Town OKs model-plane flight trial at Town Center


Portola Valley residents' views tend toward the inimical concerning things that noisily cross their skies without moving their wings, whether it's the growling whine of a wide-bodied jet coming in for a landing at San Francisco International Airport, or a buzzing personal plane out of the airport in Palo Alto.

But the Town Council gave its nod to smaller, less obtrusive aircraft at its Sept. 14 meeting. After a discussion that considered noise and fair use of the recreational facilities, the council approved a six-month trial allowing certain quiet types of radio-controlled model airplanes to fly three mornings a week above the baseball field at Town Center.

The hours are from dawn to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Fliers describing the rules are posted at the tennis courts, the drinking fountains at the maintenance building and behind the baseball field backstop, and near the mailbox, Public Works Director Howard Young told the Almanac.

Former mayor George Comstock, a model-plane pilot who introduced the proposal, outlined for the council some limits for the baseball field's air space: Only "park flyers" will be allowed, meaning planes with electric engines -- no gasoline-power -- but no turbines and no cylindrical shrouds around propellers, called ducted fan propulsion.

In addition, pilots must be members of or under the instruction of members of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). Flight beyond the baseball field is not allowed, nor is the buzzing of other people. Plane-eating trees are the pilot's problem, not the town's.

While recreation is an obvious purpose to this program, there is another: education in the ways of science and technology, said Mr. Comstock, a member of the Nature & Science Committee and a principle organizer for Flight Night, a model-plane air show held at the Town Center in May.

Flying a model plane means coping with the problems of launching an object into the air, keeping it there and bringing it down in a controlled landing. "It gets kids more interested in dealing with the real world instead of sitting in front of the TV playing (video) games," Mr. Comstock said.

"We're sliding behind," he said, possibly referring to the grasp of U.S youth on science and technology in a an era of global competition. "It's a big struggle we're facing trying to do this."

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