‘They smell like it and sound like it’: Model jet planes fly in through Sunday

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More than 125 pilots and up to 400 radio-controlled jet planes are converging on the Wilson Industrial Airport for the eighth annual First in Flight Jet Rally.

“We have radio-controlled jet pilots and enthusiasts from all over the eastern seaboard, California, Texas, Puerto Rico and Canada,” said Larry Lewis, of Raleigh, who is head coordinator and contest director for the rally.

The free event began Wednesday and will run through Sunday.

“We have got it set up so that when the spectators come in, they will be able to walk right down through the middle of pit row and get up really close to all of the airplanes,” Lewis said. “They will be able to get their pictures taken with them because some of these planes are going to be really big for models. They can talk to the pilots. We are going to have vendors set up out here so if they are interested in getting into the hobby, they are going to have some entry-level-type planes.”

Radio-controlled aircraft hobbyists representing clubs from Wilson, Raleigh/Durham, Greenville and Kinston put on the event. Together, they’re called the First in Flight Jet Club.

Gene Poremba is a member of the Wilson R/C Modelers Association and also an employee for the city of Wilson.

“I take care of the radio and communicate with the full-scale aircraft to keep communication between the model pilots and the full-scale pilots so we don’t have any issues,” Poremba said.

“It’s something that the pilots look forward to every year. There’s pilots that are from Wilson,” Poremba said. “I hope we have a large crowd of people from the public to come out and enjoy it. A lot of parents bring their children out here and we are anxious to have them come out and talk to us and explain what we are doing and maybe they can join in on the fun.”

Poremba said if students are interested in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — this event is one that brings together all of those disciplines.

“It would teach the kids a little about aerodynamics and aerodynamics is something that they could learn in school and apply those principles to actually coming out here and seeing something that they build and construct to fly,” Poremba said. “There’s a lot of things when you build a model you have to concentrate on, center of gravity, balance, weight. The lighter the models are, the better they fly. You built things so they are plumb and square so that they are not twisted and warped. You learn a lot of valuable things that you use down the road in life that are not even related to the hobby. You can apply that technology that you learn from building model airplanes to building a house.”

Poremba started in the hobby about 45 or 50 years ago.

“We had to build our radios. I got involved with soldering and learning how to build transmitters and receivers and took electronics courses in school and I applied that to what I do today,” Poremba said. “I am an electrician and I work for the city of Wilson as a maintenance mechanic and my daily job requires me from time to time to do electrical projects that I learned as a child building model airplanes.”

Lewis said spectators will see jets that range anywhere from about a 50-inch wingspan up to about 175 inches in wingspan.

“Most all of the ones out here this weekend will run true jet engines in them,” Lewis said. “The thrust that we will see is anywhere from 14 pounds up to about 60 pounds of thrust.”

The jet speeds are kept low for safety purposes.

“On average, we try to keep them at 200 miles per hour. They are certainly capable of doing more than that,” Lewis said. “That’s plenty fast enough. It gets out of sight pretty quick.”

Bleachers have been set up so spectators don’t have to bring chairs.

“We will also have food out here and facilities,” Lewis said. “All they have to do is come out here, bring their friends and come enjoy the show.”

Lewis said the city of Wilson has given the rally sponsorship and tremendous support.

“We cannot thank the city of Wilson enough for letting us use the facility and then the sponsorship they give us with some of the logistics of putting the show on,” Lewis said.

Gary Jones, of Saint George, South Carolina, was at the first event held in Wilson eight years ago.

“It’s grown and it’s gotten better and better,” Jones said. “I really appreciate the city of Wilson for allowing us to come. It’s the nicest jet meet venue I go to and being able to put the planes in the hangar at night is great. You only have to assemble the planes once.”

Dave Hockenberry, of Raleigh, said the amount of detail the hobbyists have put into their jets is remarkable.

“They smell like it and sound like it,” Hockenberry said.

Hockenberry said the rally is not a contest but more of a show-and-tell.

“They all came here for one reason,to have fun.”

According to Lewis, the show opens up flying from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and spectators are welcome every day through Sunday.

“The best time to show up is about 10 a.m. and then around lunchtime when it really gets going,” Lewis said. “They are welcome to come every day, but Friday and Saturday typically are the best days for spectators.”