SALADO — A clear, blue sky was the perfect backdrop as model airplanes whizzed through the air Saturday morning.

“The takeoff is the easiest part. Keeping it up and landing it is the hard part,” said Hubert Dirr, a member of the Cen-Tex Modelers who has been building planes since 1968. “You always have to be in control of its many moving parts.”

Members of the flying club gathered for their annual “Big Bird Fly-In” on Hall Field, located at Union Grove Park at Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

“I’ve always loved aviation and if I could be reborn, I would come back as a trained Air Force pilot,” said the retired chief warrant officer who served in the Army for 30 years. “Building and flying these is the next best thing to being up there yourself.”

Dirr brought his Boeing-Stearman PT-17, a scale model of a World War II plane, that he built from scratch.

“The backup engine has 542 individual pieces alone,” he said, adding that it took him close to three years to complete it.

While he didn’t fly any of his planes, several other club members took their creations to the sky, letting them soar and dance in the wind.

“I have never crashed a plane I couldn’t repair,” said Jim Hillin, club president, who was tinkering with his Yak-54, a 1990s Russian aerobatic and sports competition aircraft. “All planes have an expiration date; you just don’t know when or how soon it’s going to come.”

Hillin said he’s been fascinated with airplanes since he was 6 years old, and after an injury prevented him from being able to continue to fly crop dusters in the 1960s, he had to figure out another way to get the same high.

“I knew the only way I would be able to fly again was if I had both feet on the ground, so here I am, still flying planes,” he said.

Founded in 1972, Cen-Tex Modelers are chartered with the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Hall Field is leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and is maintained by the club’s nearly 60 members. Its goal is to spread the enjoyment of flying model aircraft and introduce the hobby to newcomers.

While flying model aircraft is a popular hobby, it’s anything but cheap. Club member Herman Syx said an enthusiast can spend anywhere from $300 to $2,000 on a plane, depending on what they want to fly.

“Takeoff is optional, but landing is mandatory,” Syx said. “That plane has to come down one way or another, so I tell people you can’t fall in love with a plane because you will never fly it.”

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Contact Vanessa Lynch at or 254-501-7567.

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