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Flying away from the daily grind

Local hobbyists fly remote-controlled helicopters and airplanes at Castaic Lake every weekend

Posted: August 31, 2009 9:32 p.m.
Updated: September 1, 2009 4:55 a.m.

John McLean of Castaic taxis his Yak, a 27 percent-sized model sport plane, on to the runway on Saturday.

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Every Saturday morning brings the same routine for dozens of local residents who trek up a hill overlooking Castaic Lake to a remote field.

It's at this isolated spot where members of Canyon Crosswinds park their cars and trucks along a mini runway and unload their creations: remote-controlled helicopters and airplanes.

For much of the morning, before the winds kick up and the summer heat rolls in, members of Canyon Crosswinds spend the first part of their weekend perfecting their hobby, swapping stories with friends between moments of relaxation and reflection.

"I just love getting away from the daily grind of work and home," said Derik Trexel, 39, of Canyon Country.

One by one, the men piece together the mini planes and helicopters and fire up the engines before using a remote control to navigate the aircraft onto the runway.

After the final checks are completed, pilots send their craft 250 feet into the air, where they dance in the sky to do tricks and flips, all guided by two thumbs on a remote control of a Canyons Crosswinds member on the ground.

"It's a good way to get outside and enjoy a beautiful day," said Corey Dail, vice president.

On a recent Saturday, Randy Cookson took a break from flying his helicopter to mingle with his friends.

Like others in the club, the 49-year-old resident from Canyon Country got his feet wet with flying airplanes before finding a new interest in flying helicopters.

Cookson, a member for two years, appreciates the challenge of building and flying remote-control helicopters.

"It's kind of like balancing a marble on a glass table," he said.

Other members echoed his feelings.

"It's taught me a lot of valuable skills - skills I never thought I had," Trexel said.

Douglas Mankin, 46, of Canyon Country called the hobby "addictive."

Despite the bumps and occasional crashes, he enjoys making new friends who share a common interest.

"It's a real fun group of people," he said.

Canyon Crosswinds, which counts about 120 members, enjoyed a spike in membership during the past five years as people are now able to buy almost ready-to-fly models, Dail said.

However, attendance has slowed more recently, Dail said. "It's not quite as crowded."

Flying is not a cheap hobby. It can cost as little as $20 for a basic kit, but a jet model can run up to $10,000, Dail said.

The average model costs about $300 and can take anywhere from a week to a year to complete.

Dail is one of a handful of flyers who builds scale models from scratch, which is why other members call him "Scale Dail."

The club began three decades ago at a time when the then-rural Santa Clarita Valley offered plenty of spots for members to launch their planes.

As development grew, the club found itself limited in locations to launch from.

"We had to scramble to find a place to fly because there was less and less open space," Dail said.

After bouncing around locations, and a brief split into two clubs, Canyon Crosswinds has found a home in Castaic off Lake Hughes Road, away from the development and rush of the Santa Clarita Valley.

"It's the perfect place," Dail said.

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