The Pahrump Valley Model Aviators group traces its path to the late 1990s when two groups of guys who loved flying radio-controlled model airplanes joined forces. Flyer Tom Piper and his crew on the north end of town met up with Arlen West and his group on the south end for some friendly flying.
President Larry Chapman said the club has 27 members, including original founders Tom Piper and Arlen West. Chapman was a member of a similar club in California before moving to Pahrump. He has built model airplanes of all sizes from scratch, including a 1918 World War I fighter plane (Fokker D-8) for an event in California. Chapman said it was overweight and then, just in time, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, or AMA, bumped the weight limit up to 75 pounds for radio-controlled planes.
Chapman doesn’t build the big ones like he used to. Today, radio-controlled hobbyists can buy all kinds of kits online including those labeled ARF, almost ready to fly. In some kits all you need is to add are a motor, receiver and battery.
“This hobby has gotten out of control,” Chapman said with a laugh. “You can buy anything you want for a model airplane, any type of airplane, you know, and it goes on and on.”
In 2007, the group really took off when it officially became a club and joined the ranks of the AMA. According to its website, the AMA is the world’s largest model aviation association with over 175,000 members in 2,500 clubs.
The group has been flying at Murphy Field since 2010 thanks to the benevolence of local businessman Ron Murphy, who allows the club to use the site. The field is sanctioned by the AMA, which covers the club through insurance. Members must adhere to safety issues, such as not flying their models over a crowd and not more than 500 feet in the air, which is considered a “hazard” to general aviation.
Over the years, members have added carpet to the airfield along with a fence and sheltered areas for socializing. Despite some acts of vandalism to their site within the last year and month, the club has not been “grounded” and still flies there three times a week.
Richard Beatty, club vice president, was a radio-controlled aircraft club member back in the 1980s in California and then rediscovered the hobby when he moved to Pahrump.
“It’s not an inexpensive hobby,” Beatty said.
He and Chapman agreed that the cheapest planes to assemble can be around $100 with the larger ones soaring to $3,000 or $4,000, or more.
Some of the bigger models can have eight-or-nine-foot wingspans and be about 35 percent of the size of a real airplane.
“They’ll all fit in the trash an after they hit the ground,” Beatty laughed.
Both men have crashed planes. It just goes with the hobby.
“I tell beginner pilots that have started it, the sooner that you can get into your mind that this won’t be around forever, it might not be around next week, you know,” Chapman said while showing some of the planes he built.
When Beatty was a kid he had a control line airplane, not an RC, but a U-control, that he flew and crashed numerous times. He mowed lawns to earn enough to buy his first kit and built a six-foot wingspan glider, a Cox P-40 Warhawk, which he had to launch by hand.
“To tell you the truth, I was hooked, absolutely,” Beatty said. “After that it was like, I was hooked on airplanes.”
Chapman got on board with model airplanes while helping a neighbor in California build a Piper Cub radio control. When they took it out to fly, another plane crashed right behind and Chapman said he was “hooked” there and then. So he started building bigger and faster radio-controlled model’s. His fleet has been downsized from 22 planes to about a dozen.
Chapman would like to see more young kids involved in the hobby. From his experience, parents start the kids on the hobby, buy a plane, take them out a few times to fly and then that’s it.
“And they’re not there because the child doesn’t want to do it,” Chapman added. “They’re not there because the parents don’t want to drive them into the field. And that’s what happens; it’s the parents that drop it, not the child.”
The club is always looking for new “flyers” and has set up a booth in Petrack Park during the annual Balloon Festival.
“We had innumerable guys our age, maybe a little younger, that said, ‘gosh I used to do that as a kid, where is your flying field at’, you know,” Beatty said.
The club got a great response, but it only resulted in a few visits. Beatty thinks people may have checked out the costs of the hobby online and decided against it.
A few of the members fly drones or quad copters. Chapman and Beatty agreed that the club supports the responsible flying of drones and not the reckless use of them. They cited last month’s wildfires in San Bernardino County, California where some drones interfered with planes trying to fight the fires.
The club tries to have a “Fun-Fly” every quarter for some good-natured competition among the fliers in maneuvering their planes in different contests earning points for awards.
“It gives the guys an opportunity to strut their stuff,” Beatty added.
Chapman, along with member Marvin Young, demonstrated their hobby to some children at Camp Potosi, near Spring Mountain. Marcia Newyear is a member of the Summerlin Lions Club, which sponsored the summer camp and her husband, Bill, is a member of the flying club.
“The kids were just in awe over it,” Marcia Newyear said.
After he (Chapman) brought the plane down, the kids just kept asking questions for about an hour.
“It was just really great,” Newyear added.
For information on PVMA, check out their website at pahrumpvalleymodelaviators.com. Or, stop by Murphy Field off Basin Avenue and Bannavitch Street on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday mornings before 10 a.m.
Writer Christine Butler, of Copy She Wrote, LLC contributed in part to this article about the history of the club. Her article appears in the 2015 Pahrump Valley Chamber of Commerce Magazine.