Model planes float and fly in memory of John Nicolaci

Aug 17, 2019

ROCHESTER — The Bristol County Radio Control Club enjoyed a day of “delightful foolishness” for model plane enthusiasts in memory of their late member John Nicolaci at Mary’s Pond on Saturday, Aug. 17.

Nicolaci first acquired use of the pond for himself and other club members 15 years ago, but passed away in 2009. Since then, club members have gathered together for a recreational “float and fly” each year to pay homage to Nicolaci.

Nicolaci had many model planes over the years, but was perhaps best known for his use of the PBM Mariner. The plane was much bigger than most models, with a wingspan of 14 feet. Family members recalled the time he flew it all the way to Martha’s Vineyard.

Nicolaci’s daughter Ann Nicolaci-Labbe said that on their first attempt her father, and uncle Pat left from Fairhaven and made it as far as Woods Hole, before the plane’s battery died and it plummeted into the water.

Someone on a nearby boat thought that a real plane had crashed and called the Coast Guard to respond. 

On the second attempt Nicolaci acquired a faster boat to chase his plane to Martha’s Vineyard and was able to reach his destination before his plane’s battery life expired.

Club member Gerry Dupont said that Mary’s Pond is an ideal location for flying model planes, and described it as “absolute nirvana.” In addition to barrel rolls and dives, the water allows for daring “touch and go” maneuvers on the pond’s surface.

For Dupont and other members, model planes provide all the thrills of flight, but without the danger of being in a plane. “Whatever the real plane can do, we can do also, and maybe then some,” Dupont said.

The John Nicolaci Memorial Float Fly is a non-competitive event, and is free from the pressures of judges or races. 

Duponte flew a one-fifth scale Piper Cub model plane for the event. While it’s easy to fly a model plane in dramatic fashion, Dupont said he prefers to fly his planes as if he were in them, and stick to realistic flight patterns, and what he calls “scale speed” keeping his model plane at a cruising speed of about 30 to 40 mph, although it can hit 80 mph on a dive if he wanted it to.

The radio controlled planes are made of various materials like balsa wood, and fiberglass. They are powered by electric or oil-based motors.

Some enthusiasts, such as Lee Hart add cameras to their planes to catch a first person view from their miniature cockpits, as the model planes fly through the sky. Hart’s setup at the event included a pair of goggles that allow the user to see through a camera on the plane in real time. Users even have the ability to pan from side to side, simply by turning their heads to see a wider field of view, and give the illusion that they are flying in a real plane.

With planes flying over Mary’s Pond and scraping the water’s surface, the event was not without the occasional crash. Club member Gary Hoyt used his kayak as a retrieval boat to return crashed planes to their pilots.

Dupont was in charge of ensuring safety for the event. He made sure that pilots didn’t fly directly over the crowd, and respected the space of natural wildlife at the pond.

“We stay away from osprey,” Dupont said, “after all, it’s their sky and they're kind enough to share it with us.”

Club members also sold model plane kits, supplies, and food straight off the grill to raise funds to benefit the club going forward.