The Santa Barbara Radio Control Modelers has been in existence since the 1940s, its current incarnation dating from the 1970s. It claims about 120 members here, representing a small portion of the international, million-member-strong Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) which accredits and insures the local club.
Current president Frank Clark said that the hobby is easy for anyone to pick up. Model planes can be bought or built, or some combination thereof, with kits available for those who need a little direction. Those who aren’t ready to commit just yet can easily show up at a meeting just to get a feeling for what the hobby is about.
Tom Atkins, founder of Atkins Hobbies, started the club in the 1940s with a view toward encouraging young people to get into aviation. According to Clark, the club now has a wide variety of members from all ages, with many retirees from the aeronautics field, either in engineering or as a pilot. There are also plenty of high school students, and others who grew interested in aviation via model planes. California Hobbies and Hobby Central are also good places to pick up the necessary materials.
Club members aim for accuracy in building their models. One club member, Les Mason, has spent seven years building his scale model of a famous real-life equivalent, Clark said. The club built a one-quarter scale model of an F-1 Seaplane for the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.
Competitions between clubs are semi-regular events, though many members fly just for fun and don’t compete. Contests, which include an event called Top Gun, are judged largely on the basis of historical accuracy. Planes built for these events must be well-researched and documented, and attending the events is a great opportunity to learn about the history of aviation.
Santa Barbara is an ideal location for model aviation due to its rich history in the field, Clark said, noting that Howard Hughes, Lockheed, and Northrop all started in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara Radio Control Modelers is the only radio control aviation club Clark knows of within Santa Barbara, though nearby Santa Maria and Ventura both have their own groups.
Clark welcomes people to come on in and join the fun, though he warns, “It’s pretty intense!” The Santa Barbara Radio Control Modelers meet the first Thursday of every month at 7:30 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Airport Visitors Center in Goleta.