Mark Byrne poses with his ZN Line Xigris radio controlled aircraft at the Michell Airpark on Lochside Drive. Byrne is in Indiana on Sunday to compete for Canada at the FAI World Championships.

Mark Byrne poses with his ZN Line Xigris radio controlled aircraft at the Michell Airpark on Lochside Drive. Byrne is in Indiana on Sunday to compete for Canada at the FAI World Championships.

Saanichite competes in ‘graceful’ sport of precision aerobatics

Difficulty aside, the Saanich resident has been a competitive flier for half a dozen years and is representing Canada next week at the FAI World Championship in Muncie, Ind. The competition is the Olympics for model aircraft owners, he says.

Like a pro golfer lining up his drive from the tee, Mark Byrne takes time to correct his posture, balance his weight and position his arms comfortably before beginning. Now he’s ready to go.

With the flick of a joystick, the large but lightweight airplane in front of him zooms across a flat Central Saanich field and lifts gracefully into the sky.

“It’s like ballet in the air,” Byrne says of his hobby, precision aerobatics with radio-controlled airplanes.

With a calm demeanour, the 50-year-old sends his brightly coloured plane away from Michell Airpark while performing loops and rolls and turns midair.

“We do a lot of the manoeuvres you see in a full-scale air show,” he says, listing off such moves as Cuban eights, stall turns and eight-point rolls integrated within the loop.

Piloting an RC aircraft, he says, is more difficult than taking the helm of an airplane.

“Flying full scale, you’re in control at the centre of the airplane. But with this, you’re on the ground just watching from a distance. Your mind’s trying to tell your fingers what to tell the airplane to do,” Byrne says.

Difficulty aside, the Saanich resident has been a competitive flier for half a dozen years and is representing Canada next week at the FAI World Championship in Muncie, Ind. The competition is the Olympics for model aircraft owners, he says.

Four Canadians, including fellow Saanichite Dave Reaville, will travel to Indiana for the Worlds, competing against some 90 other pilots from 32 different countries.

Canada fares relatively well on the international circuit, says Byrne, usually cracking the top-10 at the biennial World Championships. This will be his first time piloting at the competition and he’s looking forward to literally flying the flag for his country.

To help judges and spectators identify his plane in the air, Byrne’s painted a large Canadian flag on the underbelly of his craft.

“I’m really excited about representing Canada. It’s an honour,” he says.

“And you worked hard for it,” adds his wife, Robyn.

Though she doesn’t pilot planes like her husband, she’s just as immersed in the model aircraft culture. The couple used to work for a company that sold RC pieces. Robyn still works there while Mark is now employed building composite parts for full-sized airplanes.

“You need that support from home. She’s my No. 1 supporter,” Byrne says, acknowledging his wife. “For me, at the level I’m flying, it’s like a second job. After work, I’m out here practising for three, four hours a night. On weekends, it’s four to five hours a day.”

Practice and repetition are everything when you’re about to perform on the world stage. Every single pilot must fly the same 17-sequence routine in under eight minutes, and are judged solely on the accuracy of the manoeuvres. But presentation counts.

“Everyone flies it differently, but you try to use as much time as you can so it looks graceful, not rushed,” he says. “There’s no scoring for presentation, but you are trying to make it as presentable as possible, to differentiate from one manoeuvre to the next.”

Though Byrne considers it a sport, he also concedes it’s a hobby in which there’s very little money. Competitions are held almost exclusively for pride, honour and bragging rights, which is why he’s going in to the worlds with no anxiety.

“It’s a competition when you’re at the flight line, but I’m really only flying against myself,” he says. “There’s an amazing amount of pressure to get that flight perfect … But at the end of the day, the airplane is just a tool. The pilot, at some point, has to fly it.”

kslavin@saanichnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Andrew Swanson was arrested Wednesday after he was wanted for an alleged choking assault and for obstructing police. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police arrest Andrew Swanson on warrants for alleged choking assault, obstruction

A member of the public spotted Swanson and called 911 before police came and made the arrest

(Black Press Media file photo)
Youth sustains minor injuries in stabbing at Saanich Plaza

Suspect under age of 16 taken into custody, no risk to the public, police say

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
West Shore proud owners of B.C.’s first electric school bus

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

Sue Hodgson returns as publisher of the Peninsula News Review starting June 1. (Courtesy Sue Hodgson)
Peninsula News Review welcomes back Sue Hodgson as publisher

Dale Naftel takes helm of Oak Bay News as publisher

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you plan to travel on the Victoria Day long weekend?

It’s the unofficial start to the summer season. A time of barbecues,… Continue reading

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

People line up for COVID-19 vaccination at a drop-in clinic at Cloverdale Recreation Centre on Wednesday, April 27, 2021. Public health officials have focused efforts on the Fraser Health region. (Aaron Hinks/Peace Arch News)
B.C. reports 1st vaccine-induced blood clot; 684 new COVID cases Thursday

Two million vaccine doses reached, hospital cases down

More than 6,000 camping reservations in British Columbia were cancelled as a result of a provincial order limiting travel between health regions. (Unsplash)
1 in 4 camping reservations cancelled in B.C. amid COVID-19 travel restrictions

More than 6,500 BC Parks campsite reservations for between April 19 and May 25 have been revoked

Most Read