Ken Knowles knows a thing or two about airplanes. War birds, especially.
A U.S. Air Force Captain during the Vietnam War, Knowles also served as a maintence officer when the SR-71 Blackbird — the fastest, highest-flying plane ever built — was developed.
That passion for aeronautics has led him naturally to the Tokay Radio Control Modelers (TRCM), where he and other members construct and fly model aviation. A club member for the past 22 years, Knowles, 68, owns over 100 flyable replicas — and the crown jewel of his collection will be on display at the club’s Grape Festival booth.
While in England for a radio-controlled plane-flying event, Knowles came across two replicas of the Memphis Belle — a World War II-era bomber that flew around Europe from 1942-1943, and was the first to ever survive 25 combat missions.
“They were just spectacular,” said Knowles. “I had to get one.”
About two years and a $15,000 investment later, one of those beauties was his. Weighing 100 pounds with a 210-inch wingspan and four gas engines, his model is one-sixth-scale replica. In fact, the mold for Knowles’ treasure was originally used in a 1990 Hollywood movie about the Memphis Belle.
Though Knowles’ model will headline, the TRCM’s display should be as ecclectic as the group itself. Founded in 1970, the Lodi-based organization is 60 members strong, with enthusiasts ranging from 11 years old to 86.
“We have a diverse group,” said club secretary and webmaster Hal Singer, 62. “We fly literally everything.”
No exaggeration. TRCM members pursue their hobby at a flying site in Walnut Grove, about 20 minutes from Lodi. With a 750-foot runway, the space allows members to fly everything — from miniature electric models, to 40-percent-scale, gas-powered planes; and from WWI- or WWII-era war birds, to helicopters and antique models.
“It’s enjoyable,” said Singer, a private pilot who has been a TRCM member since the late 70s. “You get to construct the airplane yourself and then get to see it fly. It’s very rewarding and enjoyable.”
Even if members, given their knowledge, can’t watch war plane movies the same way now?
“Yes, you have to suspend your disbelief,” Singer said. “Especially the newer movies cause they’re special effects.”
The Tokay Radio Control Modelers hold meetings at the Lodi Public Library on the first Wednesday of every month. On Oct. 6, the club will host a remote controlled airplaine swap meet at the Grape Festival Grounds, which will include auctions and indoor flying.
For more information on TRCM of Lodi, visit www.trcmlodi.org.