Passion for flying passed on to next generation

Linda Hicks Contributing Writer Published September 8, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Linda Hicks / Contributing Photographer

Bill Beavers of Greenbrier and his wing man, grandson Gavin, are making memories flying their remote-controlled airplanes.

— Sharing stories of opening the packaging on his first remote-controlled airplane, the SuperStar, brings a smile to 54-year-old Bill Beavers’ face.

“I would wear myself out running back and forth to the house,” Beavers said, referring to the childhood experience of flying that RC airplane. “It was about the distance of two football fields from my house to where I would go to the pasture to fly. I had to cross a garden, and there was a place where there would be hay up to my chest. I would have about three minutes of flying time, maybe time for three figure eights, and back to the house I would run. Then there would be a five-minute wait for the battery to recharge. I had a great time.”

The RC plane, made by Mattel Toys, was either a birthday present or Christmas present, Beavers said. He’s not sure, since both are in December and spaced within a couple of weeks of each other. He’s also not sure of the exact amount paid for the plane but believes it was about $12 — a lot of money for his family back then. He said he probably saw an advertisement for it in the Sears & Roebuck Catalog or on television and just had to have it. He begged and begged, he said, until someone “came across with it.” Owning an RC plane back then, he said, was almost unheard of unless you had lots of money.

“We were dirt poor,” he said. “It was a lot of money for a poor farm kid, but somehow, someone made it happen for me — either my parents, or one of my brothers or sisters.”

Being the “baby boy” has some advantages when you have two brothers and five sisters, he said, joking.

Today, the Greenbrier resident said, he feels the same kind of excitement he felt 40-plus years ago as he shares the passion of flying RC planes with his 8-year-old grandson, Gavin, who lives just down the road from Beavers.

Most any Saturday morning, you can find the two hanging out together at Centennial Park in Conway. That’s where the two were on Labor Day, flying and socializing with about 20 or so other RC-plane enthusiasts.

“He’s been going with me for a couple of years,” Beavers said, referring to his grandson as his wing man. He will spend all day out here and not get bored.”

If bad weather prevents Saturday flying, the grandfather and grandson said they might just talk about planes while working on them in the garage, or practice on a simulator. While he loves to fly, Gavin said, his real passion is hanging with his “Papa.” Gavin, nicknamed “Goose,” talks about being devastated when he had to miss three flying days with Papa this summer, when Gavin had to go on a family vacation to Branson.

Bill Beavers said he “sees a lot of himself” in his grandson. Hearing that, Gavin flashes a grin similar to the one on his grandfather’s face and begins showing off his flying skills using his “quadcopter.”

“I’m the master of the quadcopter,” Gavin said, “but I do not land softly.”

At his grandson’s age, Beavers said, he was flying “balsa rubber-band airplanes” that cost 10 cents each at Ben Franklin’s five-and-dime variety store.

Beavers also said he has always been more intrigued by the mechanical side of “well — everything” than his grandson seems to be. Beavers’ thought pattern from when he was a young boy, he said, has always been, “I can build one of those,” no matter what it is or whether he could do it or not.

“I tore up a lot,” he said. “My dad would say, ‘You could tear up an iron shop handle.’”

As a teenager, he said, he always seemed to have a room full of torn-apart televisions.

“When I was a teenager, people would bring me things they thought were broken. I would fix them, and they would want them back.”

While he has loved RC planes for the majority of his life, Beavers said, he didn’t own one as an adult until in the late ’70s while he was attending College of the Ozarks in Branson, Mo. He made that purchase for about $100, but it wasn’t a very wise investment, he said.

He spent many hours, he said, placing big red lettering on the wing spelling out the name “Chere” for his girlfriend, who is now his wife. She was impressed with the lettering, he said, but not so much with his flying skills.

“I had no skills,” he said. “I couldn’t fly it, but I tried, and I had the same excitement that I had as that little kid.”

Curious about another aspect of flying, he turned his attention to building a hang glider from scratch. He did his research, he said, in the library but couldn’t secure the exact materials needed to perfect the glider. With the help of his friends, he was able to scrounge “the next best things” that were easier to obtain. Suited up for the maiden flight, he launched the glider about 3 feet off the ground, he said, and it flew for about 50 feet before nose-diving.

“I had a helmet on, so it didn’t hurt my head, but it bent the nose and my pride,” he said.

After graduating from college, Beavers set his hobby aside to concentrate his efforts on his family and a career as an educator.

He was hit with the RC fever again in the ’90s while he was working at Arch Ford Co-op. There he met fellow RC enthusiast John Cooper. They shared stories, and both purchased electric glider kits, built them and began flying together in the late ’90s. The electric ones, he said, are lighter and easier to fly. However, he said, he must have broken at least two dozen props learning to fly his first one. While they no longer work together, Beavers and Cooper remain comrades and still fly together weekly. Cooper was in the mix for Monday’s flight.

In 2008, Beavers said, he put his first pinhole camera on a GWS Slow Stick and flew it over his neighborhood in Greenbrier.

“I heard guys talking about doing stuff like that,” he said, “but up to that point, I hadn’t seen hardly any videos of people actually doing it.”

Beavers has been an educator now for more than 30 years. For nine of those years, he worked as a school counselor. He has been director of technology in the Vilonia School District for about 10 years.

His fleet of RC planes includes at least 12 working ones, ranging from the Memphis Belle, which is a much smaller replica of the Boeing B-17 F Flying Fortress during World War II, to a T-28 trainer.

These days, he said, he has found a way to balance his family, career and hobby. He has given up on gasoline-powered RC planes and is committed to electric flight. The planes’ batteries, he said, generally allow him 30 to 45 minutes of flight time per plane. Technology, he said, “is all over the place.”

Now that he has his co-pilot Gavin on board, Beavers doesn’t see setting aside his hobby anytime soon. He hopes to make many more memories — hopefully, he said, some that will be as lasting for his grandson as the memory etched in Beavers’ mind of his first flight.

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