A Healing Hobby

Written by Jennifer Orebaugh. Be inspired by three modelers who know no limits. Read three more additional stories in the July 2014 issue of Model Aviation.

Imagine having a disability that makes something already challenging even tougher. You could let the condition defeat you, or look it in the eye and defeat it—and that’s just what several modelers have done. Pilots Timothy Dawson, Bob Antonelli, Tom Hintz, and others have beaten the odds. They didn’t let physical problems stand in the way of their dreams. They have made modifications to help them achieve their goals and now serve as inspirations to others. “With technology today, anything is possible,” said Carlyn Strangeway, manager of Acute Care Rehab Services at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital in Anderson, Indiana. “Adaptations or modifications can be made for everything, so that everyone can participate in whatever activity they choose. “Having a purpose helps promote healing and mental wellness, as it motivates the person to get up out of bed, get dressed, and get out and do their hobby. At the same time, he or she can be addressing and maintaining some of their disabilities/deficits such as cognition, retaining and gaining fine motor coordination, and promoting mental wellness. When you are focusing on what you can do, you forget about what you can’t do” Hobbies give those with physical ailments something to focus on and look forward to, Carlyn added. “Having a purpose helps promote healing and mental wellness.” Tim, Bob, and Tom not only see aeromodeling as a fun challenge, but also as therapy. They shared how they got into the hobby and have dealt with adversity in a positive way. Read additional inspiring stories in the July 2014 issue of Model Aviation.

Timothy Dawson, Ridgecrest, California

Tim Dawson, shown here at the IRCHA Jamboree, says that learning to fly was a 100% confidence booster. “I’m not saying it was easy, but the rewards were worth it. I feel better about myself and love that I am in a place now where I can help others.”

Tim “Dr. Tim” Dawson flies 1/4-scale aircraft, turbine scale helicopters, CL, FF, and sailplanes. He has been in the model aircraft hobby since he was a young boy growing up near Oxnard, California. He remembers suffering from dyslexia and using models as his escape. “I used to fly rubber-powered airplanes in the field across the street,” he said. “I met Bud Olsen (vice president of the Ventura County Comets) [who] not only taught me how to fly, but took me to Mile Square in Los Angeles, where I won first in Junior Balloon Bust and Junior Rat Race!” Tim later competed in Pattern and began flying helicopters. He now owns Approach Engineering and manufactures Scale RC helicopters. A freak accident in 1992 left Tim paralyzed in his right leg. Today he lives in a great deal of pain and has difficulty walking and uses a leg brace. Model flying and building is his therapy. “It gets my mind off of what is bothering me and helps a great deal with my depression that I suffer to this day.” Flying also helps him relax and forget about everything. “It puts me in a happy place or an escape for a little while. Sometimes I hurt so bad that I will grab my hexacopter and put on my goggles and fly some FPV [First-Person View] to relax …” He feels that better technology and new systems have made model flying easier. “When I competed with multiblade helicopters like my Puma (that I won the 2005 US Helicopter Nationals with), I had no stabilization on the head. I feel [technology] is getting more and more folks into the wonderful world of Scale helicopters!” Modeling has been a confidence booster for Tim, and he feels the rewards are worth it. He feels better about himself and loves that he is in a place where he can help others. His wife has supported him 100%. “She knows that through my accident and divorces that this [model flying] was the only constant besides my children. Yes, it saved my life!” When asked if he felt that he was an inspiration for others, Tim said, “I think so. I still have people coming up to me and saying how they got into the hobby because of me … I sort of like it!” His advice to anyone wanting to fly is that “there are angry people and there are happy people—black, white, yellow, and red—but when we fly, we are pilots … and nothing else matters!”

Bob Antonelli, Rochester, New York

Bob Antonelli finds flying to be a confidence booster. He’s always trying to learn or perfect maneuvers, and contributes his love of both building and flying to what he enjoys most about the hobby. “There is a great feeling when you build something and other people come up to you and start asking questions about what you build with your hands.” .

