With a sun visor on his head and a bulky remote controller in his hands, Beck coaxed his airplane as it zipped across the afternoon sky. Starting back in his home in Taiwan, the veteran pilot has been flying RC airplanes for 17 years. In Dongguan, he and his flight crew are synching into formation for China’s most elite RC flying force.
The 40-year-old, 20-year resident of Dongguan is one of 40 members in the DGRC PRO Club, which he says is China’s most active association for remote controlled airplanes. Beck, who has taken part in both national and international competitions, is also the club’s director-general and a shareholder. His fellow members taxi in, or more accurately, drive in from all over the region to fly planes, filling the club’s ranks from Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan, and before from as far away as Switzerland. Each member has a day job; most of them entrepreneurial, as well as an engineer, who is often tasked with the job of mechanic for repairs and assembly.
When Saturday and Sunday come around, the club’s two airports, one in Dongguan’s Daojiao Town and another in Shatian Town, become a haven for the RC aerophiles. So do afternoons on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesdays. And Thursdays and Fridays. Average air traffic consists of two or three planes with members arriving at different approach times. No, they don’t fly at night. It’s too dark.
Beck is proud of the facilities they built,especially in Daojiao. “This is the No.1 airport all over China—quite famous,” he said.
Beck and his clubmates have been practicing at the Daojiao RC Airport since 2010. Before that, they didn’t have an airport and had to do their flying from construction sites, which, unfortunately for the pilots, garnered complaints from nearby residents.
The investment of time, leasing of land and building of the infrastructure has opened the skies to more, Beck says, than just letting them enjoy a favorite pastime. Practicing at their own pace, competitions gather the club members together, landing on the National Day, New Year and Labor Day Holidays. On National Day this year, over 40 contestants from Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong entered the “dog fight” at the International 3A Invitational Tournament in Guangdong.
Beck and his crew hosted that competition, but now they are looking ahead to the next event. He says that it, too, will bring competitors from around Asia. That’s when the Daojiao 3D Competition will meet to find Asia’s best 3D pilots.
The sport is classified in a few ways. Gas engines verses electric motors, and other specs, make the difference. The DGRC PRO’s keep the smaller planes and helicopters flying at the Shatian RC Airport. “These machines and helicopters fly differently. We are afraid they will run into each other. So we arrange them at different locations,” Beck said.
Beck is proud of the facilities they built, especially in Daojiao. “This is the No.1 airport all over China—quite famous,” he said. There are no facilities in Guangzhou and Shenzhen because of the airspace and noise problem, and Beck pointed out the corresponding YUE A and B license plates from Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
In building the airport, Beck and his team needed to consider if the runway should be of concrete or sandstone creation. If they chose concrete, both would have cost a few hundred-thousand. Rainwater is another problem to consider. So below the airport they laid drainage pipe.
The large financial burden falls on the shareholders. There are four shareholders in the club; Beck is one of them. They also rent the lot and are in charge of its management. According to Beck, the membership fee from their 40 members just makes ends meet.
While they have plenty of dreams for their mini-airport, the DGRC PRO Club hasn’t stopped to draw up official blueprints. Beck and his team will soon build an office at the Daojiao airport, and an aircraft park in Songshan Lake is also in planning stages.
Beck used to serve in the army. He was in the Special Forces. “I was a paratrooper. So I long for the sky. I want to play [with the] airplanes,” says Beck. To become a member of the club, one needs to have basic flying skills.
“If you are a greenhorn and you want to join, we can teach you for free,” says Beck. But of course members need to buy their own equipment. Those who join the club, paying its annual membership fee of RMB 2,480, can get parts and equipment directly from suppliers for half of the retail price at online stores like Taobao.com.
Good to Know: 3A vs. 3D
There are two types of planes, one is 3A, the other is 3D.
How to tell the difference? Normally, 3A planes fly straight making basic U-turns. The 3D ones can do lots of freestyle. The head of a 3A is triangular and sharp. The shape of 3D is not fixed.
It’s louder, too. When it comes to energy supply, 3A uses electricity and 3D uses gasoline.
There are separate competitions as well.
3A RC AIRPLANE: ~RMB 40,000
3D RC AIRPLANE: ~20,000