Written by Anonymous
What you are about to read is a combination of recollections and observations from an AMA member who is a die-hard modeler. If you’re less than 35 years of age, you’ll probably be bored, so it’s okay to turn the page to more exciting features. But if you’re “up there,” read on because much of what follows could certainly apply to you some day—if you’re lucky enough to live to a ripe age (into your 70s or 80s).
The elderly population in this country is increasing at a fast pace—just look around the room for silver-haired members during your next club meeting. If you doubt this, look at the exploding number of medical specialists who have cropped up in the past 40 to 50 years. All of them are dedicated to keeping modelers alive and kicking. As a result, the over-65 population is at an all-time high. This hits home when we consider that today’s average age of an adult AMA member is 54. With this increase in aging, we see a vast array of medical conditions that can have an adverse effect on our modeling activities. This article will discuss that issue.
I could be termed a lover of anything that flies. I built my first model at age six: a balsa, tissue-covered rubber band kit. It was a Comet, I think. Glue was really a banana oil formulation and came in a squeezable lead tube. I hung in there with my model-building interests, but did call a time-out a couple of times to accommodate college, military service, family, and job responsibilities. At approximately 55 or so, I really got hooked on RC.
At that time in my life, I was healthy, strong, and full of energy, all of which accounted for a heightened interest in modeling. I was a “builder,” so I got a kick out of building from plans or kits. I also liked to modify the airplanes I had built.
I eventually transitioned from glow to electric because I found the latter more interesting. That was a challenging time because electric flight resources were few in number in the early days. Example: How do you mount a Mabuchi motor?
At approximately age 65, I joined my first AMA club, and I loved it. I learned a great deal from the members and tried to share my electric lessons with them. I was proud to be a 12-months-a-year flier, even though I lived in southeastern Pennsylvania, where the snow and low temperatures sometimes proved a challenge.
At age 78, without knowing what was happening, I found that flying on a cold day was not a fun experience. The club I was in at that time fortunately made arrangements to do some indoor flying at a local high school gym, so that satisfied my winter-time flying needs for a while.
At age 80, I became aware that packing up to go to the flying field, and reversing that routine after a half day of flying, was a physically trying ordeal. In short, my arthritis rose out of nowhere and my breathing became somewhat labored at times. Looking for a downed airplane in the corn field was a major undertaking for me, so I learned to take one airplane to the field instead of two or three, in an effort not to be wiped out upon returning home.
About this time, bladder cancer, followed by prostate cancer, presented a few more medical hurdles, but they did not stop my modeling interests.
My wife and I had been empty nesters for a number of years and decided we no longer needed 2,000 square feet of living space and the yard that went along with that, so we sold our house and became apartment dwellers again after 56 years. That meant my airplanes had to be built and stored in a spare bedroom dedicated to my “fun stuff.” I was still able to build and have a work area, but I did so by building smaller airplanes—under 60-inch wingspans. A new AMA club field was fortunately located nearby, so I joined up and made new friends and contacts. Lucky for me.
After a few years, my wife’s health declined a bit, so we decided to enter a whole new phase of our lives: an independent living facility for seniors that was closer to our grown children. This presented yet another set of “aging while modeling” problems—how could I continue my modeling interest in a one-bedroom apartment? I finally came to the realization that my stable of airplanes would be fewer in number (two to three), and any new acquisitions would have to be ARFs. Gone were most of my tools and ample work space.
Now I work on a board on the dining room table that I can easily store away at the end of a work session. My much-reduced compliment of tools is stored in three sets of rollaway plastic drawers, and my airplanes hang vertically on the bedroom wall.
The moral of this story revolves around how important it is to be realistic and flexible when it comes to continuing this wonderful hobby when you are in the face of complications stemming from aging. If your medical issues make for difficult walking, a cane, walker, or even a wheelchair can be put to good use. A good friend of mine used to bring a high, four-legged stool to the flightline and sit on it while flying. It worked for him and allowed him to persevere.
A few years ago, Model Aviation carried an article about a modeler who could not stand nor walk, so he and his friends devised a “sit down” system than allowed him to provide rudder inputs to his transmitter by pressing on foot pedals, while he “steered” with his hands. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Adequate accommodations are available to modelers who are motivated to hang in there. By this I mean be flexible in the way you select your next model. Rather than buy or build a fast, sleek airplane or a warbird, consider a trainer. Be willing to swallow your pride—it is easier to fly a trainer airplane even with the inevitable reduction in hand-eye coordination.
All in all, like most challenges in life, this can be overcome if you remain determined. The alternative—giving up the hobby—is not an option.
As you can see, I’ve written this piece anonymously, but anyone with feedback can email Model Aviation Editor-in-Chief Jay Smith—he knows how to contact me.