The loss of flying fields with a reasonable distance from population centers has been a problem for decades - half a century even, according to this story from a 1962 edition of Model Aviation. You might be tempted to think that this instance must be in a bustling urban location like Atlanta, Georgia, Albany, New York, or Dallas, Texas, but in fact the problem here was in Billings, Montana. Usually the impetus is due to complaints about noise from model aircraft engines as houses are built nearby. The Flying Mustangs lost their field because a neighboring airport needed to expand its airspace, thereby forcing the flying field shutdown. A field where I flew occasionally near Kernersville, NC, had been in place for decades. In a period of about five years, a large neighborhood of expensive homes popped up on two sides. Residents complained that they feared model airplanes crashing into their kids while they crawl upon their $10,000 professionally built backyard playground complexes, so the police finally finally had to enforce a ruling by a judge to prohibit flying in the vicinity of the homes, thereby effectively closing the field. The switchover recently to electric power has done a lot to help prevent flying field closures, but there are still pain in the posterior ignorant people who are out to cause problems for others for any reason. May a pox be upon their homes and their people (just kidding... kinda).
Flying Site Success Story - Billings Bounces Back
By Rosalie Vanzant
Show biz folks aren't the only ones required to stage a comeback. Model plane club members occasionally find themselves in the same situation, especially after the loss of a well-improved flying site.
It is then that the "drift-alongs" drop out of formation and the aces regroup for the hard pull. Making a comeback isn't easy-but then worthwhile things seldom are.
In Billings, Montana, the Flying Mustangs, Inc., survived the loss of a good field and after some uncertain season are emerging victorious. Once again they have their own model airport which is improved by a 350 x 250-foot oiled R/C strip and flying circle.
Admittedly, this is less pretentious than the club's original set-up, but it is adequate for the moment. Modeling in Billings is on the upswing.
Aubrey M. Darnielle, president of the Mustangs, states that for the time being they feel the most important thing is to have a place to fly which they can call their own. Costly improvements can come later.
The re-activated group was issued a new A.M.A. charter in May 1959, has since shown a steady membership gain. Major flying interest is in R/C, although some members also operate ukie and free flight craft.
Blackest days for Billings modelers came in 1956 when the expanding municipal airport overran a blacktop R/C strip, two blacktop control-line circles and a concrete race car track without any reimbursement for the modelers. These facilities had been completed only two years earlier at a cost of $1,500.
The Mustangs had already suffered from the departure of several members through job transfers and military service. The loss of its flying site caused the club to fold like a weak wing. While organized modeling activity in Billings virtually ceased, a hard core of dedicated hobbyists kept on building and flying wherever they could. The flying site situation continued to deteriorate with a housing boom swallowing up most open areas. By the spring of 1959 it was obvious that the club must be rebuilt before decent flying facilities could ever be realized.
The new group stuck together, meeting every other Wednesday for two more years before they obtained their present site. As is the history of many fields, the spot was discovered by two car-roving modelers searching for a place to fly.
Marvin "Speed" Leckie. and John Tarro reported their find to the club. Inquiries showed that the tract, located seven miles from town, was owned by Charles Zimmerman, an elderly, big-scale rancher. Darnielle went to him to plead the modelers' case.
Zimmerman proved to be most cooperative. Since the land is semi-marginal with no pasture value after May he told the club that they could use, rent-free, a 10 acre area in whatever way they wished. The ground, mostly level, is completely unobstructed.
Gee whiz, you city-slicker modeling types ... look at all those wide open spaces in Montana (top of page). Flying Mustangs gather at field (above).
Although the club anticipates a long use period, the owner doesn't want to be tied up by a lease. This means it is necessary to keep improvement costs low. Also, since the club was young and small, they didn't have any funds available anyway.
The field needed some leveling, so Darnielle took that problem to the Billings Exchange Club of which he is a member. A model flying committee was organized within the service club, and upon its recommendation the business men voted to give $250 toward improving the field.
At the start of this project, Darnielle secured from Exchange's national headquarters information (mostly A.M.A. originated) on how to organize local flying clubs and hold meets.
The donation was spent for leveling the flying area, erecting a field sign, preparing work benches and other field work. Hubble Oil Company also came to the club's assistance by providing a tank load of oil which was sprayed on the R/C runway to minimize dust and pack down the ground.
Another field improvement was obtained through club member Roger Deitz, a salesman. He spotted an unused loading platform back of one of his customer's buildings. He was told that the club could haul it away. The Mustangs had it cut down and carted to their airport for $10. Some smaller benches were then made.
Next, club members went to a local auction house and obtained, for practically nothing, enough old carpeting to cover the tops of all work tables.
In addition to these improvements. the Mustangs this year stumbled into an excellent arrangement for adding further oil to their runway. The Industrial Equipment Company, a repair depot for diesel trucks, made a trailer for the club on which are mounted two 50-gallon oil drums. These were welded together and hooked up to an oil spray bar.
The trailer is parked at the I.EC. shop. When trucks are overhauled the old oil is poured into the drums. Every two weeks a club member - with a trailer hitch on his car - stops by and hauls the oil out to the field. He spreads the oil and returns the trailer to the shop.
Darnielle reports that the company is glad to get rid of this waste which is building an excellent field surface. Some of the oil will go on the control-line circle, too.
"We haven't forgotten the younger boys of the control-line set," Darnielle declares, "however, we felt the first thing for us to do was to build up our field and club. Now we feel that it is our responsibility to educate city officials and area residents on modeling."
It is the view of the Mustangs that public indifference or outright opposition to modeling is often the result of little or no - or inaccurate - information on the hobby.
"We think that our educational program may prove to be the biggest thing we can do for the younger modelers," Darnielle added.
There is still a city ordinance against flying in city parks, but contact with city officials has resulted in a more tolerant view about the use of outlying school yards and shopping center parking lots for flying.
The Mustangs are hoping that sometime in the future they will be able to secure some city sponsorship for U-C modeling facilities through the Billings parks and recreation departments.
Toward this end, the Mustangs latch on to every opportunity to discuss modeling with city officials, to speak before civic groups or to spread hobby-model information via TV, radio and the press.
"One of the biggest helps for our publicity program," reveals Darnielle, "is a loose-leaf book with celluloid sheets in which we have inserted all of the articles run by A.M. on various flying sites throughout the nation. We display prominently pictures of those sites where city recreation directors, engineers, county commissioners, mayors, have demonstrated a special interest by assisting modelers. We feel certain that other clubs could benefit by using the same technique."
In addition, this presentation has been used as a guide for speeches at the civic clubs of the city. Armed with material from the "site notebook," Darnielle has talked to the Exchange, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs. Also, as a past area governor of Toastmasters Club, International, District 17, he frequently touches on model aviation.
In the television area, the Mustangs have been fortunate in having as a member Rudy Rancuret who works for Billings station KGHL-TV. Rudy has produced two shows about his own models. Also, he organized a club telecast for the "Spotlight" show.
The club's newsletter edited by Marvin Leckie keeps club members informed and active. Indeed, "Active-as-a-Flying-Mustang" could well become a rallying motto for other clubs faced with the problem of making a comeback.
The Flying Mustangs at Their Flying Field in Billings, Montana
Posted April 19, 2014