Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pickerington, Ohio: Aviation club hopes to build model aircraft 'airstrip'

A model aviation club hopes to find a landing spot in Pickerington if the city and the club can work out a facility use agreement in the future.

City Development Services Director Joe Henderson made a presentation to the City Parks and Recreation Board Jan. 14 in behalf of the Pickerington Model Aviation Club, which is an organization of aeronautical enthusiasts who regularly fly their high-end model airplanes in demonstrations and competitions throughout central Ohio.

Henderson said the group contacted city officials about the possibility of procuring suitable land in which to build and operate an airstrip.

"At this point we were just having conversations with a gentleman who is active in this club and is looking for potential locations to be able to fly radio-controlled model aircraft in the greater Columbus area," Henderson said.

"He believes Pickerington could be a great fit," said Henderson, who added such an activity has the potential to provide a boost to the local economy.

"This potential club would bring a unique opportunity to our residents and surrounding neighbors," Henderson said.

"(It) seems those who participate in this hobby invest a lot of time and money into it and could bring a strong economic impact to the area."

Henderson told the Parks and Recreation Board the group is looking to purchase or lease five or more acres of land in preferably a less populated area of the city because the planes are relatively noisy.

City Councilman Chris Schweitzer said the model aircraft require a unique skill set to operate.

"Some of these things can go about 100 mph," Schweitzer said. "They're phenomenal."

Schweitzer said the chief organizer of the proposed venture is Jeff Fluegeman, who owns NutritionX, a chain of retail nutritional supplement stores in Columbus.

Schweitzer said Fluegeman submitted a proposal outlining the club's needs and the ways that it "can work with local government and commercial entities to develop space for modelers."

Fluegeman, a certified flight instructor, said he is simply passionate about aviation.

He said model aviation enthusiasts would bring both their passion and dollars to Pickerington if a suitable site can be located.

"It's a passionate group of pretty successful people," Fluegeman said.

"It's a little sub-community. When you do an event it generates a lot of money.

"There is an event held in Plain City that makes (that city) a lot of money."

He said an event typically draws several hundred people that stay in area hotels and frequent area restaurants.

Fluegeman said the private club would be open to a 10- or 20-year lease or purchase of "useless" land, which means land that holds no other commercial value.

"We don't want it near people, it has to be commercial type space," Fluegeman said.

He said the club wants to build on central Ohio's rich and enduring history in aviation and he envisions the club having an educational impact on the community as well.

"Pickerington Model Aviation Club members can work with schools and other community organizations to promote aviation and spark interest in science and technology education."

Fluegeman said, with the right pieces in place, the club will take flight in Pickerington.

"It's all about planning," he said.

"It needs to be set up to succeed. If it's not made to succeed, I don't want to do it, (but) if you build it, trust me, I can get it to work."