When the weather turns warmer, people searching for Ron or Dave Lockhart know where to look on the weekends.

The pair usually can be found at the Strawberry Field Airport in Mays Landing, standing in the grass as they masterfully maneuver their radio-controlled model airplanes through the air.

"Since we are involved in competition, we have hundreds of friends in the hobby. We see a few other father-son pairs, but not very many... It does maintain us in close contact despite the fact that Dave lives 50 miles away from us now," said Ron Lockhart, 69, of Galloway Township. "It's a very special thing, and I've always treasured it, and I hope Dave does too."

Spring is the season when southern New Jersey radio-controlled model airplane fans break out aircraft that gathered some dust during the winter and take to the skies from fields around the area.

It's also a time of year when parents who spend time flying radio-controlled model airplanes usually make an attempt to introduce the hobby to their children.

But flying a model airplane - especially taking off and landing - is not a skill that can be acquired overnight. So parents spend many hours working with their children to improve their skill level to do it.

"What kid doesn't want to fly an airplane," said Dave Lockhart, of Medford, Burlington County.

Ron and Dave Lockhart are competition-level pilots and members of the Atlantic County Sky Blazers group. Ron Lockhart is the group's point of contact. They will travel to New York, Washington, D.C. and even Ohio on a weekend to test their skill flying a series of up to 15 prescribed maneuvers, such as round and square loops or an Immelmann turn, within a prescribed period of time in front of judges.

"It's a way to challenge yourself. There's an adrenaline rush when you compete," said Dave Lockhart, 42. "It's not a traditional sporting event, but it has all the same elements of the preparation, the anticipation and the performance."

On a recent Sunday, Dave Lockhart could be seen putting his plane through stunts at Strawberry Field.

Ron and Dave Lockhart fly high-performance aerobatics planes that can travel 90 mph. The planes weigh 10 pounds and 3 ounces. Ron Lockhart said they typically take the plane up 500 feet in the air, but Dave Lockhart said the planes can travel as far as a person can maintain control, as far as the eye can see.

Model-plane enthusiasts can either build their planes or buy them pretty close to flight ready.

Most of the members of the Atlantic County Sky Blazers are not competitive flyers. The Sky Blazers Club was formed in 1943 and chartered under the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which itself was formed in 1936.

Between $100 and $400 will buy the right materials to begin learning how to fly, Ron Lockhart said. The planes are usually bought over the Internet.

Several of the club members arrived on a recent Sunday at Strawberry Field in a truck or a SUV. For the bigger planes, the wings detach from the fuselage. The size of the radio-controlled model airplanes can range from gas-powered planes with 8-foot wing spans to glow fuel - a mixture of methanol, oil and nitromethane - planes with 4-foot wing spans to electric planes that can fit in a person's hand. A radio transmitter controls the plane no matter what the power source.

Not every parent who introduces radio-controlled model airplanes to their child can make it stick.

Ed Butterly, 52, of Egg Harbor Township, had his daughter out with him at Strawberry Field when she was about 10. She flew planes a little bit, but now that she is 16, she is out of the hobby.

"It's therapeutic, relaxing. I like to tinker. It's social," said Butterfly, a member of the Atlantic County Sky Blazers, who took a 16-year break from flying planes between the ages of 28 and 42. "I try to get out twice a month, sometime, during the week and sometime during the weekend. ... Once you make the investment, it's like a hobby."

Butterly owns six planes - three powered by electric, which were with him on this particular day at Strawberry Field, and three fuel-powered he had left at home.

Louis Castelli is the president of the Southern Ocean Radio Control Flyers. Castelli said he introduced his son to the hobby. Now that his son, Brian Castelli, 29, is out of the military and living in Weehawken, Hudson County, his father believes he will start flying planes again.

Even veteran radio-controlled model airplane flyers can crash their planes through no fault of their own, such as an internal mechanical issue, Castelli said.

"You could have a crash that totally destroys the plane and what you recover is the hardware and the controls," Castelli said. "You could have a crash that does damage to the plane and makes it inoperable, but it can be reconstructed. That's very common. You can total it and walk away with nothing, which is the most heartbreaking. You don't even get your controls out of it."

If a person frequents the fields where model airplanes are flown, they may see miniature versions of historic planes as well as hi-tech models of things that never flew, Castelli said.

The hobby requires a time as well as a financial commitment. Becoming a respectable pilot, one who is able to have a plane take off and land without crashing, requires practicing two or three times weekly for a minimum of four months to as much as a year for some people, Castelli said.

"It just a matter of skill," Castelli. "Taking off is much easier than landing. When you land, you are landing at a much slower speed. While you have good control of the plane, it's not at full throttle. More can happen upon landing, and people are more intimidated by landing."

The only way people become proficient is to learn from somebody who can impart knowledge to them, Castelli said.

While there is no formal licensing to fly a radio-controlled model airplane, a person has to be a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics to join a club, Castelli said. It issues membership cards and provides insurance to the individual and the club. It also has frequently revised, written rules that establish safe operation of planes that every club must abide by.

Safety is the overriding concern with the biggest potential problem being a plane hitting a person or crashing into someone's property, Castelli said. Planes are inspected both visually and physically before flight, and spectators are told to stand back away from where the planes take off and land, Castelli said.

Southern Ocean Radio Control Flyers fly their planes at Eagles Nest Airport in Eagleswood Township thanks to the approval of owner Peter Weidhorn.

"The difficulty of this hobby, in addition to learning how to fly the plane, is trying to find a location to fly. Not only do you need a lot of open space, sometimes you have noise issues with neighbors. You need a very controlled environment," said Castelli, 66, of Stafford Township, Ocean County said.

Contact Vincent Jackson:


Model Airplane

Flying Clubs

Southern Ocean Radio Control Flyers:

Atlantic County Sky Blazers: amadistrictii.org/acsb

Pine Barren Modelers RC Club: pbm1727.org

Wireless Aircraft Sport Pilots: wasprc.org

Cumberland Control Liners, call Roy Wilson

at 609-625-3472.

For a listing of other area model airplane clubs, visit