Vincent Juliano of Rocky Point has been looking to the sky for decades, as one of a dedicated group of model aviation enthusiasts who build and fly large radio-controlled aircraft on Long Island.
This summer, he’s hoping to bring enthusiasm for the sport back to Riverhead, the home of some stellar moments in aviation history during the era when Grumman aircraft were assembled and tested here.
Mr. Juliano brought his idea for a model airfield to the Riverhead Town Board at their Aug. 9 work session.
“I’m almost 91 years old. As a young boy, running in the streets of Manhattan, we’d run out into the intersections if we heard a plane, because we knew that was where we could see far,” he told the board. “We figured the planes were going to some exotic place — New Jersey or Connecticut or Ohio, wow.”
“Aviation history has been forgotten,” he said. “We want to bring that history to life in Riverhead.”
Mr. Juliano is asking the town to supply model airplane enthusiasts with a “proper field, as suggested by the Academy of Model Aeronautics Safety Committee,” he told the board, pitching a plan to have model aircraft enthusiasts let the public try their hand at flying the planes one day a week, and hold two public model airplane shows each year.
The models, with wingspans of up to 12 feet and weighing up to 75 pounds, are not cheap. Just the motor and the landing gear run $6,000, said Mr. Juliano. A basic field, he said, would be between 500 and 1,000 feet long and 300 to 400 feet wide, and could be grass or paved depending on environmental regulations at the site, with enough room behind the flying area for spectators and vendor tents. Mr. Juliano said a paved runway would be optimal.
Mr. Juliano said that many people have lost interest in model aviation as the number of fields where the aircraft can be flown has dwindled. At one point, he said, the national association had 400,000 members and there were 30 fields between Riverhead and Port Jefferson, but once the Long Island Expressway was built, many of those fields were no longer in use.
Local enthusiasts now fly at Dosiak’s Farm in Manorville, where they pay the farmer for the use of the land. But other factors, like the omnipresence of video games, have also captured the attention of young people.
“If something goes wrong with a model aircraft, you get a plastic bag and go out to the field and pick up the pieces and go home,” he said. “That doesn’t happen with a video game.”
Mr. Juliano said the club that he envisions currently has five people who would like to serve as officers, and they are currently brainstorming on a name.
“Riverhead Grumman Municipal Field doesn’t fit on a jacket,” he said.
“We need to find a field first,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith. “This is a lot to digest. We need to look at what we might have available and present it to the rec department.”
“If there’s anybody that can bring the hobby back, it’s you,” she added.
“I didn’t know what pickleball was three years ago, but now it’s very popular,” added Councilman Jim Wooten.
Mr. Juliano is looking for people who are interested in joining the effort, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 631.744.6882.