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Old Feb 16, 2012, 08:07 AM
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Biggles1's Avatar
Australia, NSW, Sydney
Joined Jun 2010
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Thinking of setting up a Club?.

Being retired for a few years and with time on my hands I helped kick our club off in 2009.

I was flying electrics for a couple of years in a local park with a growing group of weekend flyers and I suggested to the group that they let me try to find a block of ground and that we think about forming a club.

The rationale behind it being that our numbers were growing, the park we were using was well used by other members of the community and the risk of injury to other park users or damage to vehicles in the park was becoming a major concern. I wasn’t the only one that felt this way; the majority of the other guys who were flying there had similar concerns.

The group gave me the nod, wished me luck, and off I went.

I spent the next three weeks on Google maps looking for any suitable open space in the local area (and further afield) and after quite a few “NO you cant use it” responses, I finally located an area which my research established was… 1) council owned land, 2) was zoned recreational RE1, 3) was flood prone and never likely to be developed, 4) had been disused for over 30 years, 5) was a big enough flying area and just far enough away from homes for use by electrics.

Sure the area was a mess by anyone’s standards, for it had been used illegally over that 30 years by 4wd clubs and trail bikes, even stolen cars and other things had been dumped in the area during this time. This activity had caused council to shut off the access road which was now restricted to one resident farmer, the Department of Corrective Services and emergency services only.

I let the rest of the guys know and a field trip to the site by the group was arranged. While I had no problem imagining a vision of a fancy US model aircraft field (that you see in RC magazines) before me, others had a more difficult time in seeing how it could be done. But they had faith in this vision of mine and gave me their blessings to proceed.

I commenced by preparing an eight-page submission to the council on the merits of allowing our group to use the vacant land. The premise being that the land being sought for use, was public land, was available, had not been used for over 30 years, and it would reduce the risk associated with continued flying by our group in a major public park. Everything had to be covered from access issues, days and hours of use, risk management, environmental impact and the biggy, noise.

Public land - You need to form a club

I found out quickly that the council would not deal with us until we had formed a club and had obtained public liability insurance. So joining the MAAA was the only option. A fair bit of organizing was required here, contacting the MAAA, a State Association (NSWFFA) to get affiliated, CASA and a local DOD base to advise everyone where we would be flying from. There were lots of letters and forms to be filled out and sent off. Money was also needed, how much we might need we had no idea but already a few guys pulled out of forming a club rather than have to “pay to fly”. I wish a few more had (see below).

Our club fee started off at $140.00 of which $90 went to NSWFFA and MAAA and $50 into club coffers. So our starting budget was about $1200.00, which was woefully short of what was required. We now had a club but were a long way off from using our new field to fly at.


Liaison with other interested parties/local community

In order to get access to the closed road we required written consent from the Department of Corrective services (air space and security issues) and the local resident (farmer) so a lot of negotiating and assurances were required to get their ok. Difficult but I got it done.

Later, appreciating that a model aero club would be new to the local residents, we prepared a letter, which was placed in the letterboxes of all homes bordering the field. This helped enormously reduce the “surprise” aspect of our presence in the reserve when we started working on and using the area. (Note. But even then I still had to speak with one resident (who was about to launch an action group against us) personally to assure him that noise levels would be minimal (he thought we were going to be a nitro club)).

I also wrote to and got the support from the local Mayor for the idea and while I have no idea if it helped at all, it certainly didn’t hurt.

Money, money money.

Quite obviously council had already budgeted its expenditure for the next five years on its existing parks and they had no money available to spend on this idea of ours. So we had to accept that the cost of any development of the area would have to be paid by the club.

This has to be accepted as a fact of life that if you plan to start a club and develop a field. You need money and lots of it.

While I put in grant applications with Dept of Sport and Rec, etc and inquired with the MAAA about grants, nothing was forthcoming. Some sponsorship was obtained from Kelletts (thanks Gary!!) but it was up to us to manage on our own.

You will need a good treasurer and our treasurer is one of the best and he set about organizing raffles, trivia nights and anything else that could raise a few bucks and slowly but surely our funds improved a little.


Conditional Access finally granted

Once these issues were looked after, the local council allowed us conditional access the area to start cleaning it up and using it. This was in effect a probationary period and was subject to any complaints by residents or by Corrective services etc.

In brief if council received complaints, we would lose the area. Obviously this involved the introduction of some club rules to reflect these conditions with the main objective being to keep the area. Obviously too it was going to take time to convince council and local residents that we responsible for our use of the area and weren’t going to make a nuisance of ourselves. It was therefore imperative that everyone did the right thing.

We organized a combination lock access on the main street gate for club members and we started with the mowing and clearing. There was an awful lot to do and we used every cent we had to level the area as best we could to form a strip, it was not great by any standard but it was serviceable.

During this time the club was actually growing considerably in memberships (from about 25 to nearly 70). All was going well, so well in fact that on the advice of Council, we submitted a formal development application to make the area a dedicated and council endorsed electric model aero park.

I submitted the DA and we had an acoustical engineer provide the required report. Then visits from Parks Management, Planning, Engineering and Environment, all had to be satisfied with our plan and what we were doing on the field. In all it cost around $2000.00 and we hadn’t dug a single hole yet.

OK Guys..Lets Get Stuck In.

Progress on the field could now finally kick off in earnest and with more members and an increase in our club fee to $190.00 (a club meeting decision because we realized it had to be done) our budget for field works was a bit healthier.

In the interim I had also managed to get council to grade the access road and then do a bit of grading on the main strip, this the result of maintaining a good relationship with council throughout these early stages.

The members however are the hero’s here and really got stuck in where and when needed. They were (and are still) terrific in their efforts. Working bee attendance was (and is) high and everyone could see what the benefit would be at the end of it. Our own flying field.

Getting Better All The Time

Our strip kept improving and complaints from local residents dropped off completely. In fact they now visit the field, many with their kids to watch the models flying. Many have become members themselves.

Since then over the last two years, almost every cent we have raised in membership fees and fund raising has been spent on the field. The perimeter fence went up, a pilot box, safety fencing, topsoil and seed, signs, trees etc. It’s looking great.

We have introduced a noise level policy for all models, which has seen ducted fans back operating at the field and no complaints since. It all comes down to having reasonable people as club members who fly responsibly and put the club’s interests first.

The local residents are behind us and very happy to see us using the area instead of 4wds and trail bikes. The Council is also pleased that land they thought useless is being put to good community use and they are impressed with the quality of the work we have done on such a meager budget. They have also helped out with a security gate and with trees to plant and may be doing a little more for us when they can. We've also just been successful in securing a grant for a picnic/bbq shelter and we're looking at what else we can do to continue to improve the facility. But most of all, we have now over 90 members, and a better bunch of responsible and friendly guys you wont meet.

There are no cliques, everyone helps each other out and that’s the way it should be. BS politics as some people refer to it, is kept to a minimum but like it or not, it is part and parcel of a club. Someone has to make decisions and address issues as and when they arise. We are after all a club and clubs have rules. Being responsible for the enforcement of those rules is not easy and can test friendships at times but again the guide should always be that the club’s interest, that is, the majority of members, as a whole, must always come first.

So yes, it can be done. It’s hard and very time-consuming work. It takes a lot of communication and co-operation, money, commitment and support but it can be done. Indeed if you have half a chance to do it, then it should be done! The reward is worth it for all concerned.
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