The loss of flying fields with a reasonable distance from population
centers has been a problem for decades - half a century even, according
to this story from a 1962 edition of Model Aviation. You
might be tempted to think that this instance must be in a bustling
urban location like Atlanta, Georgia, Albany, New York, or Dallas,
Texas, but in fact the problem here was in Billings, Montana. Usually
the impetus is due to complaints about noise from model aircraft
engines as houses are built nearby. The Flying Mustangs lost their
field because a neighboring airport needed to expand its airspace,
thereby forcing the flying field shutdown. A field where I flew
occasionally near Kernersville, NC, had been in place for decades.
In a period of about five years, a large neighborhood of expensive
homes popped up on two sides. Residents complained that they feared
model airplanes crashing into their kids while they crawl upon their
$10,000 professionally built backyard playground complexes, so the
police finally finally had to enforce a ruling by a judge to prohibit
flying in the vicinity of the homes, thereby effectively closing
the field. The switchover recently to electric power has done a
lot to help prevent flying field closures, but there are still pain
in the posterior ignorant people who are out to cause problems for
others for any reason. May a pox be upon their homes and their people
(just kidding... kinda).
Flying Site Success Story - Billings Bounces Back
By Rosalie Vanzant
Show biz folks aren't the only ones required to stage a comeback.
Model plane club members occasionally find themselves in the same
situation, especially after the loss of a well-improved flying site.
It is then that the "drift-alongs" drop out of formation and
the aces regroup for the hard pull. Making a comeback isn't easy-but
then worthwhile things seldom are.
In Billings, Montana, the Flying Mustangs, Inc., survived the
loss of a good field and after some uncertain season are emerging
victorious. Once again they have their own model airport which is
improved by a 350 x 250-foot oiled R/C strip and flying circle.
Admittedly, this is less pretentious than the club's original
set-up, but it is adequate for the moment. Modeling in Billings
is on the upswing.
Aubrey M. Darnielle, president of the Mustangs, states that for
the time being they feel the most important thing is to have a place
to fly which they can call their own. Costly improvements can come
re-activated group was issued a new A.M.A. charter in May 1959,
has since shown a steady membership gain. Major flying interest
is in R/C, although some members also operate ukie and free flight
Blackest days for Billings modelers came in 1956 when the expanding
municipal airport overran a blacktop R/C strip, two blacktop control-line
circles and a concrete race car track without any reimbursement
for the modelers. These facilities had been completed only two years
earlier at a cost of $1,500.
The Mustangs had already suffered from the departure of several
members through job transfers and military service. The loss of
its flying site caused the club to fold like a weak wing. While
organized modeling activity in Billings virtually ceased, a hard
core of dedicated hobbyists kept on building and flying wherever
they could. The flying site situation continued to deteriorate with
a housing boom swallowing up most open areas. By the spring of 1959
it was obvious that the club must be rebuilt before decent flying
facilities could ever be realized.
The new group stuck together, meeting every other Wednesday for
two more years before they obtained their present site. As is the
history of many fields, the spot was discovered by two car-roving
modelers searching for a place to fly.
Marvin "Speed" Leckie. and John Tarro reported their find to
the club. Inquiries showed that the tract, located seven miles from
town, was owned by Charles Zimmerman, an elderly, big-scale rancher.
Darnielle went to him to plead the modelers' case.
Zimmerman proved to be most cooperative. Since the land is semi-marginal
with no pasture value after May he told the club that they could
use, rent-free, a 10 acre area in whatever way they wished. The
ground, mostly level, is completely unobstructed.
Gee whiz, you city-slicker modeling types ... look at all those
wide open spaces in Montana (top of page). Flying Mustangs gather
at field (above).
Although the club anticipates a long use period, the owner doesn't
want to be tied up by a lease. This means it is necessary to keep
improvement costs low. Also, since the club was young and small,
they didn't have any funds available anyway.
The field needed some leveling, so Darnielle took that problem to
the Billings Exchange Club of which he is a member. A model flying
committee was organized within the service club, and upon its recommendation
the business men voted to give $250 toward improving the field.
At the start of this project, Darnielle secured from Exchange's
national headquarters information (mostly A.M.A. originated) on
how to organize local flying clubs and hold meets.
The donation was spent for leveling the flying area, erecting
a field sign, preparing work benches and other field work. Hubble
Oil Company also came to the club's assistance by providing a tank
load of oil which was sprayed on the R/C runway to minimize dust
and pack down the ground.
Another field improvement was obtained through club member Roger
Deitz, a salesman. He spotted an unused loading platform back of
one of his customer's buildings. He was told that the club could
haul it away. The Mustangs had it cut down and carted to their airport
for $10. Some smaller benches were then made.
Next, club members went to a local auction house and obtained,
for practically nothing, enough old carpeting to cover the tops
of all work tables.
In addition to these improvements. the Mustangs this year stumbled
into an excellent arrangement for adding further oil to their runway.
The Industrial Equipment Company, a repair depot for diesel trucks,
made a trailer for the club on which are mounted two 50-gallon oil
drums. These were welded together and hooked up to an oil spray
The trailer is parked at the I.EC. shop. When trucks are overhauled
the old oil is poured into the drums. Every two weeks a club member
- with a trailer hitch on his car - stops by and hauls the oil out
to the field. He spreads the oil and returns the trailer to the
Darnielle reports that the company is glad to get rid of this
waste which is building an excellent field surface. Some of the
oil will go on the control-line circle, too.
"We haven't forgotten the younger boys of the control-line set,"
Darnielle declares, "however, we felt the first thing for us to
do was to build up our field and club. Now we feel that it is our
responsibility to educate city officials and area residents on modeling."
It is the view of the Mustangs that public indifference or outright
opposition to modeling is often the result of little or no - or
inaccurate - information on the hobby.
"We think that our educational program may prove to be the biggest
thing we can do for the younger modelers," Darnielle added.
There is still a city ordinance against flying in city parks,
but contact with city officials has resulted in a more tolerant
view about the use of outlying school yards and shopping center
parking lots for flying.
The Mustangs are hoping that sometime in the future they will
be able to secure some city sponsorship for U-C modeling facilities
through the Billings parks and recreation departments.
Toward this end, the Mustangs latch on to every opportunity to
discuss modeling with city officials, to speak before civic groups
or to spread hobby-model information via TV, radio and the press.
"One of the biggest helps for our publicity program," reveals
Darnielle, "is a loose-leaf book with celluloid sheets in which
we have inserted all of the articles run by A.M. on various flying
sites throughout the nation. We display prominently pictures of
those sites where city recreation directors, engineers, county commissioners,
mayors, have demonstrated a special interest by assisting modelers.
We feel certain that other clubs could benefit by using the same
In addition, this presentation has been used as a guide for speeches
at the civic clubs of the city. Armed with material from the "site
notebook," Darnielle has talked to the Exchange, Kiwanis and Lions
Clubs. Also, as a past area governor of Toastmasters Club, International,
District 17, he frequently touches on model aviation.
In the television area, the Mustangs have been fortunate in having
as a member Rudy Rancuret who works for Billings station KGHL-TV.
Rudy has produced two shows about his own models. Also, he organized
a club telecast for the "Spotlight" show.
The club's newsletter edited by Marvin Leckie keeps club members
informed and active. Indeed, "Active-as-a-Flying-Mustang" could
well become a rallying motto for other clubs faced with the problem
of making a comeback.
The Flying Mustangs at Their Flying Field in Billings, Montana
Posted April 19, 2014