Holly Sands catches up with Darryl Tarr of Dubai's remote-control plane club to learn more
Dubai’s population is as diverse as they come, so it’s only natural that among the two million-plus residents, there are some with more unusual hobbies. One such group, which has been quietly meeting for more than 20 years at haunts around the city, is The Dubai RC Club, a small group of 100 or so residents who get together every weekend to fly their radio-controlled (or RC, as the in-gang know it) model planes, jets and helicopters.
As it’s an unofficial club, with no website or Facebook page to speak of, the organisation is very much a democracy: more seasoned members offer guidance on everything from safety to set-up techniques, and advice on where to get your hands on spare parts and repair kits around town.
‘It’s something that anyone can get into,’ explains Darryl Tarr, a long-time member of the club. ‘If we got you out to the field and I gave you a briefing on how things work, how the controls work, what to do and an orientation, after three or four flights you’ll be flying pretty much solo. You wouldn’t be doing take-offs or landings, but you’d be surprised how quickly you can pick it up. You have to put yourself inside the model: don’t think to yourself that you’re standing on the ground. You have to pretend you’re in the plane, then you’ll never have a disorientation problem.’
Though relatively easy to pick up, the hobby requires cash investment, therefore tends to be most popular with long-term aeroplane aficionados. Tarr, who has been flying RC for 40 years, is an airline pilot by trade. ‘If I’m not flying a big aeroplane, I’m flying a little one!’ he jokes. ‘As a kid, all I wanted to do when I grew up was fly aeroplanes. Lots of kids start out like that, with a plastic model that they build on the dining room table, then they’ll move on to balsa-wood kit planes, then eventually RC. Typically, 99.9 percent of the time, people who fly RC are aviation enthusiasts. I started when I was seven years old, and by the time I was 17 I was flying full-size planes.’
Anyone looking to get into RC would have to spend at least Dhs1,000 for an entry-level, fixed-wing aeroplane (in other words, not a helicopter). ‘You wouldn’t be able to get anything cheaper than that. Probably up to Dhs3,500 would be the good entry level,’ he adds. It’s certainly a commitment, but he compares it to other hobbies with a similar investment level. ‘Most people who commit to the hobby do it because it’s their passion – it’s like people who get into fishing, or classic cars.’
Whatever your age, background or previous experience with model aircraft, anyone keen to learn more about the sport is welcomed to the group’s weekly get-togethers, which take place near The Sevens Stadium (for jets) and also in Nad Al Sheba (for all other general RC craft). Weather permitting, they come together to fly RC and share tips and experiences, and providing you adhere to the safety rules and are genuinely interested in taking up the hobby, they will be more than happy to demonstrate for you.
‘When someone starts flying RC, you can almost set your clock by it – they get more interested, the bug gets them and they want something a bit bigger, a bit faster, maybe with retractable landing gear, then they want something that’s scale-looking, because they’re more difficult to fly,’ he explains. ‘From there, they work their way up to jets, which is the pinnacle of RC, but now you’re talking between Dhs25,000 and Dhs100,000.’ If Tarr’s right about how quickly you can pick it up, you’d better get saving. Free. Call to find out meeting times and locations. General RC club runway, near Meydan, Nad Al Sheba, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
More ways to get your aerodynamic fix
iPilot Learn to take off, cruise and land a jet with this highly realistic simulator experience opposite Sega Republic. Dhs299 for 15 minutes. The Dubai Mall, www.flyipilot.ae (056 738 7444).
Jazirah Aviation Club Take to the skies in a gyrocopter over the sea in Ras Al Khaimah. Depending on how comfortable you are, you can either relax with a gentle ride, or have the pilot show you what it can do. From Dhs220. Al Jazirah Aviation Club, Ras Al Khaimah, www.jac-uae.com (07 244 6416).
Micro Aviation Club This UAE organisation offers paragliding courses – and you’ll get a licence at the end. Dhs3,500, includes one year membership fee. Various locations, www.microaviation.org (055 212 0155).