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Written by Rich Hanson
AMA in Action - Advocating for members.
Does your club present a welcoming environment?
Read the entire article in the January 2014 issue of
Model Aviation.

This article was written by Rich Hanson during his tenure as AMA's Government and Regulatory Affairs representative. He was elected as AMA's President in 2017.

Early one Saturday morning, a young boy was awakened by his father. “Get up, there’s a model airplane event in town,” he said. “Let’s go watch!”

This was wonderful news. The boy first experienced RC models at a Blue Angels’ air show a few years earlier and he marveled at the maneuvers they were able to perform. He quickly got up, dressed, and ate breakfast. Soon, father and son were driving to the local flying field where the event was being held.

When they arrived, the site was full of vehicles and the sound of model airplane engines filled the air. Excited, father and son headed to the action. There was almost too much to take in! They were quickly greeted by several club members who showed them around and introduced them to others at the field. Soon, they were making friends with other fathers and sons participating in the event.

The boy quickly hit it off with several other boys who eagerly answered questions and showed him how the airplanes and radio systems worked. The boys became best of friends. Father and son spent the rest of the day at the flying field and began what became a lifelong pastime.

With a few variations, this story has been repeated thousands of times throughout the years. This is often an individual’s first encounter with a local model airplane club. For this father and son, it was a memorable moment and one they will never forget. It led to both of them joining the club, purchasing their first airplane, and learning to fly.

They attended club meetings together and learned how to build. They learned how to choose the right engine, how to install the radio equipment, and how to set up the controls. They shared a love for this hobby that lasted a lifetime.

Sadly, this is not always the case or how it turns out for everyone. All too often we hear horror stories of how a family or interested person showed up at a local flying field only to be shunned and told they’re not welcome. Some brought ready-to-fly models in hopes of learning to fly and were told, “Take that junk somewhere else. We don’t fly that stuff here.”

How heartbreaking it must be for a newcomer to have such an experience, and what a terrible impression of modeling and modelers this creates.

How many of these individuals left the flying field vowing to have nothing to do with hobby and ultimately supported or actively worked toward eliminating this activity from their community?

Do you recall your first time as a newcomer? We all need to do our part by encouraging youngsters, helping families to get involved, and welcoming others into the hobby. For most AMA clubs, this is a common practice. However, if your club lacks a little in this area, do what you can to help create a welcoming environment.

—Rich Hanson
Government and Regulatory Affairs


I'm giving copies of this to all our club members. Thanks Rich.

My 1st and 2nd experience at different fields were negative. Still is sometimes cause I fly helicopters..... I think it is a good reminder to take a minute to welcome folks. They are there because they want to check it. Take the time to say hello and answer a few questions. Don't forget different folks are interested in different aspects of the hobby.

This article parallels a letter I sent to AMA in May of 2012 outlining this same issue. Since 2012 I have been back to those same fields with very mixed but nearly the same results. At the bottom of this comment is a reprint of the entire letter I sent to AMA in 2012. Currently I am trying to encourage involvement of kids and their parents in the hobby by having them try their hand flying an RC Flight Simulator. This past March, (using donated laptop computers), my wife and I setup 6 computer flight simulators for two separate events. On the first event, we had over 40 boys ranging in age from 6 to 18 years old and their parents. Two weeks later we did it again and this time we had over 80 boys! We plan on doing this again in 2018 but this time we will have 12 RC Flight Simulators. Several times I have ask random club members if this is something they would be interested in doing. The response has always been tepid at best and most aren't really interested in working with kids. If this hobby is to survive this attitude must change. Increased urbanization will make it increasingly difficult to retain existing and obtain new flying fields. The only political clout we will have in this environment toward this end will be in membership numbers and makeup. Ask any politician how difficult it is to say "No" to an organized group of kids! If you doubt this, just visit your local park and see how many soccer fields there are v/s how many flying fields: take note of all of the "No Drone Zone" signs. Who do you think has the numbers and the political clout?

May 2012 AMA Letter:

Another observation made in random visits to several flying fields is more subtle. I have visited RC club fields where I knew that no one knew me (sometimes with my young grandkids) and stood around watching as a spectator to see if anyone flying would even acknowledge my/our presence. In each instance there were few or no other spectators present. Nothing; we were invisible. If clubs and the AMA actually want to get new members and especially kids and their parents involved, their current membership needs to become far less self-absorbed at flying fields and more inclusive. They call this PR. If current members expect to retain and expand flying fields it is something they need to think about. They need to make a conscious effort to talk to spectators, educate them and try to bring them into the hobby. There seems to be an increasing trend at most fields to increase the physical distance separating pilots from spectators. I understand that this may be for safety reasons but it sends a more subtle message; there’s us and there’s you. You stay over there and don’t bother us. This is not very conducive for the long term health of the hobby.

This EXACTLY wh I don't have a club!!!!

Great article! I love the point about RTF entry level fliers. We were all novices once.

Great article! When we turn away a novice who wants to fly his or her RTF aircraft, we turn away a future AMA member.

Many years ago, I took my nephew, who took an interest in my RC models, to a local field where they fly RC planes. This is a public park, but there was an area designated for RC flight. There was a club, which shall remain nameless, who were the major group of flyers at this site, although the park rules did not state that they had the exclusive rights to the field. We arrived early, and there were a few cars parked in the parking lot next to the flying field. There were a few people flying their planes. My nephew was so excited to see the planes flying. We pulled up into the parking lot, which had over 20 empty spaces. We got out and started walking towards the flight line when a club member walked back from the flight line towards us. He told us, in an not so pleasant tone, "You can't park here, we are expecting more club members"! My nephew was taken aback by the attitude of the club member, and I was not in a mood to argue the point that this was a public park. We just got in our car and drove away. He never showed any interest in the hobby again. I gave up flying airplanes because I just didn't want to deal with such people. I switched to flying helicopters, in my back yard.
Unfortunately, this is the more common scenario, rather than the rosy story narrated at the beginning of this article.

Jim, this is exactly why groups like Flite Test are growing like weeds after a spring rain while so many "clubs" are withering! I have heard the argument that many flyers come to the field to get in a couple of quick flights before they need to rush off to something else. They think they don't have the time to be bothered with "babysitting a newbie" but they need to answer this question: how are they going to do that in the future if they have no field? The best advise I can give to any "club" member is to always be aware of any visitors at your field and immediately take the initiative and time to make an effort to engage and involve that visitor. This is especially important if you see a visitor with kids. That visitor probably brought those kids because they were interested; they are just waiting for an invitation from you, "club member" to become involved. If that visitor or child leaves your field with a bad impression, it is very probable they will not return. Those kids, maybe even one you didn't have time to be bothered with today, have a way of growing up to become the civic leaders etc. you may one day require the assistance of to obtain or retain a flying field.

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