Some people spend their summer weekends in a boat on the water. Russ Gohl spends his in a rocking chair at an airfield.
An aviation enthusiast, Gohl has been hooked on radio-controlled model aircraft almost since birth. His father had been active in the hobby in Detroit and in Iowa, where the family lived. He would carry little Russ, riding on his foot, out to the airfield with him
"I was flying by the age of 3. I had trophies on the wall by the age of 7," Gohl said.
Jill Schramm/MDN •
Russ Gohl operates a remote to control a plane in flight during the International Fun Fly of the Minot Aircraft Modelers Aug. 23.
He started competing in the children's contests with his basic trainer plane and continued while in Iowa in competitions that featured events such as bomb dropping and pattern flying.
He became a member of a modelers club in Davenport, Iowa. He began taking regular flying lessons at age 14, earning his pilot's license at age 16.
He later joined the Air Force and was stationed at the Minot base as a mechanic from 1978 to 1981. He eventually separated from the Air Force but not from Minot. He founded Earthmovers in Minot in 1988. He sold the company two years ago but continues as manager.
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He is a member of Minot Aircraft Modelers.
Having flown model planes for close to 54 years, Gohl has had to adapt to changing technology. He remembers flying with a transmitter containing a vacuum tube that had only right and left switches to control the rudder. The aircraft used simple mechanics called an escapement system, which operated on a rubber band.
"The secret was to learn how long you could fly before your rubber band ran out because when the rubber band ran out, you were all done," he said.
Today the transmitters use a 2.4 gigahertz radio signal. Gohl said the systems use state-of-the-art computers with touch-screen, LCD displays.
Gohl owns about 20 different model aircraft. He was the first in the Minot area to purchase a model jet. He acquired a jet three years ago after seeing one that belonged to a Canadian modeler at the Minot Aircraft Modelers' annual fun fly.
"It was the first time I had ever seen one. He flew here and that was it. I had to have one," Gohl said.
Gohl, who has flown models from gliders to helicopters, said he has no favorites, though.
"All airplanes are fun to fly," he said. "I enjoy all of them."
If it flies, he has to try it, he said. That's how he came to fly a helicopter.
"Flying a helicopter is harder. What you do instinctively when you get in trouble with an airplane is exactly the wrong thing to do when you are flying a helicopter," he said.
But for Gohl, there's nothing like sitting in a rocking chair at the modelers' airfield northeast of Minot with a remote in his hands and a model aircraft soaring overhead.
"That's very relaxing," he said.
Gohl and his wife, Jeannie, pack their camper each weekend and instead of going to the lake, they head to the modelers' airfield northeast of Minot. Gohl said he has flown planes with skis in the winter, but he's decided he doesn't care for the cold weather.
Now, he jokes, he spends his free time in the winter building planes so he can crash them in the summer.
"You hate to say it, but it's something that's a vicious cycle," he said.
Gohl's first jet crashed and burned during a fun fly event in Minot because of radio signal disturbance. He is flying a different jet this summer.
Although serious crashes can happen, the planes generally are resilient and a skilled pilot can get them to last a long time. Gohl has a plane that's been in his collection for 23 years as well as a plane designed by his father more than 20 years ago.
He also has a half-scale Cub that's just big enough for a 2-year-old to sit in. As each of his grandchildren has turned 2, he has taken a picture with the child with the Cub. Once the last grandchild is photographed, he plans to donate the plane to the Minot's Dakota Territory Air Museum.
Meanwhile, he is building a pedal plane with remote radio-controls. He hopes to have it at next year's fun fly to give ground rides to the children.
Gohl has built a number of model planes, some from kits and others cut piece-by-piece from balsa wood.
His dream for retirement someday is to focus even more on his model aircraft.
"I would love to spend more time with them because I don't get the time I want now," he said. "I just love it."