Lee Bennett, Palmersville's Grounded Pilot

 At one time, Lee Bennett loved to circle the Union City Airport in a Cessna 152.  However, checking out a plane for just one hour of flight time to be with the free-soaring birds and Icarus-minded souls like himself cost big bucks.  The expense and his wife Susie's fears for his safety made Lee reconsider his passion for flying.  He decided to substitute flying for the more "grounded" hobby of model aviation.  Now, he can force his plane into loops and dives that would have formerly put his life in danger.  In addition, he can fly in almost all types of weather.  He is only half-joking when he says he constructs and repairs his models in the winter and crashes them in the summer.  Crashing is evidently a risk no matter what kind of plane one flies.  In fact, a few years ago Lee won the award for "Best Crash" at a Jackson, Tennessee fun-fly event.

 When Lee isn't flying his model planes or pursuing other hobbies--

model trains, ham radio, and photography--he works full-time as an electronic technician at the University of Tennessee at Martin's School of Engineering.  Though his job description sounds like the perfect background for the world of model aviation, Lee assured me that almost anyone can succeed at this hobby as there are kits available for every skill level.


 Eventually, Susie also put together her own model plane.  She says she got tired of feeling left out and decided that if she couldn't beat her husband she'd just join him.  So one day, unknown to Lee, she picked up a catalog and ordered her own trainer plane-a PT-20.  When her plane arrived, she joined her husband in his shop and told him, in so many words, "Move over and hand me the glue!"  He helped her put the plane together; later, she learned how to fly it herself.  The husband and wife duo have also participated in "fly-in" events, in which numerous aviation enthusiasts would get together at a flying field, set up tents, fly their models, and grill out.  The parents made sure their children joined in the fun by making them balsa planes with rubber band motors.  One of the children was Lee and Susie's daughter, Tina, (now in high school).


 Lee calls himself a sport or "Sunday" flyer, as opposed to a pattern flyer who abides by a set of rules for flying planes in prescribed formations at flight competitions.  Sport flyers are a bit more relaxed, flying however they wish. The planes are piloted by radio control on a 72 MHz receiver.  The pilot mans the controls located on the small hand-held box--the transmitter, which on some models contains a microprocessor.  At one time, however, the transmitters were huge because they used large radio tubes.  Instead of a hand-held device, a pilot hauled one around in the trunk of his car. 


 By manipulating the controls on the transmitter, a pilot regulates the plane's every move.  The pilot can steer, stall, dive, or land the plane--anything a pilot would do if literally on-board.  Since Lee himself is unable to board his planes these days, he does occasionally get a "bird's eye view" by attaching a camera onto one of his planes and taking a photo via his transmitter.  This feat sounds a bit above the "average" skills level of most of us.  He has photographed various farms and businesses of the area in this way. 


Often it's difficult to acquire a large field that's level enough for the take-offs and landings of his planes: a yellow Piper Cub and a red Butterfly.  Therefore, Lee has recently bought a Kyosho Nexus 30 Helicopter, which is capable of vertical takeoff and landings, which requires a much smaller field.  However, the helicopter is a high maintenance item, especially since Lee is still learning how to fly it; therefore, he crashes it often, which has him heading for the parts' catalog more often than his wallet would like.


The fun more than makes up for the expense, however.  Lee enjoys sharing his hobby with others.  One local gentleman used to come to his practice field often and was impressed with his flying skills.  One day, when Lee was manning his controls and the model plane was on the ground hidden from view, a Fort Campbell transport plane flew in over the treetops. The gentleman came by and saw Lee at the controls with the Fort Campbell plane cruising in low and loud.  He exclaimed, "Lee, your models are really getting big!"  It's not a wonder the gentleman was confused.  Lee's planes are made on what is known as the "stand off scale" so that they look real from a distance.


 For others who may wish to pursue this interesting hobby, Lee suggests the following internet address: www.towerhobbies.com or write to them at Tower Hobbies, PO Box 9078, Champaign, Illinois 61826-9078. 


While you're waiting for your Tower Hobbies catalog, consider looking up modeling enthusiasts. There is even a club in the Union City area.   Or, if you happen to be near Palmersville, keep your eyes peeled to the skies for Lee's planes.  Be careful though.  At least one of his planes has landed in the back end of a pickup truck!



"Palmersville's Grounded Pilot" was written by Nelda Rachels and featured in the June 2000 Hometown magazine.