They don't light up, perform aerobatic tricks or make any noises.

Free flight model airplanes, fashioned from light-weight balsa wood and tissue paper, have a maximum flight duration of only about two minutes, but the hobbyists who build and fly these miniature aircraft are hooked on the complex little machines and the art and ingenuity used get and keep them in the air.

"They are sophisticated scale aircraft built on the models of aircraft all over the world. These are not radio-controlled. That means when you let them go, the good Lord takes over," said pilot Roger Willis of San Diego.

Willis is administrator of Western Region flying Aces Club, an organization comprised of miniature aviation enthusiasts from the western United States.

The group plans to hold one of its regional competitions in Gainesville this weekend.

Club members are set to kick off the competition around 2 p.m. Friday when scale judging begins at the Comfort Inn and Suites on Interstate Highway 35.

The event is scheduled to continue Saturday and Sunday at Gainesville Municipal Airport, he said.

Spectators are welcome at all three events, Willis noted.

For visitors, the event is a good chance to talk with model plane experts and observe and photograph the handmade planes in flight.

For the Western Region Flying Aces (WESTFAC) members, the event is a competition coordinated by the Flying Aces Squadrons from Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

“This event will (offer)15 different flying categories and will feature some of the nation’s top scale model builders and flyers,” Willis said.

Unlike radio-controlled miniature planes, free flight model airplanes are fashioned from just two main materials — balsa wood and tissue paper.

Stick and tissue construction is often considered one of the oldest and most revered of all the aeromodeling skills in the world today.

Model plane enthusiasts say the process is undergoing renewed and enthusiastic growth thanks to the efforts of The Flying Aces Club and its dedicated membership.

Tissue paper may sound like an insubstantial building material, but Willis said the paper flyers use to build their planes is durable.

"The tissue paper used is not the kind of paper you wrap a gift with," Willis said. "The kind of paper we use comes from Japan and is a little more substantial."

Once the flyer decides on the plane’s basic design, he or she applies tissue paper to the aircraft's frame using nitrate dope — a type of lacquer paint. The tissue is then moistened with an atomizer ( a small misting device) until the paper begins to shrink.

"Afterward, the tissue can be sprayed with colored dopes to make it look just like the real aircraft looks," Willis said.

The plane’s engine is an essential part of the aircraft.

"The planes are powered by either multiple strands of rubber or by small electric, gasoline or diesel (engines)," Willis said.

Planes powered by rubber strands are not unlike the small balsa wood planes often sold in toy stores.

Unlike children’s toy planes which are powered by the stored energy of rubber bands, serious model airplane flyers must wind their plane’s rubber strands at least 2000 winds — something the hobbyist does by machine.

"(Pilots) use high ratio winders with counters," Willis said. "The winders resemble old-fashioned egg beaters. One turn is 15 winds," he said.

Free flight planes combine principles of engineering and aviation. They are also historically-accurate works of art.

Willis, who said he's been involved with free flight model airplanes since 1994, said Saturday's event will include squadrons of Flying Aces from across the western U.S.

Saturday’s competition is one of three Flying Aces competitions held in one of three places every odd year.

"The three venues are Perris, Calif; Gainesville and Denver, Colo," Willis said.

Texas has a large population of flying aces builders, he noted.

"While it is a big state, there are very few venues conducive to free flight in the state of Texas," he said.

Gainesville Municipal Airport is an ideal venue for the event.

"The airport has a large, grass-covered field that will allow for wind drift of up to three minutes. These aircraft are scored for a maximum of two minutes in the air hence you need a three minute field with drift,' he said.

Organizers plan to hold 15 different events on Saturday and Sunday each of which are noted on the Flying Aces Squadron Web site at

Willis said the mass launch events on Saturday will be highlights of this weekend's competition.

Mass launches allow spectators to see a large number of model aircraft at the same time.

"(The weekend's) competition will include a World War II mass launch," Willis explained. "All the aircraft in this event must be scale models of the aircraft used in all the countries during World War II. The pilots line up in a straight line about five feet apart. On the command of the launch director, the rubber powered motors are wound up to about 2,000 winds. The launch director gives a count down and all of the models launch simultaneously. The last model down wins."

It's lots of fun," he added, but model aircraft flying also requires something many younger individuals don't have — patience.

"For young people, patience is a challenge," he said.

Willis said many of the Flying Aces are senior citizens.

Most have been fascinated with model airplanes since childhood.

"We're very focused on active adult communities. A lot of fliers are retired or almost-retired individuals — people who loved (flying model planes) as kids and have the time to do it now," he said. "(Model aircraft flying) is two kinds of fun. One is building and finishing the aircraft. The other is flying and competing with the aircraft," he said.


The Western Region Flying Aces Club competition is set for Sept. 25, 26, and 27. The event is open to the public all three days.

Scale judging is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m., Friday, Sept. 25 at the Comfort Inn and Suites at 1715 N. Interstate Highway 35 in Gainesville.

The Saturday and Sunday competitions are set to begin at 7 a.m. and conclude around 4 p.m.

Timed events include FAC rubber scale, FAC power scale, FAC peanut scale, FAC jumbo/giant scale combined, Golden age scale, Dime scale, Jimmy Allen, Embryo, old time rubber cabin and old time stick.

Spectators can also watch several mass launch events including World War I combat, World War II combat, low wing military trainer, Greve race and Thompson race.

Gainesville Municipal Airport is located at 2300 Airport Drive east of Lindsay on West Highway 82. Visitors should enter the airport through the facility’s auxiliary gate. Small children should be accompanied by an adult.

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