SLEEPY EYE - A few years back, Galen Engholm wanted to take his love of flying remote controlled airplanes to another level, a level that a lot of R/C fliers wouldn't normally consider.
Engholm, who is a member of the Wingnuts R/C Fliers, decided to build his own airport on his land on a farm outside of Sleepy Eye for himself and other amateur R/C fliers around the area.
The airport, complete a 500-foot and a 400-foot runway, has become the hub for area fliers in the area, used by as many as 15-17 R/C enthusiasts.
Members of the Wingnut R/C Flyers prepare their planes at Galen Engholm’s airport on his farm near Sleepy Eye.
For Engholm, he became interested in flying at a younger age, but that passion shifted to flying R/C planes when he was in his 40s because real flying lessons were too expensive.
He joined the Redwood Area Wingnuts and was hooked pretty much right away.
"I really don't know, I started flying and when I was younger I was taking lessons, and it just got a little high priced," Engholm said. "A friend of mine from Morgan let me use his [R/C] airplane and I got started up there."
Soon after, the Redwood Falls Airport didn't allow for the members of the Wingnuts to take off and land at the airport, so Engholm and company needed to find another place to enjoy their hobby.
Engholm put his own airport together about five years ago, mowing some of his fields down so that it could be used for a runway. Eventually, it escalated so that eight to 10 members showed up to use his property to fly their planes.
"I just took a field - it was a farm field and I decided since it was my farm, a hobby is a hobby, it's going to cost you something," Engholm said. "I just took a couple acres, and at the time we seeded it down to oats, so we dragged it and we prepared it and got it smooth."
After some wear and tear, Engholm decided to cut two runways. One of them runs from the northeast to the southwest and is 60 feet wide and 500 feet long. The other runs
from the northwest to the southeast and is about 400 feet long.
He spends a couple hours a week mowing the runways every week, so it's not a lot of hours to keep up. He also said that some of the fliers who come out to use his land will help out too if needed.
After moving from Redwood Falls to outside of Sleepy Eye, the club changed names to the Wingnuts R/C Fliers and Engholm, along with New Ulm native Rick Apitz, are two members who spend a lot of time flying their remote control planes several times a week.
Apitz got interested in flying, both real planes and remote control planes, at a young age.
"My dad had a couple of airplanes and there were a couple of airplane engines, and I was tinkering around with those when I was in high school," Apitz said. "I saw a guy flying a radio control down by the high school and he taught me how to fly."
Apitz's hobby started in the 1970s. Since then, he's purchased his own shop that he stores many essential spare parts such as wings, nuts and bolts to an R/C plane. He also has more than 30 planes that he stores there.
Apitz said that many fliers start out with a training plane, which can run anywhere from $300-$500 and a wing span of about 48 inches. Those planes tend to be more stable and easier to fly for the rookies.
After that, planes range in price, depending on how much the flier wants to invest. Some of them cost more than $1,000, depending on how real you want the simulation to be.
Apitz said some of the more expensive planes are also some of the more challenging ones to fly because they sometimes have more options on the remote control, making it a challenge for some of the more experienced fliers.
And while it can be difficult to pick up the remote control and fly right away, Apitz said that it's easier to teach kids how to fly rather than older adults because they have the experience with video game controllers.
"Kids are easier to train, because younger kids have been playing video games so they have the experience," Apitz said. "Older people are harder to train because they don't have that hand-eye coordination. Kids just pick this up. You can give them lessons and on the first night, they're flying."
Even Engholm, who's been flying for more than 20 years, admitted it was a struggle for him at first.
"It took me a long time before I figured it out," Engholm said. "I could fly a full-scale plane, but the hand-eye coordination - I hate to say it, but the younger you are, the better you are."
Apitz said the main problem with younger fliers is money to invest in a plane and also finding an area for them to fly their plane.
"They need the money for the trainer set, and kids don't have that, and then they need to get out to the flying field," Apitz said. "They need transportation, and there's where the problem can be."
Many beginner planes come with most of the parts already assembled. Apitz said that some of the more advanced plance require some work, and that's where some of his spare parts come in that he has in the shop.
On August 14, a bunch of fliers from all over went to Engholm's farm to put on a show for spectators. The event usually draws about 150 people every year and it has fliers of various ages and levels.
As far as the Wingnuts R/C Fliers, Apitz said that Engholm's land and set-up is one of the nicest he's seen.
"I fly a lot all over the area and I go to other states, and we probably have one of the nicest places to fly," Engholm said.
The Wingnuts meet several times a week, and both Engholm and Apitz said that their time flying together never gets old.
"We've got a good bunch of guys," Engholm said. "We've got good people."