Friday, July 27, 2012

Pit Stops: Edmonton Model Airplane Flying Field

Got caught out riding in a thunderstorm the other day. The online forecast had called for little chance of rain, so I foolishly ignored the dark clouds overhead and set out sans jacket. Fortunately for me, though, when the heavens opened I was close to one of my favorite pit stops in the farmland south of Edmonton. I took shelter at the Capital City Flyers’ model airplane flying field. It’s tucked kind of in the middle of nowhere: a small covered viewing area, complete with picnic table and bench and some metal platforms surrounded by carefully tended lawn—a perfect spot to escape the worst of the rain and take five. 
View of the Flying Field from the road. On a sunnier day.

I first noticed this place about 10 years ago, and I must have ridden past it a dozen times before I figured out what it was. What with the windsock and all, I first assumed it was some kind of rural weather station, maybe related to the University farm nearby. Or, given the row of platforms, I wondered if it was  an archery range for weekend Legolases. Then one day I saw some trucks parked in the lot and, upon closer inspection, could make out a handful of middle-aged men staring at the sky over the carefully mowed grassy area. And I heard the buzz. Only then did I put it all together: This is where the model airplane geeks congregate to fly their wondrous little machines! 

Sure enough, a couple of times over the years I’ve seen aficionados flying model planes at the field. But usually it’s deserted. It’s a peaceful spot to sit and gaze out at the canola and the curious little architecture of the flying field itself. Judging by the signs, there seem to be a lot of rules governing this “aeromodelling” (a word I learned from one of the signs) business. It’s all a bit of a mystery to me, but I am somehow heartened by the thought of so many nerds frolicking across this green, enjoying the rousing competition and fellowship of “areomodelling,” and basking in the quiet of nature. At least until they start up their whining planes.    

Part of the appeal of this pit stop for me is the fact that it’s technically verboten territory. A sign at the driveway warns that this is private property, no trespassing allowed, etc. There’s even a token gate with a funky stencil of a model plane. The gate bar is so high that I can almost ride my bike right under it. I’ve never given the “No Trespassing” sign much thought. I figure a lone cyclist respectfully using this facility seems a truly victimless crime if there ever was one. I’d like to think that the model airplane nerds would be okay with me sitting at their picnic table for a few minutes while I eat a CLIF bar,  admire that stiff windsock, and imagine what it must feel like to “pilot” (that’s the word they use on the signs there) a model airplane.

The door was like this when I got there. An invitation to the curious.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a worthy pit stop without one of these. True, this crude biffy is no John Janzen Nature Centre CompostingToilet, but there is a certain rustic, Do-It-Yourself charm to this shitter. In particular, I like the home-made urinal trough. A nice touch—though I don’t actually recommend touching anything in this structure if you can help it.

The day I stopped at the field to escape the downpour I saw no geeks and no model planes. All flights were cancelled due to the inclement conditions. But I did see a lovely canola field. And I heard the tapping of the rain on the tin roof. After ten minutes, I was ready to go. With a last nod to the old windsock, I limboed my bike under the gate and rolled on in the sprinkling rain.


  1. When I was in Tucson, we occasionally rode by a place like this a little westish of the city. I was always delighted to see those model planes flying around. Nostalgia! Sigh...

    1. Maybe you can find one of these places in your current riding neighbourhood. Geeks are everywhere.


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