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These pilots keep their feet firmly on the ground

Jonathan Pozner of Canton winds up to fling a discus-launch glider into the air at the Lazy Loopers Flying Club gathering in Wrentham.

Photos by Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe

Jonathan Pozner of Canton winds up to fling a discus-launch glider into the air at the Lazy Loopers Flying Club gathering in Wrentham.

They steer their planes into barrel rolls, lazy eights, and Immelmanns, and fly on knife’s edge. They also carve lazy loops through the air.

But through it all, their feet are planted firmly on the ground.

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They are radio-controlled model airplane pilots, who crane their necks skyward as they use hand-held joysticks to steer their craft.

The Lazy Loopers Flying Club of Wrentham, chartered in 1975, is devoted to the hobby of flying model airplanes. On any given weekend day in summer, a number of their 70-odd members gather informally at a field at 206 North St. in Wrentham to tinker and take turns flying anything from planes made of plastic foam to gliders, and World War I and World War II replicas.

On Aug. 17, the club will do its part to mark the Academy of Model Aeronautics’ inaugural National Model Aviation Day, inviting the public to the field where its members will provide flight and aerobatic demonstrations. There will also be food for purchase, and a fund-raiser will be held for the Wounded Warrior Project.

“It’s an interesting group,” said the club’s president, Rick Heaton, who lives in North Attleborough. “You meet people from all walks of life.” He said the Lazy Loopers club draws members from communities across the region, including Rhode Island.

It is a hobby that spans generations, with club members ranging in age from 8 to 80. Some have been flying for 35-plus years, and others took up the hobby just this summer. They do it for the love of aeronautics and for the camaraderie, Heaton said.

‘Whatever your aviation interest is, you can probably find a model of it you can go out and fly.If it’s been known to fly, there’s a model.’

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“Flying is the shared event that brings everyone together,” he said.

On a recent Saturday, there was a grill going, and several shade tents were set up. Members worked on their planes on wooden tables. No more than four will be flying a plane at the same time.

Paul Brenneman of Foxborough, who has been flying models for 35 years, was there with his Sopwith Pup, a replica of a British biplane that was used near the end of World War I to train pilots, and also hunt spy balloons. His plane is a dusty green with colorful insignia and a red “A” painted on the wings.

“I like the shape of it, I like the paint job, and I like the way it flies,” said Brenneman, whose plane even has a tiny pilot in the open-air cockpit, wearing a long white scarf that a real pilot would have used to wipe castor oil, seeping from the motor in front of him, off his goggles.

For Jim Cannon of Medfield, who has been flying for about 20 years, the hobby is an opportunity to spend time with his grandson, Chris Cannon, 18, of Franklin, who has been a club member for several years. The pair built a World War II P-47 replica , he said.

“I find it fascinating,” Jim Cannon said. “He has an interest in building the airplanes — we built the P-47 together.”

Tom Warchal, 65, of North Attleborough, took his LT-40 — a plane he assembled from a kit — for a flight.

Warchal’s entire family enjoys aeronautics and flying model airplanes, he said. His son, Derreck, is an air traffic controller in Miami. Warchal and his wife, Kathy, even named their daughter, Amelia, after Amelia Earhart.

Warchal’s flight that day ended with his plane taking a nose-dive into the trees that line the field. After retrieving the model, Warchal said he would be able to rebuild it.

“It’s a great hobby,” Warchal said. “I recommend it to everybody. It’s not difficult, but it does take some attention.”

One other crash occurred, something Heaton said happens to everyone who engages in the hobby at some point. So many things can go wrong during a flight, he said.

“It’s an accepted part of the hobby,” Heaton said. “You are going to crash.”

Flying model airplanes is also becoming a family affair for club newcomer Ravi Pendkar, his son, Prem, 8, and daughter, Nyna, 13. The Franklin resident’s wife, Upasana, watches. She does not fly models, but is working toward her pilot’s license.

Ravi Pendkar started flying small “foamy’’ model airplanes this spring, and Prem has also spent time this summer learning to fly radio-controlled craft, he said. Nyna, who built a wind tunnel for a school science fair this spring, is practicing on a simulator at home before flying.

“It’s educational and fun,” said Ravi Pendkar. “We want to impress on the kids the need to learn things — science, physics, aerodynamics.”

Getting into the hobby will not break the bank. Basic, standard-sized planes can start for about $230, Heaton said. From there, the sky is the limit; some model jets cost upwards of $20,000.

“Whatever your aviation interest is, you can probably find a model of it you can go out and fly,” Heaton said. “If it’s been known to fly, there’s a model.”

Heaton said he typically has six or eight planes in his fleet, including a red-and-black Kadet Seniorita EP and a Super Chipmunk aerobatic plane. He also has a smaller “trunk plane,” which he keeps handy to steal a few moments of flying when he happens upon good weather or a good field.

All members of the club are required to belong to the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which provides insurance in case of damage to people or property. The club gathers informally, and formally, on the third Sunday every month at 9 a.m.

Tim Bailey, the club’s secretary, flies a first-person view quad, flown with a tiny camera attached. Looking through a pair of goggles gives the controller a view from the air.

“It’s like you’re flying the plane,” the Attleboro resident said.

Heaton said Bailey’s first-person view quad is not a drone, which is an unmanned aircraft that can fly out of the line of sight of the controller. Drones have been a sensitive topic lately, as the military has used them for surveillance and as weapons, and some police forces have applied for permission with the Federal Aviation Administration to fly them.

“Within the confines of model aviation, we don’t use that phrase,’’ Heaton said. “Nobody is going to launch a Hellfire missile off that thing.”

Bailey’s quad is what members refer to as an unmanned aerial vehicle, Heaton said, rather than a drone.

Club members who fly unmanned aerial vehicles do so under the guidelines of the academy, Heaton said. They can only be flown at the club’s field, and the controller must follow all requirements, including having a spotter watch the craft in addition to the person who is flying the plane using the first-person view goggles.

Heaton said members are willing to show newcomers their hobby, and enjoy doing so. Using a “buddy box,” an instructor is connected to the controller of a beginner, and can take over if the flight goes awry.

Ian Humphrey, a native of England who lives in Foxborough, found the club this summer. He has flown models under the instruction of members three to four times, and has begun taking solo flights. Recently, he bought an E-Flite Apprentice, a training model that cost him about $230, he said.

“I’ve always fancied flying,” Humphrey said. “It’s a sport you have to acquire and practice, which makes it more interesting.”

Abby Jordan can be reached at globe.abby@gmail.com.
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