augusta free press news

Jim Bishop | ‘Sky’ King indulges in flights of fancy

Martin G. (Marty) King of Harrisonburg has been fascinated by airplanes as long as he can remember. This admiration may have been sparked by a childhood spent in Mexico, where his parents, Aaron and Betty King, were missionaries. There, the country’s own “Independence Day” featured flyovers by scores of military aircraft at once.

Marty, now 45, and his family moved to Harrisonburg when he was 8 years old. Once here, he purchased and played for hours on end with model planes of balsa wood that went airborne by hand or by windup rubber-band propulsion.

By the time he was a student at Eastern Mennonite High School, he had his first pre-assembled model airplane powered by a tiny alcohol-based .049 engine. Using guide wires attached to the aircraft, he flew the plane in circles, until he got dizzy.

Marty soon bought a kit and built his first large model plane and learned to fly it by remote control. Numerous repairs ensued each time the engine died or a sudden change in wind current sent the plane hurling to the ground.

Marty has cultivated his infatuation with remote control planes for some 30 years, and his excitement and passion have yet to diminish.

Another reason for his avid pursuit – he’s been in the cockpit of full-size planes as well as navigating model ones. Marty has had a pilot’s license with instrumentation rating ever since his student days at Eastern Mennonite University. He has been manager of learning resources there since 1985.

For some time Marty built and flew one remote-control plane then moved on to another, usually a slightly larger model when the previous one wore out. Today, he puts five in the air, including two twin engine planes and a Citabria sport model patterned after a real airplane.

He doesn’t have a favorite but enjoys flying a T240 model – for a 240-centimeter wingspan (almost eight feet) – similar to a Piper cub. He flies this and the Citabria on a field next to EMHS, but the larger models, nearly twice the size of the Citabria, take off from a field behind Pure Village Motel on Rt. 11 south.

“It’s just fun and relaxing, a stress reliever,” Marty says of his pastime. “It never gets old, and there’s constant challenge, knowing you’re often just a step away from disaster” when piloting the sky borne craft.

Marty recalls a number of memorable flights, including watching buzzards check out his plane and follow its path for minutes at a time, flying his craft into a low-hanging cloud bank and then landing it with water dripping from the wings, having a plane descend in a slow spiral out of control and watching incredulously as it came in for a perfect landing.

The range for one of his remote-control planes is about a mile radius, and the highest it should fly is about one thousand feet. Marty has never lost a plane by flying out of radio range, but “it can happen,” he says.

Marty’s latest activity: installing a digital video camera in the cockpit and experimenting with aerial photography. “There’s a lot of potential here for getting some spectacular high-definition images,” he notes.

Marty is a member of the Valley RC Flying Club. He’s most active with this group in the summer months, but tries to get out at least twice a week during colder weather as well. Club members are required to carry special liability insurance.

He cautions anyone contemplating taking up flying model planes to “take it slowly. It’s easy to get excited about it and then quickly get discouraged, because you will probably wreck or lose the aircraft at some point.

“I’ve seen a lot of people have fun for awhile and then lose interest,” Marty says. “It’s easy to find excuses to spend a lot of money on a new plane because there are so many possibilities out there – each plane is different. That’s a good thing, and a drawback at the same time.

“Flying these [remote-controlled] planes is what sustains me,” Marty declares. “After doing this, I feel energized and ready to return to my regular work.”

Clearly, for where Marty can go with his leisure-time pursuit, the sky’s the limit.


Column by Jim Bishop