Bob flies a 1/4-scale Balsa USA Cub, a Great Planes Super Stearman, a Twin Air 45, Sig Senior Kadets (on floats and a night flier with 1,596 LEDs). Bob has been flying for 27 years. He was born with a fluid-filled cyst attached to his brain stem, as well as a syrinx (a rare, fluid-filled neuroglial cavity within the spinal cord, in the brain stem, or in the nerves of the elbow). The cyst attached to his brain stem was not diagnosed until 1993. “During that summer [I was] told not to fly so my brain could rest due to the side effects (double vision, light sensitivity, poor coordination). The summer of ’94 I had to take a semester of college off, so I flew every day.” He says that this was the one thing that allowed him to let go of all of his stress. Bob learned to fly through an instructor at his club, the Rochester Aero Modeling Society, before buddy-boxes came into existence. After his first brain surgery, his father became his instructor, helping him relearn how to fly. He started flying using a standard, two-stick radio, but after surgery he was left with nerve damage to his right arm and lost most of his fine-motor control. “I switched over to a four-channel Ace single stick and later an Ace MicroPro 8000 and custom-built JR 9303,” Bob said. He now flies using a transmitter tray and a Futaba 10C radio with custom control sticks. Flying is the only thing that gets Bob through his week. When he flies, he forgets about what is going on with his body and is able to escape to a pain-free zone. He also feels it has saved him emotionally and mentally. “When one suffers from constant pain 24/7, it gets very depressing,” he says. “You become a prisoner to your body. The only time I am not in pain is for 8 hours a week when I am flying on the weekend.” Bob noted that he has even had doctors suggest that he fly every day. When he talks about flying, “… people can see the true me, not the pain.” He doesn’t feel he’s an inspiration to others; he just gets up and goes about his day. “Other people give me credit for having such great work and not giving up. I don’t see it that way. I know that there are always other people out there who are worse than me.” His best advice to others is to join a local club, get an instructor, and just start flying. “Don’t rush. You are supposed to have fun. As long as it’s fun, keep going. You are going to have stumbles. Just get up, brush off your clothes, and start up again.”

