Young pilots of the future like Kelly Bridgland are being enticed to whet their aviatic appetites by trying out their air wings on radio-controlled model aircraft in the open skies above Wahroonga.
With plenty of commercial pilots in its ranks, the Sunset Soaring Club now wants to attract future pilots to meet the overwhelming demand on the aviation industry to put more passenger jets in the sky.
“There’s a pilot shortage now, and there will be a greater one in the future,” said Club Secretary Tony Brown, an avid model airplane flyer and Ultralight pilot.
“We’re looking to recruit young aviators of the future – some of our members have started from the age of ten. We’re hoping coming along and flying a model plane will awaken a desire to fly a bigger one.”
Pressure on tourist air routes are playing a part in the Club’s new recruitment drive.
“A backlog of orders for Airbus and Boeing widely documented in aviation publications, is indicative of a soaring need for pilots to be able to fly all the planes that have been ordered by the big airlines around the world, to meet increasing tourism demands.
“It’s predicted in ten years’ time we will need 100,000 pilots to accommodate tourism needs.”
The club is populated by active Qantas and Cathay Pacific pilots willing to teacher younger members the skills for flying one of the radio-controlled craft, which have wingspans ranging from 1 to 3.5 metres.
“The principles of flying a plane are very similar – for example if you turn too fast in the sky with your model, it will fall out of the sky because your speed has dropped too much. It’s the same with full-sized planes.”
In some respects it’s harder to master a model craft Tony says, as devotees need to use their eyes to judge speed of flight and distance, “whereas pilots have banks of instruments to do this.”
Younger rookies typically master the skill in three to eight weeks, older ones in around six months.
Kelly is a 15 year-old from Wahroonga who’s been coming to the club for three years now, flying twice a month with her pilot dad Glen.
“I learnt how to fly my model at home on a Phoenix flight simulator,” she said. “I’m hoping to learn to fly planes one day. I go with dad in his two seater RV7 to Uluru, it’s great fun being with dad and flying. And I love the aeronautics and seeing how mechanical things work.”
Model planes for beginners typically start at around $200, though the club is willing to let newbies have a test flight on a club members’ model, many which have been computer designed and built by members themselves.
“We have plenty of modern day Wright Brothers,” jokes Tony.
Sunset Soarers range in age from a 15 to a 91 year-old former WW2 pilot, and generally meet to fly for fun on the field, while others stretch their wings in state and national competitions.
The Club meets at the Golden Jubilee Back Oval in Wahroonga. For more information and to join, go to: www.sunsetsoaring.org.