ELKINS - Four longtime Elkins residents share a passion for constructing and flying model aircrafts that dates back 70 years.
Kenny Talbott, Paul Grindle and Vince Johnkoski started constructing and flying models in the 1940s. A.D. Talbott, Kenny's younger brother, joined them in the 1960s.
"A.D. flies because I did," Kenny Talbott joked. "When I left for college he got into my workshop."
The Inter-Mountain photos by Tim MacVean
From left, Paul Grindle, A.D. Talbott, Kenny Talbott and Vince Johnkoski show off their models as they prepare to take flight at the First United Methodist Church gymnasium in Elkins.
The group of four, ranging from their oldest member, 88-year-old Grindle, to their youngest member, 71-year-old A.D. Talbott, continue to get together to fly their planes at least three times a week, for up to 90 minutes at each session.
Their hobby began at a young age. Grindle has been building planes since he was 13 years old, and Kenny Talbott built his first aircraft at the age of 7. A.D. Talbott followed suit, building his first model from plans he found in a magazine.
Grindle and Kenny Talbott, along with Johnkoski, were even featured in a July 1949 edition of the Randolph Enterprise newspaper published throughout the region. The three were highlighted along with other members of the Elkins Airplane Model Club.
The club would meet every two weeks and required a 25-cent due that went towards model kits and motors. The club also attended various meets and flying competitions.
Grindle, the president of the club, said the group would meet at his house.
"I had a hobby shop in my garage and the group would meet there," he said. At its peak, in the early 1950's, the group was comprised of 21 members.
Grindle and Johnkoski attribute some of their love for flying to their military service and experience. Grindle served in the Air Force as a B-29 bomber flight engineer. Johnkoski also served in the Air Force as a co-pilot on a refueling B-29 bomber.
"We've been exposed," Grindle said.
He spoke of his early days of flying the models.
"I was the state champion in 1946 and 1947 when I came back from the service," Grindle said. "I had three perfect flights of 10 minutes and I did it with three different aircrafts."
The group owns many different styles of planes, including both indoor and outdoor models, and helicopters are represented as well.
"From the Wright brothers to the newest aircrafts, if a plane has been built, there is probably someone out there who has modeled it," Kenny Talbott said.
A majority of the indoor styles of planes are battery powered and are bought already constructed. The battery in some indoor models is no larger than a quarter and the plane can weigh less than one ounce.
The outdoor planes can be gas-powered, electric-powered, rubber band-powered or pure glider models. The outdoor models normally require construction or are built from scratch.
All four of the men said they own 15-20 planes minimum, but "it's safe to say even more," Grindle added.
They fly the planes indoors at the First United Methodist Church gymnasium at least three times a week, and every day when possible. They also fly outdoors when weather permits.
Kenny Talbott said, "The best place to fly right now is at a private airport south of Beverly, but we also fly at Glendale Park."
They added that flying is the best in the evening because wind can alter the lighter planes' path and the breeze is typically calmer at that time. They used to fly at the Elkins-Randolph County Regional Airport until FAA guidelines forced them to relocate.
When asked why they still built and flew planes 70-plus years after they began, the men couldn't help but grin.
"Because it's fun!" Kenny Talbott said. "It gives us a chance to reconnect and reflect on old times and giggle at each other when we make mistakes."
A.D. Talbott added, "It's called big boys and their little toys."
Grindle, teasing the others said, "When you love flying, you put up with what's available, and I love flying!"
In addition to flying, the group uses this time to get exercise. The men enjoy meeting at the church because it is somewhere they can get together and walk laps.
"Thirty minutes of walking together turned into flying together," A.D. Talbott said.
The men tried to put into words what they loved so much about their hobby.
"The challenge of flying them is a big part of it," Grindle said. "There are restricted areas and hazards that you have to maneuver around."
Kenny Talbott added, "The biggest challenge is the whole concept. To be able to build my own airplane and then make it fly is a challenge but it is very rewarding." He also talked about how addicting the hobby can become. "As soon as you finish one airplane, you immediately get the itch to make another one," he said.
All four wish to share their plane passion with others.
"If anyone were to read this and would like to try it, we would be more than happy to help them," Kenny Talbott said. "It is a very interesting hobby."