Tom Hintz, Concord North Carolina

Tom Hirtz prepares his Precision Aerobatics Addiction for a flight at his flying field. He finds concentrating on patterns and maneuvers, as well as the support of fellow club members, beneficial after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Tom shared the following story: RC Flying vs. Alzheimer’s: It’s Giving Me What I Need Roughly 25 years ago I was heavily into RC sport flying. I worked at a hobby shop, so I did a lot of pilot training and grew to enjoy that immensely. I was also doing trim flights on airplanes of all sizes for other pilots—something else I enjoyed. Then a job opportunity forced me to relocate to the Charlotte, North Carolina, area, so along with the cold and snow of Wisconsin I left RC behind. Approximately two years ago I was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, which has no cure and precious little in the way of treatment. I discovered that one of the things a person with Alzheimer’s can do is to exercise his or her brain to help maintain its function. There are lots of game-type utilities that seem to work to some extent, but none which would hold my attention. Then I remembered the concentration and hand-to-eye coordination necessary to fly an RC model. I knew I enjoyed that hobby a lot, so gave it a try. I initially thought I would learn to fly small helicopters because I work from home and could sneak away for a flight now and then during the day in my yard. Good thought, but bad execution, and my foray into RC helicopters was quickly aborted because of way more crashing than flying. I thought that perhaps getting back into RC airplanes would give me the foundation to make a better attempt at flying helicopters, so I joined the local club, RC Wingers (AMA #1462), in Mooresville, North Carolina. I bought a Visionaire (ParkZone Bind-N-Fly), a Spektrum DX6i radio, and retired to the shop to build the airplane. The first day at the field went surprisingly well. The first flights in 25 years were a little shaky, but I focused on flying the traffic pattern and landing safely (I did “land” in a tree once that first day). I was shocked that I remembered so much about flying, but more important was the realization that my mind was able to handle the workload, something I genuinely feared. I was able to concentrate on operating the airplane throughout the 6-minute flights, a duration of focused attention that was very difficult to maintain when doing virtually anything else. In the ensuing months I graduated to a Precision Aerobatics Addiction along with the Ultimate AMR biplane, and most recently the company’s Extra MX. In the span of a few months I had become comfortable flying “hotter” airplanes, again largely because my brain was able to retain (and access) what I learned during previous flights. Short-term memory is a big problem for people with Alzheimer’s, so it was encouraging to realize that I was able to access so much I had learned from previous days at the flying field. One of my self-imposed goals was to get back to doing my trademark snap-roll on takeoff, something I am happy to be able to do reliably now. I also am growing more and more comfortable flying around inverted; something else I used to do incessantly. Here again, recalling the lessons learned in recent days was making a substantial difference in my progression in relearning to fly RC. I recently bought an Align T-Rex 450 Pro helicopter to take another shot at learning to fly these machines. To be sure, flying the helicopter is more difficult than flying airplanes, and I am doing little more than hovering and moving the helicopter through simple patterns, but I am doing it and getting better with practice. That again shows me that I am remembering skills and techniques from previous days and that feels like progress to me. One of the things that had first alerted me that I was having a problem was that when I was in my shop, I would frequently forget what I was doing when I went to get a tool. When I am working on my aircraft in the shop or at the flying field that kind of mental lapse happens far less frequently. I am able to remember what I am going to do, what I just did, and where I left everything. From inside of my head, that is very different from everyday life before RC flying. Something I did not expect was that maintaining my airplanes and helicopter between flying sessions would be enjoyable and it appears to be stimulating my brain as well. Sometimes it takes a bit of thinking, but I am recalling what I was doing and even where I put things. Considering that I had been finding my cordless phone in the refrigerator occasionally that level of recollection makes me almost giddy. The people surrounding me in RC flying are also a benefit. Being accepted into a club is always a good thing, but being able to participate and contribute to the club is even better and gives me more ways to stimulate my brain. I have recently done some flight instruction again and have trimmed a few airplanes for people, both of which I truly enjoy. I love the feeling of coaching someone to where he or she can fly his or her airplane themselves and take it home in one piece. I even “saved” a glider for a fellow who had become disoriented and handed me the transmitter. I clearly remembered that I had never flown a glider before, but focused on the task and got it down safely. While bringing that glider down I remembered what Matt, the person who taught me to fly so many years ago, always told me: “Just give it what it needs.” That bit of wisdom helped to get that glider down in one piece, but may have even more significance. It seems to me that RC flying is giving me a little of what I need in my fight against Alzheimer’s. I have to be realistic about the benefits of RC flying in my fight against Alzheimer’s. Flying models is not going to cure me of the disease. What it can do is slow the progression to some extent. The fact that I enjoy RC flying so much means that I work at it more and will continue the effort in the future. Every once in a while I will catch myself not remembering something and that can be discouraging, but the ups in RC flying are far more numerous than the downs and that keeps me going. -Jennifer Orebaugh Read additional inspiring stories from Larry Haley, John Boyko, and Ray Nemovi in the July 2014 issue of Model Aviation.

