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Control line flying maintains appeal

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Salem man builds planes in winter, flies them in summer


Story by Julie Rossman

Joe Connelly is a man of many hobbies and interests. The 77-year-old retiree from Salem is a regular bowler, he plays piano, he raises tropical fish, and he loves to go fishing. Connelly also volunteers for the Westosha Senior Center garden, for St. Vincent de Paul, and he belongs to a senior group at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside — all things he admittedly loves to do.

But Connelly got real excited when he found folks were still active in a hobby from his teenage years — control line model airplane flying.

“I got on an Internet site and found that they’re still doing this!” he said. “I thought, ‘I think I’m gonna get back into it,’“ he added.

Control line airplanes are controlled usually by two wires that extend from one of the wings of the plane, and are attached to a control handle held by the pilot, about 60 feet away. The plane is propelled by an alcohol powered engine and once it is flying, the pilot turns in circles to fly the plane.

It was 2005 when Connelly started flying again — after a 50-year break, and he says he got dizzy. “I fell down after I landed the first time, but I got over that,” he said.

Further Internet research led him to a message board where other control line plane enthusiasts talked with each other. Connelly asked if anybody flew in the Kenosha area. He knew the hobby was both more fun, and safer to do with others. He heard back from Paul Taylor, from Collierville, Tenn., who said he flew in the Kenosha area each summer when visiting relatives.

The two began flying together in 2008 — calling it the “Cheesehead Fly-in,” at the farm of Taylor’s relatives. According to Connelly, the name came from Taylor, who once said, “I’m gonna come up there and fly with you cheeseheads.”

“Cheesehead Fly-in” stuck. They have T-shirts featuring a winged block of cheese logo, along with the year. After the first year, they found other pilots to join them — a few from Milwaukee, others from Illinois.

Last July, the group flew for the first time at the Westosha Senior Community Center, where Connelly is an active member. Site director Debbie Waldron-Smith arranged to have hot dogs and other refreshments served. There were about 20 spectators who gathered to take it all in.

Not all plans are finalized for the 2014 fly-in, but Connelly hopes to fly at the senior center again, sometime in July.

How it all began

When Connelly was 15 years old his family was living in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He had a job working in a bike shop. Connelly says one day a salesman came in and convinced the owner to sell model airplane kits in his store. Connelly entered a contest, sponsored by the salesman, to build a small World War II replica airplane.

“There were 20 entries — I won the contest,” Connelly said. The prize was a large model plane kit. In addition, the salesman told Connelly he was looking for someone to build model planes with.

Connelly spent time over at his house building planes, and they eventually started a club. Connelly kept at it for about three years before he says he became interested in “girls and cars,” and dropped the hobby.

Now, it is Connelly who is looking for some folks to build and to fly planes with. He is happy to have met Taylor, and looks forward to the Cheesehead Fly-in each year. “I just wish he lived here,” Connelly said of Taylor.

“We need more people in this area — it can be dangerous to fly by yourself.”

Connelly believes it was World War II that really inspired the hobby. When he was a young boy, Connelly says his heroes were war pilots. “There were a lot of magazine articles on airplanes and flying — It gave the hobby a big boost,” he said.

The control line model airplane hobby has been somewhat taken over by the RC, or remote control airplane hobby, according to Connelly, but he prefers control line flying. He says it can cost about $1,000 to get started with an RC plane, whereas a $200 investment can get you started in the control line hobby.

Connelly also likes how the control line feels in his hands. “It’s not like you’re playing a video game, you actually feel the airplane in your hand,” he said.

He wishes more young people would get involved in the hobby. “Now they’ve got video games, etc.,” Connelly said.

The control line hobby takes a lot of time and patience, according to Connelly. From start to finish, it can take him two to three months to finish one plane.

“But I do see some young people doing it, too,” Connelly said.

People like Taylor’s son, Ryan. Taylor says he himself learned the hobby as a child, and got reacquainted with it when his own son was 8 years old. Now, his son is 23, and the two still share the hobby.

Connelly currently has six “fly-able” planes in his fleet. “I don’t have much chance to fly, but I still love to build them,” he said.

For more information:

For those interested in the hobby, who would like to contact Joe, please email:

For more information on the control line hobby, visit

To watch a You Tube video of the “Cheesehead Fly-in,” do a Google search for “You Tube Cheezehead fly in 2013” or go to: