PHOTO/JANICE HOKE: An instructor helps a student build a radio-controlled plane at the Reno Experimental Aviation Association's aviation summer camp at Stead Airport.

Kids who are too young to hold a pilot’s license built radio-controlled airplanes and took to the clouds during an innovative aviation summer camp.

“It was great for Autumn to find her passion,” said Danee Mendez of Sparks, Autumn’s mom, who learned of the camp on Facebook.  “She got down and dirty with her hands and experimenting and enjoying life.”  Mendez noted that the free tuition to the summer camp was a bonus. “It’s nice to know it’s free and that clubs like this are helping kids, especially with the economy.”

The Build and Fly program engaged students in team-building a balsa wood model airplane, coupled with flying practice on simulators so that the students were able to fly their completed model at the RRCC flying field in Hungry Valley on Father’s Day, June 19. The week-long camp at the Reno-Stead Airport was put together by two Reno groups collaborating for the first time.

Chapter 1361 of the Experimental Aircraft Association based at Reno-Stead Airport and the Reno Radio Control Club, a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, joined forces for the event.  Ten students, 8 to 14, attended the inaugural sessions. 

The EAA Chapter in Reno bought the model airplane kits, which came with radio systems and a digital copy of a flight simulator.

The kit is sponsored by the EAA at one-third the standard retail price thanks to  donor support and manufacturers’ discounts. The group also provided the building venue in the Reno-Stead Airport Terminal’s “cement room” and recruited students who participated in an earlier EAA Young Eagles free flight program. 

Earning their wings

Camp organizer Peter Hanson, a member of both Reno clubs, said the groups’ goal is “to get youth involved in aviation.” The Build and Fly program was created to give students a “next step” after their flights and maintain their interest in aviation. 

For more information:

Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1361 in Reno.

Experimental Aircraft Association (national)

Reno Radio Control Club

Academy of Model Aeronautics

“I feel it’s my duty to pass the passion along to the next generation,” said RCCC member Dave Jenne who was on hand to help with the building process.  “Kids learn how planes fly and get hands-on experience.  We are planting the bug (to learn to fly) and later they can come back to it.”

The Reno Radio Control Club was instrumental in the program success by providing seven experienced model builders and flyers, as well as the venue for the final Fly Day for students and families. “It was really good that the radio control club was able to bring in as many volunteers as they did,” said EAA Chapter president Tracy Rhodes.

 Dan Mitchell, RCCC president, purchased an additional balsa model kit and reduced the building time to 17 hours by streamlining and prefabricating parts.  The national collaboration that began in 2019 brought together two organizations that promote aviation to the general public and especially  to young people.

“Fundamental building skills, aircraft design, theory of flight, and flight training are all involved in a fun project that supplies a true sense of accomplishment when completed,” said Rick Larsen, EAA’s vice president of publications, programs, and marketing. “It is also another ‘next step’ possibility for Young Eagles who are flown by EAA chapters throughout the country.”

The path from RC modeling to full-scale aviation is “a long-established and successful one,” said Chad Budreau, AMA executive director. “AMA clubs nationwide have the facilities and enthusiasm to welcome and engage a new generation of fliers.”

Learning life skills

Lessons in patience and precision were part of the building process, said Jan Bishop, an EAA volunteer.  While the beginning steps might have been a little tedious, “as they see the parts go together, it becomes more meaningful.”

Autumn, 13, enjoyed building the fuselage and wings.  “I learned where each piece goes and how it works.” She discovered that she likes working on airplanes more than the actual flying.

Hanson also booked talks during the week’s activities by young aviator Tenly Ong from Sacramento and Steve Carlson, a University of Nevada, Reno graduate student in computer science. 

Ong, who flew into Stead airport with her instructor from Sacramento, stressed the value of finding an aviation community.  The 10 students in the Build and Fly camp became friends as they tackled the tasks of positioning and gluing the model pieces together and carefully ironing on the plastic covering.  They also bonded together with each other and the adult instructors while practicing on the flight simulators.

Finding their ‘tribe’

Bishop observed the growing teamwork and mentoring, not only from adults, but also the older students mentoring the younger ones.  Hanson said, “kids can find their tribe.”

Parent Victoria Neer of Silver Knolls said the camp was not just about building the model airplane, but also “working together and cheering each other on.  I am so grateful to EAA and RRCC.  I see another hobby in our future.”

Carlson said that as a teenager, he dreamt of making radio-controlled airplanes as a career.  “Science Fair was my sport.”  He flew the VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft he designed in a hover in the camp session and showed the students footage from the craft’s camera. 

“I want to show them what a modern radio-control enthusiast looks like.  My life mission is to make aviation accessible and as cheap as possible.  My message? Aviation is awesome and you can do this.”

Flight simulators, then radio controls

RCCC members provided computer setups that added two more flight simulators for students to learn to fly.  They also helped at the final Fly Day by using “buddy-boxes,” or dual-control radio controllers, so that flights could be flown safely and efficiently.

PHOTO: Steve Carlson with his VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) radio-controlled model aircraft.

The “buddy-box” technology is a breakthrough, said Joe Magdaleno, an EAA chapter volunteer.  “It’s nothing like what was available when I was a kid.  This is the first time the kids are able to fly their planes with assistance.

“The kids were confident on the (controls),” Hanson said.  “The simulator training really helped.”

Field trips added variety

The group had a tour of the Stead control tower and visited the Stead hangar of EAA president Rhodes. They also toured the hangar where the Washoe County Sheriff’s R.A.V.E.N. helicopters are housed.  Other activities included making and flying small cardboard airplanes.

Trevor, 14, liked the hangar tours.  “I got to sit in the back of the Search and Rescue Huey helicopter.”   He said his dream is to buy an airplane and travel across the country.

Hanson adapted the national program using his experience as a middle-school teacher.  “It’s unique to run Build and Fly as a weeklong summer camp.  No other EAA chapter has done it this way.”

Trevor’s father, Mike Deering, said he was grateful for the volunteers’ willingness to share their expertise with the students.  Jeanette Deering added that she encourages Trevor’s interest and is happy to find “an actual avenue to get to do it.”

EAA volunteer Magdaleno said the event helped parents see how flying can be a outdoors family activity  instead of staying inside playing video games.

The fly day on Father’s Day was a big success, Hanson said.  “It was a tremendous turnout, grandparents, whole families together.”

Join the Conversation


  1. Is there a mailing list to learn about future camps? If so please sign me up for my grandsons?

  2. Janice, thank you for taking the time to come out and spend quality time at both the building and flying sessions. You’re article is much appreciated and will help inspire more kids to get involved in aviation.

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