Enthusiasts get together at Aera Gym to fly radio-controlled aircraft
They come from different walks of life and ages, but they all have the same passion.
A group of guys with armloads of miniature aircraft, remote controls and iPhones slip quietly into the gymnasium at the Recreation Center once a month and launch their equally quiet – and marvelous – flying machines.
For them the wide ranging, light as a feather aircraft they're addicted to are really small – even tiny – but the pleasure they bring is quite large.
"We bring a wide range – from toy grade to hobby grade to professional grade," said retired Kern County firefighter and lifelong Taftian Skip Ruff.
He's the organizer who brings the tight-knit group to together the first Sunday of each month.
Although the planes, helicopters and gizmos they fly can get a bit pricey they don't have to pay much for the spacious, well-lit fly zone.
Each ponies up three bucks for three hours of flying pleasure. Spectators are welcome, too, and pay just $2 to watch these men and their amazing flying machines.
"A lot of us have known each other for years," Ruff said. "We share the cost of renting the place and help each other out."
He and his fellow fliers appreciate the availability of the Rec's gym.
"We're all very grateful to have a place like this," he said. "The people here have been terrific."
The guys also fly their larger craft at the Buttonwillow airport. They sometimes go to local parks and are planning a night flying outing.
Ruff has been flying model planes for half a century now, starting out with the larger remote control planes east of town out at what used to be known as one of the world's finest free flight area. It hosted the world championships a number of times.
What boggles Ruff's mind most is how the technology of model plane flying as taken off (pun intended) in the past decade.
"Suddenly, this stuff has just taken off. We fly everything you can imagine. Fifty years ago when I started flying models I never in my wildest dreams would have thought I'd be doing this, or even would have something like this available."
Technology even allows them to fly their contraptions with an iPhone. Yep, there's an app for that.
Ruff owns and flies the smallest miniature aircraft in the world – a tiny helicopter that would fit in a shot glass. It has three separate motors – one for each of the rotors.
Ruff's son, Wes, is the youngest in the group at age 27. For him, flying miniatures is a fun hobby but for dad it's more of a passion.
"I've got maybe 20 (miniature craft), but he's got, like, a hundred," Wes Ruff said.
For the Ruffs, it's a generational thing.
"I started flying model planes with my dad in the late '50s," Skip Ruff said, "when it was an achievement just to get a model in the air and land it safely."
Now, with technology fueling an upsurge in popularity, the flyboys not only take off and land with precision, they can do all measure of aerial stunts.
"I never dreamed we would be flying indoors," Skip Ruff said. "I've always been fascinated with rotary wing aircraft and the stuff they can do."
He says you don't need to invest a lot money to get top quality miniature aircraft.
"You can get some very good stuff off the shelf at places like Kmart and Rite Aid," he said.
The price range is as wide as the type of miniature aircraft available.
Besides the Ruffs, others showing off their miniature aircraft and flying talent at the Rec Center are Wayne Cloud, Terry Randall, Steve Melton and Warren Newberry of Taft and Doug Wheeler, who owns a hobby shop ("Doug's Hobbies") in Bakersfield.
The gang encourages spectators.
They fly the first Sunday of every month from 8-11 a.m.