RIO GRANDE, Ohio — There’s something in the skies over Rio Grande, Ohio every Sunday and it’s not Mothman.
The Rio Grande Flyers, is a unique recreation group that brings radio and remote-controlled airplane enthusiasts together to share a passion for flying and fellowship.
Sundays (after church, around 1:30 p.m.), the group gathers in the large field across from the Bob Evans Farm where it has its own airstrip that members maintain for liftoff and landings, complete with a windsock to know which way the wind blows. The property is now owned by the University of Rio Grande though the group leases the section containing the airfield which is around the size of a football field.
Business owner Mike Dayton of Gallipolis is vice president of the group. When he was a young man he learned to pilot a Cessna airplane but maintaining his license is an expensive habit, especially with a family.
“I told my wife once the kids are grown up and gone, I’m going to start a radio-controlled airplane group…its been 13 years now (since the flyers began),” Dayton said.
Though Dayton said he has one plane with customized pieces that cost around $5,000, he and his wife Tiana have aircraft that cost as little as $200, and for those interested in drones, that price falls even lower. He stressed it’s a hobby that can be accessible for people no matter their budget, with the main ingredient being a passion for the activity.
In addition to take offs and landings, the club members also perform aerobatics to rival the Blue Angels, which all takes focus and the use of muscle memory to keep the planes in the air. Pilots usually keep their planes in the air around 10 to 15 minutes, maximum, because of the physical intensity and mental vigilance of maintaining the craft. The plans can fly up to 400 feet in altitude. One of Dayton’s planes can go up to 75 mph, with a 103-inch wingspan and has a carbon fiber frame.
On any given Sunday, visitors to the flyers’ airfield will find members under a canopy, enjoying hot dogs and chips, as well as conversations and flight time.
Wayne Saunders and his wife Ellen of Rio Grande are faithful members of the group, often found charging up their aircraft, including his model PT 17, used by the Army and Navy as primary trainers “way back when,” as Wayne put it.
The aircraft is an unmistakable bright yellow and, as Wayne explained, “You have to be able to see well to fly well.”
With COVID-19 keeping most folks close to home to explore recreational activities, taking to the skies without the reported, possible health risks of getting on an actual commercial airplane, does have its appeal.
Flyers President Russ Elliot said the group membership was once up to 16, but is now down to roughly five faithful flyers. Elliot said the group welcomes new flying enthusiasts and hopes to see the group grow in numbers again.
If interested in gaining your wings, show up on Sundays during flying time or call Dayton at 740-645-7508.
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Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.