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MEMPHIS BELLE II

It was almost exactly one year ago that we were staying in this very campground outside Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument when we noticed a small white airplane circling overhead and generally making a nuisance of itself. We wondered if it might be a radio-controlled spy plane with a camera that was looking for nude sunbathers. (Of course there was no nudity at our trailer!) I followed it back to its source and learned from its owner that it had no camera onboard but I was intrigued enough by the plane to go out and buy myself one just like it.

In the year since, I have had a lot of fun flying my Styrofoam airplane but not without a number of mishaps. It’s not the flying that gives me trouble; it’s the landing. More specifically, it’s all the dang gummed immovable objects on the ground like trees, cacti, rocks, and fences that seem to reach out and snag my wings, propeller and landing gear. Turns out, it’s surprisingly hard to find a landing field without troublesome impediments.

I’ve had to replace the propeller, landing struts, motor mount, cowling, tail rudder, battery charger, wing bands and probably some other parts that I’ve forgotten. A substantial amount of the original plane has been consigned to the trash heap. It all reminds me of the old man who claimed he’d been using the same axe for fifty years. “Yep,” he bragged, “only had to replace the head twice and the handle three times.”

In addition to the replacement parts, most of a roll of duct tape is holding various parts together. It’s a wonder it still flies. Sometimes when I disassemble it after a flight and tuck it away for safe traveling, I am reminded of that great movie Memphis Belle about a badly shot-up B-17 that just barely made it back to it’s base in England after a bombing run over Germany.

Most other RC “pilots” that I’ve encountered seem content to make lazy circles in the sky or perform high-altitude aerobatics. For me, however, the thrill of RC flying occurs when the plane is skimming just above the ground. It is then that I am able to imagine myself in the cockpit, perhaps strafing an enemy tank column or buzzing a bridge. As you can imagine, these same maneuvers are the ones most likely to result in catastrophe. Oh, I could play it safe and come back to earth only when a dying battery demanded it, but then I would no longer be the fearless combat veteran that I imagine myself to be. I would no longer be piloting the damaged Memphis Belle back to England as the orchestra music swells to its heroic pitch and my brave crew depends on me to keep the Belle in the air just a little longer.

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