If you think indoor planes are limited to those made of paper and the battery-powered sort that are likely to earn a scolding from your mother, then you might consider a visit to the Kibbie Dome this weekend.Inside, you’ll find multiple transparent planes in flight, powered by a rubber band and weighing little more than a dollar bill. Beneath these ethereal, floating devices sit their creators, people from all over the country who have gathered for the Kibbie Dome Annual, an indoor free flight model plane competition.
Constructed of light balsa wood, plastic film and composite materials like carbon fibers, these model airplanes have a typical wingspan of 22 inches and are propelled by a wind-up rubber band motor. A thousand turns of the motor can send a well-built plane into the air for upwards of 25 minutes. Once launched, all their fliers have to do is pull up a chair, sit down and watch.
The goal is for planes to stay in the air for as long as possible. Flights are timed to determine winners. Competitors fly nine rounds in their flight class, with the best two flights determining placement.
Jake Palmer first attended the annual event with his parents when he was 12. Twenty-five years later, the Vancouver, Wash., resident now coordinates the event.
Palmer got his start by flying radio controlled airplanes. Through that interest, he learned about indoor free flight models and got connected with other fliers in the Portland area. The hobby has since taken him to competitions all over the world and led to his coordinating the Moscow event.
But what draws him and others from around the country to the Kibbie Dome?
“It’s one of the best flying sites in the country because it’s so large,” Palmer said.
With a 140-foot ceiling, the facility is ideal for flying. The planes move slowly in the air, and their flight is engaging, Palmer said. It tends to fascinate people who see them for the first time, he said — just as it does him, still.
“When you see them in flight, it’s mesmerizing,” Palmer said.
Taking flight, however, is the final part of the process. The early part is the challenging one: designing and building the plane. Participants construct their own, Palmer said, so there’s an engineering element to the hobby. People are always trying new ideas and new designs, he said.
Designs can become quite complex, but it’s an easy hobby to get into.
“Anyone can get started,” Palmer said. “You can build a simple model that will fly for two or three minutes.”
A few basic kits will be be offered as giveaways at this weekend’s event, and those younger than 18 are invited to get onto the floor and see what it’s like to fly indoor models. Watching any part of this weekend’s event is free; those wishing to compete must pay a fee of $75 per day or $275 for the entire event.
Simultaneous to the Kibbie Dome Annual, the U.S. team finals will take place three of the days at the other end of the field. The top three fliers will comprise the U.S. team that goes to the indoor free flight world championships, which is held every two years.
“At times, there’ll be eight to 10 planes in the air at one time,” Palmer said.
Even with higher numbers of planes in the air, Palmer said collisions aren’t a concern. There’s a lot of space in the dome, and without inertia, a plane is likely to just bounce off anything it hits.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Kibbie Dome Annual and USA Team Finals: Indoor Free Flight model airplanes
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today through Monday, with USA Team Finals noon to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday
WHERE: Kibbie Dome, University of Idaho, Moscow
COST: Free for spectators