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I am about to begin teaching my neighbor to fly so that he and his 13yr old paraplegic son can fly together one day. His son Max was born with a debilitating disease that has left him in without the use of most of his body. He does have limited mobility in one of his arms/hands and can move his upper torso including his neck and head. I just met Max a few weeks ago after his family moved onto my street and my sons said they knew him from school. He came over for a few hours during a neighborhood garage sale in his electric wheelchair that he controls with his head movements. This little guy has the full mental abilities (and sense of humor) of any 13yr old boy, only his body is his limitation. I was very moved by this little guy and for the last few weeks I have been trying to figure out how to get him flying. He mentioned that he once 'helped' fly an RC helicopter so I knew he had the ability to control one feature of an RC plane! With the help of the internet and FliteTest.com (thanks Josh), I devised a way to use two Rx's and two Tx's in one plane so that Max could control the ailerons while his dad could control throttle, rudder and elevator. I had a chance to discus my idea with Max's dad about three days ago. I explained that I would teach him to fly, then we would teach Max to fly with him. Even though he had never flown RC before, Max's dad was very exited about the idea. As you could imagine how frustrating life is for Max, it also is for his dad! He can't take Max out and even play catch with him! SO, this is possibly a way for them to spend time together in the joy of flight!! I'm very excited myself for this opportunity to bring some joy to this little guy and his dad. I've only been flying for about 7 months, but with the help of the internet and some friends at my local club (ocrcc.com), I'm hoping to get Max and his dad airborne within a week or two. My hope is that once I teach them to fly, we move on to FPV for Max which as you could imagine would open up this little guys ability to explore his world like never before. His dad mentioned that there has only been a few "game changers" for Max in his life so far. One of those "game changers" was his electric wheelchair which gives him a lot of freedom to move about at will at home and at school where he has a full time assistant to help him. His dad says this could be another "game changer" for Max. I'm so excited for him I'm beside myself!!! Wish us luck! If you have any words of wisdom on this quest please let me know your thoughts.

How awesome that you want to help Max to be a pilot! That's what this hobby is all about. Chris, if you would please email me your email address to [email protected], I'd like to put you in touch with Larry Haley, who will be one of the pilots I interviewed for the print edition of the magazine. Larry is a quadriplegic, with limited mobility with his hands and flies both helicopters and airplanes. I'm sure he would have some words of wisdom to share with you and Max. Best wishes!

This is the Best Therapy this young man could ever receive! The only words of Wisdom I could give you is that you are doing the Right Thing! Teaching this young man to fly is going to change his life .. I know this because when I was 8 years old this hobby changed mine! Keep us informed on his progress ... Full Steam Ahead!! Dr.Tim

Thanks Tim! I will keep you informed. Chris

Mr.Dawson, I'm 77 years old and would like to build the ARUP S2 featured in December issue of Model Aviation. When I was a kid I built a wing (control Line) could not afford a R/C model until I retired, I have built some models from scratch,(Giant Areomaster is my best) but I'm just starting to learn how to fly, I belong to a club(Columbia Ill. R/C )Any plans or spec sheet available? I'm also sort of handicapped, crushed my left elbow(helping someone move)in 1965,Doctor put it all back together(inches short) after many operations and lots of therapy, but it works .Enjoyed your article, I'm looking for a build for the winter

I can attest to everything these guys say about aeromodeling as a "healing hobby." A staph infection that somehow entered my spine about 2 years ago left me with quadriplegia and quadriparesis. I still can't walk, but my arms and hands are working again and I've starting getting back to RC soaring. My RC buddies have been incredibly supportive and helpful, and I expect to get back to building and more flying as my condition improves. Nobody cares whether you're in a wheelchair, you're another RC pilot enjoying the sky!

Dale, thanks so much for commenting, and I wish you the very best. The people and how caring and supportive they can be are what make this hobby so special.

I am currently flying and have a both hand injuries, and would love to get some help in those places where adaptations will help me enjoy vs. frustrate this hobby Sincerely, Danny

Danny, I'm hoping that others who deal with the same types of limitations that you do will chime in. Are you looking for equipment adaptations and modifications to make it easier to fly? You might contact Tony Stillman, who is not only AMA's Flying Site Assistance Director, but is also the owner of Radio South (www.radiosouthrc.com/). He has done many custom builds of modified radio systems, including single-stick radio systems.

Wow that was odd. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn't appear. Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say excellent blog!

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