A model flyer – from the ground

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 20, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Are you an expert on model airplane building and flying? You will be after spending some time with Tom Atkins.

Inside his Eagle Hobby Shop at 4832 Godwin Blvd. (255-4040), the five-decade veteran of flying the friendly skies by remote control (and other methods) can provide just about anything a flying enthusiast could desire.

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His shelves are littered with all sort of construction supplies and models, and his barn out back contains roughly 30 planes that are in the process of formation. But Atkins’ greatest offerings come from inside his head.

&uot;Back during World War II, the government used to send little balsa wood models of planes they were using in the war,&uot; recalls Atkins, who moved into his new shop (an extension of his home) last July after 30 years of selling parts out of his old Maple Hill residence. &uot;You could buy them for about 10 cents.&uot;

After messing with miniaturized versions of the very aircrafts being used to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Atkins moved up to those powered by rubber, made of tissue and balsa, often flying them around his family’s farm in Ivor. He became familiar with the planes’ larger counterparts during a nine-year stint in the U.S. Marine Core, and then went to work at Union Camp Paper Corporations in Franklin (which later became International Paper).

Over the next few years, control-line models flew about. These are the planes in which a flier holds a U-shaped handle, and uses a cable to power up the plane’s motor, sending it soaring skyward. In Atkins’ home, a huge case houses dozens of these and other types of models, as well as several trophies he won in model airplane competitions.

In 1973, Atkins opened his home-based business. &uot;We didn’t have anything in the area at the time,&uot; he explains. &uot;There had been a shop in downtown Suffolk, but it closed.&uot; Around this time, he joined the flying club the Suffolk Bellcranks, named for the mechanism that helps control-lined planes hit the blue yonder.

Over the next few years (which eventually spun into decades), Atkins says, &uot;Model airplanes really evolved into reliable radio-controlled equipment. There used to be control boxes that were so big, you couldn’t hold them. You had to lay them on the ground and fly the plane from there. Now they’ve got much better technology.&uot;

The Hampton Roads Radio Controlled model airplane club (of which Atkins is now a member) can help flying fanatics can experience the technology. Members of the 90-member group meet several days a week in Sleepy Hole Park, flying their favorite toys and teaching the less-experienced to fly. For more information, just contact the Hobby Shop.

It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.