‘A hobby that has no limits’: Hampshire County Radio club loses flying field after 60 years

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 08-16-2023 8:01 PM

Somewhere between 35 and 40 flyable model airplanes fill the basement, garage and two bedrooms in David Wartel’s Hadley home. And that doesn’t even account for the planes that are under repair.

Wartel is just one of the 100 or so members of the Hampshire County Radio Control Club (HCRC) who love the craft and skill of radio-controlled modeling.

“Flight fascinates me,” said Wartel, who has been in the club since the early 1980s. “Just seeing things floating through this invisible material, it’s just cool.”

For nearly 60 years, members of the club have flown a colorful squadron of model planes, jets, drones and pylon racers above a 6-acre plot of grassland on Honey Pot Road in Hadley. Members have access to the field seven days a week, and weekends are especially busy.

But in January, the club was notified by mail that the landowner, Samuel Hannigan, was ending their lease, effective Dec. 31. The reasoning for Hannigan’s decision to end the lease is unclear.

For many of the club’s members — which include former pilots, teachers, plumbers and doctors — the land holds countless memories of the friendships, challenges, and adrenaline that come with flying.

“It’s a hobby that has no limits. … There’s always something new to learn,” said board member Patrick Malone on a sunny and breezy Friday morning, the chatter of club members and buzzing of planes filling the air.

Like Wartel, Malone has an entire garage dedicated to his model airplane workspace, with 15 planes in total.

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Malone remembers meets being held at the field in the 1980s and 1990s where clubs from across the country would gather to fly scale airplanes in competition. Around 30 to 40 people camped in the field, held parties at night, and enjoyed the weekend together.

Malone’s love for radio-controlled modeling is something his father nurtured at a young age. Now, he is passing it along to the next generation, teaching his granddaughter to fly on one of his trainer planes in the field.

For Rick Rabe, a “newer” member of the club at five years of membership, “It’s always creative,” he said, pointing to a foam plane he built with googly eyes on the sides.

Rabe is a former pilot who gets out to the field about once a week. He said he appreciates the camaraderie of the club when flying with members, but also often enjoys flying in solitude during the early morning hours.

“It kind of drives you to learn, you know? You don’t want to get old and stale… I’m learning how to fly aerobatics, upside down, all those things,” he said.

After learning that they would only have access to the field until the end of this year, club members were “devastated,” according to Malone.

“We don’t understand it,” he said.

Finding new land

Attempts by the Gazette to reach the landowner were unsuccessful, and the club’s board members say repeated attempts to contact and negotiate better terms have failed.

The same family has owned the land since the club formed in the early 1960s.

“The hard part is, we had a great relationship with their parents,” Malone said. “The mother would come out for events… but when the both of them passed away, it was like, no contact.”

Now, the club is in the process of finding a new flying field to replace the Hadley site.

“We would like to have at least five acres,” said David Lampron, past vice president and member for nearly 40 years. “But then you’re going to need clear land around those five acres that you can overfly.”

The club is currently in talks with the owner of a neighboring 5-acre farmland property next to the Honey Pot field site.

“We’ve been lucky, the neighbor next door is offering us his land for a two-year lease and a purchase after that,” Malone said, adding that the club would still be able to fly over their old field, but they would have the land for takeoff and landing.

If that location works out, Malone said the group will raise funds through GoFundMe, with shares club members can buy, and with grant applications through the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which sanctions the club.

“If I think about it in a positive frame, it’s an opportunity for something different to happen,” said Rabe. “But it’s also very stressful.”

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com or on Twitter @MaddieFabian.]]>