday for the John Nicolaci Memorial Float Fly.
“That’s three or four to go down today,” said Andy Argenio, New England vice president of the governing American Model Aeronautics organization (AMA). “Typically, it’s only one or two. Today, who knows why? Just chalk it up to the plane gods. They weren’t favorable today.”
“It’s a good crowd, very good. This is a good site,” said Gary Carreiro, who in addition to being president of the Bristol County chapter of the AMA is also the tax collector and treasurer in Marion. “We’ve had on occasion fifty, sixty planes in the air here, but this is a nice day.”
Flyers and a few spectators camped out on the hill eating lunch from a food truck and watched the planes and flying boats buzz through the air. At the registration stand was a near-life size standup poster of Nicolaci, the event’s namesake, who passed away in 2009.
Nicolaci was the owner of Cliftex Corp. and a Marion resident, and flew a PBR Mariner that was the standard by which all others in the club were judged. He had actually worked on the real thing during World War II, working for an aircraft factory in Maryland. He built a scale model here, and he flew it around the country – including a legendary 27-mile trip from New Bedford to Martha’s Vineyard, following behind with his controller unit on a boat.
“The first flight, he ran out of battery – not fuel – and it crashed,” Carreiro said. “And the Coast Guard showed up because they thought it was a real plane. And that’s typical.”
“So he rebuilt it and tried it again, and this time it was successful,” Argenio said. “He was a luminary in our field, years ahead of his time, and a wonderful guy.”
The AMA has 200,000 members and is sanctioned by the FAA. Like any hobby, the cost is up to the dedication (obsession?) of the participant.
“You can go out and fly a little foam flyer for five hundred dollars, or you can spend thirty to forty thousand dollars,” Argenio said. “We have a jet meet next week in Gardner, and we have a guy who comes in from New York, full-length trailer, oak-lined, a hundred thousand in planes, golf cart, everything. And he has someone drive him out to the middle of the field, watches his jet fly by at 200 miles an hour, has a drink, and that’s it.
“But it’s really something people enjoy, and there are plenty of different ways to enjoy it.”
By Jonathan Comey