Puyallup: Sumner

Flying the friendly skies over Sumner — via remote control

Matt Mikko, the Radio Aero Modelers Club of Seattle’s safety officer and remote-controlled pilot and builder, works on his airplane before flying last week.
Matt Mikko, the Radio Aero Modelers Club of Seattle’s safety officer and remote-controlled pilot and builder, works on his airplane before flying last week. Staff photographer

For Matt Mikko, flying his remote-controlled aircraft has been a part of his life for the last 42 years.

The 48-year-old got involved with the Radio Aero Modelers Club of Seattle (RAMS) when he was 6. The club is made up of members from all over East Pierce County and parts of King County.

“My dad and I still talk about (remote-controlled aircraft) every day,” said the Puyallup resident. “We never run out of things to talk about with the hobby. It’s a bit of an addiction.”

The RAMS are the oldest Radio Aero Modelers club in the state, touting a more than 65-year history as providing a family oriented hobby of flying radio-controlled aircraft. Club members fly their aircraft remotely on the ground, using a hand-held radio transmitter. Drivers passing through the industrial business parks off West Valley Highway in Sumner can often see remote-controlled helicopters and planes buzzing through the airspace above the club’s private field.

While all 81 members come from various walks of life, they all have one thing in common: If it’s a radio-operated aircraft — a helicopter or an airplane — they will fly it.

Bill Westerlund, vice president of the club, joined 14 years ago to keep himself occupied after he retired as a diesel mechanic. It’s the members of the group that keeps him coming out to the field, he said.

“Just the guys I get to hang around with,” Westerlund said. “It’s a fun group.”

Club members range from kids to adults — to even members in their 80s, all ranging in skill from beginner to expert.

Bonney Lake resident Rob Van Slyke, the club’s treasurer, has built model airplanes since he was a kid, but didn’t get involved collecting planes until 25 years ago. He says the planes are built from kits or from scratch, and can take anywhere from 40 hours to build one from a kit or 100 hours from scratch.

“It takes a lot of hand-eye coordination to fly them,” he said. “I get upset when they crash.”

Luckily for club members, its field, located at 3401 West Valley Highway East in Sumner, is zoned as industrial, allowing members to fly anytime — day or night.

“It’s really a testing ground for electronics,” Van Slyke said. “My enthusiasm continues to increase — even after 25 years.”

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