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Speed, dips, dives thrill at radio-control airshow near Billings

Remote Controlled Jet
Radio control flyer
Posted at 9:12 AM, Oct 01, 2023

BILLINGS - There was more than a buzz this weekend on the far West End of Billings.

The speed of sound was clearly audible, almost deafening at times as the Billings Flying Mustangs hosted a radio-control (RC) fall flight rally. Take your pick of model and it was likely airborne —- either dipping or diving.

Radio control plane
A radio controlled plane performs stunts during a recent gathering of RC pilots in Billings.

Chris Kaiser has had his green jet for about a year.

“This one is what they call a kit. I had to put everything in it — the electronics, the engine, the batteries," Kaiser, Vice President of the Billings Flying Mustangs, explained while kneeling behind the jet. "I’ve got a system in here for my control unit that also has a stabilizer.”

Ron Horton and his son Tyler brought multiple RC models including a World War II fighter.

“I hand-built this ... (it took) about 10 years of work," Ron said while putting together final pieces before takeoff. "These are the air lines for the landing gear.”

That’s part of the thrill. Ron and his sons know nearly every detail about every plane they’ve built .

“This is our radio system. This switch here drops the landing gear or raises them up," he said while Tyler demonstrated. "I’m a little nervous about flying it because of all the time I’ve spent building it.”

He’s also nervous about another one — his prized possession.

“This is a twin turbine F-14 … Tom Cruise, Top Gun. This airplane flies about 200 MPH and flies about six ... six-and-a-half minutes.”

Some of these models at this weekend's event can fit in the back seat of a car. Others, owned by more invested pilots, are carefully stacked in trailers.

Radio control flyer
A local pilot showcases stunts with his radio controlled plane at a weekend gathering in Billings.

“This is my oldest son’s airplane," Ron Horton said, pointing to a balsa wood plane in his trailer. "He’s learning how to fly. It’s not very durable.”

John Cooley and his son made the 90 minute drive from Powell.

“Almost everything I’ve got is electric powered. I’m too old to use gas," Cooley admitted with a smile. "I built my first airplane with my son Andy, who’s over there. He was two weeks old and he’s 42 now.”

Cooley agrees that pilots can spend as much or as little on these air crafts depending on individual comfort level. He also admits that a big part of cost is maintenance.

"What’s expensive is this stuff here ... these carbon props are $100,” he explained while slowly turning his front end propeller.

John's son Andy, who’s said to be known as Ice Man, is nearby buzzing the runway with a red jet that releases smoke — a cool effect.

The rural runway is more than just an airstrip to a lot of these pilots. Depending on how serious they are it can turn into a seriously expensive hobby.

"Some of the jets can get upwards of $20,000,” said Kaiser.

Ron Horton, standing with his F-14, explained it similarly.

“There’s a little electric (plane) flying now for $500. This airplane (F-14) is tens of thousands of dollars. There’s something for everybody here."

This airstrip also hosts the Billings Flying Mustangs, a local club hoping interest in these RC air crafts becomes more contagious. Kaiser says he's glad to answer questions at 406-698-2073.

“The younger the better," Kaiser said. "All ages are welcome if they have the interest and the desire.”

These inviting pilots, who enjoy the group's comradery and longtime friendships, also admit that even the best started with bumpy landings.