Scaled-down aviation is the name of the game through Sunday at the Castle Commerce Center in Atwater.
Between 150 and 200 “pilots” of large-scale miniature airplanes are expected for the 17th annual West Coast Festival, hosted by Chapter 679 of the International Miniature Aircraft Association. Approximately 1,000 spectators are likely to attend.
Scott Malta, president of the Central California Flyers chapter of the IMAA, said the Castle event is the largest of its type west of the Mississippi River. It’s a great family and community event, he added.
Don’t confuse the planes at Castle with the small plastic models assembled on a desk or kitchen table. These planes must be at least one-fifth scale and have a minimum wingspan of 80 inches.
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Most of the realistic-looking airplanes were built from scratch, in a process that can take six weeks to six years. Rick Maida of Hollister, the organization’s co-contest director, has a 12-foot Tigercat airplane that represents a $10,000 investment.
Maida said his friend Denny Baker of Brentwood has a Lancair IV model that is capable of 170 mph. Federal Aviation Administration rules limit model airplane speeds to 200 mph, something examples in the jet class easily could flirt with.
The best thing, Maida said, is the camaraderie with enthusiasts, as well as a chance to check out the fine workmanship of other hobbyists.
Usually there are about a half-dozen enthusiasts who bring replicas of jets costing between $4,000 and $12,000, Maida said.
“The satisfaction is how well it flies,” Maida said. “The best thing I like is the people. It’s an adrenalin rush the first time you fly.”
Malta, whose day job is airport manager at Castle, said participants come from Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Arizona as well as California. About 100 motor homes take up temporary residence near the Castle flight line.
Chuck Winter of Merced, a retired colonel who spent 23 years in the Air Force and flew a number of jets, said he will bring two big models: a Marine F7F Tigercat, a twin-engine World War II-era plane; and a North American T-28 trainer, like one he flew while training in the Air Force.
Malta said Castle Airport is considered to be a premier flying site.
“The aircraft that will be displayed and flown are, in a couple of words, huge and awesome,” Malta said. “There are likely to be many aircraft representing the many eras of aviation. There will be military aircraft representing those flown in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam wars. There are usually aircraft representing the Golden Age of aviation, the 1920s and 1930s.”
The festival is open to the public. Flying starts at noon each day and ends at 5 p.m. There will be night flying, too, with some miniature aircraft equipped with lights.
Admission is free but parking is $5 per day. Food and drink vendors will be at the site along with people selling model aircraft supplies.