Hawkesbury Model Air Sports is an Aeromodellers NSW club with a whopping 150 members

Aeromodellers are hobbyists who make and fly model aircraft. The local club has 150 members. This is their story. 

IT’S ten o’clock on Saturday morning, and a crowd is gathered at the old Meatworks site in Vineyard.

The air is cool, and it’s windy, making for challenging flying conditions.

A few punters seek shelter in the clubhouse (a converted 40-foot container), where they help themselves to a coffee and settle-in to watch the show.

There’s a competition on today, for drone racing, and four of the fastest drone-flyers in the country are here.

Seated in a row, each wears a special headset that gives him a first-person view while operating - from cameras embedded in the drones.

The machines set out through the air to tackle an obstacle course. The winner will be the drone that completes the course in the fastest time - and they can go pretty fast, indeed. One guy was clocked doing 176km/hr at the site only recently.

The drone pilots and the crowd gathered here are aeromodellers, enthusiasts who build and fly model aircraft.

The site, located at the west end of Bandon Road, is their airfield, but it might not be for much longer.

The location has been marked as a pathway for a major roadway, meaning the 150 members of Hawkesbury Model Air Sports (HMAS) - an Aeromodellers NSW club - will have to find a new home.

HMAS president Bob Carpenter with his Yak-55 - one-third the size of the real thing. Picture: Geoff Jones

HMAS president Bob Carpenter with his Yak-55 - one-third the size of the real thing. Picture: Geoff Jones

Home base

Bob Carpenter is a 68-year-old Windsor resident who has been involved in aeromodelling for most of his life.

“When I was seven my grandmother took me to visit one of her family friends and I saw an aeroplane in a workshop, and that was the start of it,” he told the Gazette.

Mr Carpenter is president of HMAS, and also of Aeromodelling NSW. You’ll find him down at the Vineyard airfield more often than not, making sure everything runs smoothly. He opens seven days a week now, since the hobby has been gaining in popularity.

Aeromodelling is an umbrella term that covers all the different forms of model aviation. Radio control is one of the major aeromodelling categories, and also the type in which they specialise at HMAS.

Between the various members of the club, all kinds of radio-controlled aircraft are represented at the airfield, including helicopters, fixed-wing-powered units, scale models, gliders, electric-powered ducted fan units, and multirotor models - plus the occasional turbine or water-based unit.

Though they still have a few years left on the lease for the Vineyard site, finding a new home for his members is top-of-mind for Mr Carpenter.

It was only recently that another aeromodelling club, Model Park Luddenham, was forced into upheaval due to progress mowing through its airfield, and the members are now floating around periphery clubs - including the Hawkesbury.

Mr Carpenter has been spending more and more days lately “bush-bashing around the Hawkesbury floodplains”, scoping-out sites that he and the Hawkesbury aeromodelling community could potentially call home.

Quad drone racing is gaining in popularity at Hawkesbury Model Air Sports.

Quad drone racing is gaining in popularity at Hawkesbury Model Air Sports.

Flying high

It’s not just model aeroplanes that Mr Carpenter loves. He worked for over 25 years in the air force, and 16 years running aviation companies overseas.

“I was a flight engineer, then became a project manager. You know the Hercules aeroplanes? I spent many years as a crew member on them,” he said.

Mr Carpenter is both the president of the local club, and state president of Aeromodellers NSW. He said many club members would class him as a professional, however for him, radio control aviation is “a recreational activity, a hobby, and a sport”.

His own collection of models spans around 30 aircraft, the largest of which is a Yakovlev Yak-55 - one-third the size of the real thing.

“It’s full aerobatic and has a 150cc engine in the front of it. It’s over three metres across the wings,” he said.

“We strive to be able to fly these things like a normal pilot would do, and this one can do everything the full-size aerobatic plane can.”

Many model planes are available in kit form, however some members of the club - Mr Carpenter included - like to build from scratch.

“They make up their own plans and they start building from bits of balsa wood. They paint the eyeballs on the pilots and everything. It can take up to three years,” he said.

Though aeromodelling can be expensive as far as hobbies go, it doesn’t have to be, said Mr Carpenter. Some jet models though can cost around $10,000.

“It is relatively cheap to start off as a hobbyist. As you start to get more involved - on the competition side of things - it can get more expensive,” he said.

“But it’s like any sport or hobby, in that it’s limited only by the level to which you wish to go. Models range from the equivalent of a cheap Suzuki, right up to a Lexis.”

Mr Carpenter admitted he has “probably spent more than most people ever would” on aeromodelling. However he has also represented Australia in a number of categories including aerobatics, gliders and pylon racing.

“We’ve got some of the best pilots in the world here in Australia,” he said.

Drone pilots wear special goggles giving them a first-person view of the airfield via cameras embedded in their drones.

Drone pilots wear special goggles giving them a first-person view of the airfield via cameras embedded in their drones.

Skills for the future

HMAS has been around in one form or another in the Hawkesbury since 1972. Membership is mixed, ranging in age from children to retirees, and in ability from pros like Mr Carpenter to “weekend fliers” who dabble.

The club provides instruction to both new and experienced flyers, with instructors available for most modes and categories of flying.

According to Mr Carpenter, HMAS is more than just a club: it is a community, and the airfield is their spiritual home.

The clubhouse is decked-out with a kitchen, verandah and BBQ, and members gather here for refreshments and a natter, and to watch what’s happening outside.

While a portion of the members are older males - those who “grew up in the age of aviation” - the club’s membership is far from fusty, according to Mr Carpenter.

“The field we have at Vineyard is the only one in the country like it. We have the fixed-wing aircraft on one side of the airfield, and the first-person view and the drones on the other side,” he said.

“FPV is the latest in technology and is being used in military applications around the world. We’re at the leading edge of innovation here.”

Mr Carpenter is working on attracting more school-age children to the club, and is in the process of organising a drone competition with some of the local schools.

“It’s about getting out in the open and understanding what the world is about and where technology can take you for your future careers,” he said.

“Innovation and focus on STEM subjects is all right here.”

One HMAS member joined the club with his drone and is now working towards getting his drone operators certificate through the government’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) so he can use it in a commercial way.

“He will be using it for crop management, but others use it for real estate for example. When they talk about the jobs of the future, a lot of them are not even made yet,” said Mr Carpenter.

“This is just a very small tip of the iceberg. Skills we take for granted as a hobbyists are now becoming full-time occupations of the future.”

HMAS has a mixture of members, from kids to retirees, and enthusiasts to weekend dabblers.

HMAS has a mixture of members, from kids to retirees, and enthusiasts to weekend dabblers.