Model plane group lands in Marion for annual competition


Bob Hanford of Broken Arrow, Okla., looks over his model aircraft with engine attached. Hanford was entered in eight events, walking away with seven first place honors. Even though the Heart of America Free Flight Association is a year-round contest, the majority of competitors meet from May to October, traveling hundreds of miles to compete. Patty Decker / Free Press

Marion County was the host city for a model aircraft competition Friday, Saturday and Sun?day with more than 30 planes and participants from five states.

The group, called Heart of America Free Flight Associa?tion, arrived Friday and did some test flights, said Doug Kjellin, Marion economic development director and local coordinator of the event.

?They flew (their planes) a little Saturday morning before the rain came down, and then we sat under pop-ups until about 1 p.m.,? he said.

Once the rain stopped, they resumed flights the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday.

Originally, the group was planning to have the contest at the Kansas City Speedway, but due to congestion in that area, they decided to look elsewhere, said one of the pilots, Bob Hanford of Broken Arrow, Okla.

Mike Basta, vice-president of the association, was in charge of setting up locations. Through various avenues and connections, Basta and Kjellin started working together in January on getting the group to Marion.

Jim Lehrmann of Goessel, a member of the group, spoke with Jim O?Reilly of Wichita and Basta of Overland Park, who are both officers of the association. From that meeting, the city of Marion became a possible location.

?These planes are not toys,? Kjellin said. ?The planes are specifically designed to compete in local, national and even world championships.?

Each aircraft varied not only in color, but also in structure.

?The models are delicate and intricate constructions of balsa and tissue paper,? Kjellin said. ?Some are powered by engines, known as glo engines, some by multiple strands of rubber and others simply used pure aerodynamics.?

Hanford said he got started building and flying planes when he was 8 years old.

At 56, he is still going strong, having won seven first-place awards and one second-place while in Marion and despite rain and heat.

?My dad got me into this lifelong hobby,? he said. ?In fact, my dad was still flying planes at 83.?

Hanford, who is a structural engineer at Global Engineering in Tulsa, said he has met friends across the country.

?A lot of people in Marion welcomed us and we weren?t used to anything like this,? he said. ?We were so well-received and I definitely will be telling other model-plane members.?

In addition to Oklahoma, participants came from Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Kansas.

?Saturday night the mYac (Marion Youth Activities Center) hosted a banquet for them; mYac also provided concessions for the whole event,? Kjellin said.

?I was very impressed with the quality of the participants,? he added. ?All were pleasant to work with and handled the rain delay with great patience.?

Kjellin said he hopes to have the group back next year.

?They stayed in our hotels, ate at our restaurants and bought gas and supplies in our stores,? he said. ?This looks to be an annual event and they expect more participation each year as the word gets out.?

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