A Brief History as Best Recollected
By Larry Nitz
As far as I have been able to find mention of the club, it began in 1932 as a club called Hanger 13, so named because there were 13 original members. The club became a member of the NAA (National Aeronautic Association) in 1935. The NAA later became the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) that we know of today. The club started in Beloit and it met twice a month at the Beloit YMCA. Dues were 10 cents, I could find no mention if that was monthly or yearly. This was during the Depression so money was tight. The members pooled their money and placed bulk orders for building supplies. No ARF’s in those days. Meetings were primarily building meetings.
In the 1934-35 members of the club built and flew what was thought to be the first gas powered model airplane to be flown in Wisconsin. It was sponsored by the Douglas Hardware Co. in Janesville. They paid $15.00 for an engine. One day, in the dead of winter they decided to fly the plane. It took off from the Beloit City golf course. It crossed the Rock River and was eventually found (this was Free Flight because there was no R/C equipment in those days) at the Beloit Country Club Golf Course. This was remarkable because there were only two golf courses in the city of Beloit. The plane was reconditioned and donated to the AMA museum in 1987.
There is little information that can be found about the club between 1935 and the beginning of WWII. It is believed that the club went dormant during the war as many members entered services at that time. It appears that the club was resurrected after the war sometime in 1946. The members went on to fly at many area, regional and national contests. Several club members went on to get degrees in engineering and one became an editor for Popular Science magazine.
Again, there is a lack of information about the club other than the club name was changed to the Tri City Flyers. It has always been assumed that Beloit and Janesville were two of the Tri Cities but the third city has been debated for many years without conclusion as to which was the 3rd city. The club also operated under the name Tri City Radio Controllers. There are no records when this name change occurred other than it remained that until the fall of 2002 when the name became the Model Airplane Club of Southern Wisconsin. That name was thought to be too vague regarding geography so the name was again changed to the Rock River Aero Modelers Society. This better represented the towns and cities where the members came from and besides was abled to be abbreviated to RRAMS (which seemed to represent the members better as a bunch of old goats).
Another reason for the name change was that for years the club claimed to be a corporation however, no documents have been found to support that claim. In addition, no IRS annual reports for the corporation could be found. So, rather than poke the IRS beast it was thought it would be in the interest of the club to change the name and form it as a non-profit corporation. This would also better protect the club, it’s members and whoever would be a current landowner (flying field) we were operating from. And, we could start out in good standing with the IRS.
Membership in the club began with 13 members and has fluctuated to as high as 125 members in the late 70’s to our current 40+ members.
About ten years ago (2007), the club was asked by Beloit Township to relocate our flying field that was located on Walthers Rd. They were going to develop the site as a housing development. We would have to find a new flying field. This proved to be a daunting task. We looked at sites in Janesville and all-around Rock county. We were close to signing a deal with the city of Beloit when club member John Champlin worked a deal with Turtle Township at Shopiere. The site was on an old landfill. Perfect for us. No near by neighbors, plenty of space with a large flyover area, clearly a better field than our old location. So, we moved and the club began to change from a do-nothing club to what can we do to make this a better site.
We began by buying a canopy for some shelter from the sun and some fencing donated by a deceased member (Ed Pinnow). A few years later we relocated on the site to a space that allowed for more development. We have added canopy shelters, locked storage space, solar powered recharging stations, and fabric runways. Future planes call for expanded runway size, set up pit sun shelters and relocation of fencing. We have also invested in riding lawn mowers, generators and pop up canopies.
The club has also began having invitational fly in events that includes all aspects of model aviation. 2018 will see the 4th version this event expanded to become a Flying Circus event in that there will be three rings of events going on simultaneously: fixed wing, helicopters and drone racing. There will also be swap meet going on through out the day of the event. Raffles for prizes will be held for all participating pilots.
The club has also become involved in community projects. It has taught a class in R/C modeling at a Charter School, taught classes in stick and tissue model building at a Senior Citizens Center, donated a flight simulator to the Milton Public Library and a drone to the Turtle Township Fire Department. In addition the club had made annual donations to the fire department to help in the maintenance and upkeep of the fire trucks.
The club was a recent recipient of a grant from the AMA to help with field upgrades. In addition, the club is working on becoming an AMA Leader Club. This designation recognizes extra efforts to become a leader in the promotion of the model airplane hobby and experience. We look forward to containing the history of the Rock River Aero Modelers as long as we can and do our past members proud.