For the Gay and Van Houten families, building and flying model planes isn’t just a way to pass time.
It’s a way to bring the family together, and a hobby that’s carried on through three generations.
On a clear day at the Skyhaven Airport, it’s not uncommon to look up and see model planes zipping through the air.
On the ground, cousins Curtiss Gay, Corben Gay and Christian Van Houten man the controls, putting their homemade, customized creations to the test.
All three boys grew up spending time at the airport, even going on their first airplane rides at two days old, so naturally, flying is in their blood.
Curtiss, 17, and Corben, 14, are the sons of Skyhaven Airport owner Charlie Gay, and 15-year-old Van Houten is his nephew.
Charlie’s grandfather began flying model planes with his friends in the 1950s. Charlie got into the hobby himself, and later his sons and nephew followed suit.
“We’ve always been around airplanes. It’s sort of second nature to us,” Curtiss said of their hobby.
The boys started out when they were children with Air Hogs toys, eventually graduating to more advanced models with age. Occasionally, they buy model planes outright, but they construct their own most often, not only because of lower costs, but because building is half the fun.
“It’s a lot of fun, learning all the different ways of doing things,” Curtiss said.
Traditionally, model creators construct planes out of balsa wood, he said. While they enjoy this method, lately the three have been using simple foam boards from dollar stores.
The foam boards can be cut and manipulated into certain shapes like origami and hot glued together, they explained.
They also use premade kits that are laser cut and fit together like a puzzle.
It’s a cheap and easily replaceable method, they said. You’re only a few dollars invested in the air frame if you crash it, which works out since the boys see a lot of plane carnage in addition to going through a lot of tape and glue sticks.
“There’s a lot of potential in what you can do with this stuff. That’s actually one of the easier ways to get into the hobby nowadays,” Curtiss said.
This easy-to-build method is also fortuitous for rapid prototyping, they noted, which allows one to experiment with some “weird” ideas.
For example, Van Houten once built a model with three motors. The two front motors would tilt vertically and the model would take off like a helicopter, but after reaching a certain height, he would tilt the motors forward and fly it like a normal airplane.
Curtiss also once constructed a model with skis on the bottom for landing in the snow, and they have experimented with flying airplanes on water at Harvey’s Lake.
Building their own planes also allows room for customization with the way the plans look. Sometimes they leave the planes as is, but they also do a lot of custom design work for them, such as adding decals and numbers.
“That’s where it gets the most interesting,” Corben said.
The planes have remote controls with sticks for the main functions, plus sometimes extra features like bomb drops and retractable gear.
Besides flying for fun, they sometimes enter their model planes into competitions. Competitions require them to perform certain maneuvers with the planes, pop balloons in the air and more, so they often tailor their planes to competition requirements.
Having a shared hobby brings the cousins together often. If they’re not building or flying planes together, it’s common for them to exchange ideas over the phone, and they have a network of parts and supplies among the three of them.
However, they don’t always let the others in on what they’re constructing, so there’s an element of surprise and friendly competition in the mix.
The hobby is also preparing the group to fly full scale planes one day, thus carrying on another family tradition.
“You learn a lot from the little ones if you want to go fly the big ones,” Van Houten said.
So far, Curtiss has flown solo, but Van Houten and Corben are eagerly awaiting their sixteenth birthdays so they can have their turn as well.
The boys encouraged anyone thinking of getting into the model planes to check out kits from the company Flite Test, as well as Walter’s Hardware in Wilkes-Barre, which sells equipment related to model planes.
“It’s a nice thing to do, you get outside a lot, enjoy some fresh air. It’s not like most hobbies where you’re stuck inside,” Curtiss said.