Flying High ... From a Wheelchair

Man with  FSHD commands radio-controlled fleet of model aircraft

by Quest Staff on January 12, 2009 - 11:11am

Flying automobiles … flying lawnmowers … flying doghouses … where’s this madness going to end?

If Chris “Lucky” Carnes has his druthers, the sky’s the limit.

For the past four years, the 33-year-old from Chase City, Va., has been busy practically every weekend with the rapidly growing hobby/sport of model aviation.

Chris Carnes
Chris “Lucky” Carnes and his family enjoy the thrill and challenge of flying radio-controlled planes.

Carnes, who has facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, gets together with others at public parks and private plots of land around the country to fly radio-controlled aircraft that range in size from those that can be held in the palm of a hand to others that must be towed on a trailer. The big ones can be more than half the size of the full-scale planes they’re modeled after.

Flying doghouses? They’re for real. “We’ve come to the realization that if you put a big enough motor on it, it’ll fly,” Carnes laughs. He says the “wing” of the doghouse is concealed inside its walls.

Radio Control airplane
Flying these planes without crashing takes lots of finesse and a little luck – hence Carnes’ nickname.

Carnes’ largest plane has an 8-foot wingspan, weighs 27 pounds and is powered by a 100cc gas engine. He says at one time he owned 15 model planes, but began running out of room. Today he’s “downsized” to a fleet of eight, including a helicopter. His wife and 14-year-old son originally served as his flight support crew, but they, too, got caught up in the model aviation craze, and now they’re out there with him.

Carnes’ co-aviators call him Lucky because, time after time when it seemed his planes were certain to crash, he miraculously brought them safely back to earth.

As part of Team JR and Team AMA (a national organization called the Academy of Model Aeronautics), Carnes is one of an accomplished group of flyers who put on shows around the country to introduce the public to the appeal of model aviation.

Carnes flying planes
Carnes puts on flying demonstrations around the country.

“When they asked me to come and fly with the show team in front of 30,000 people, I told them I was honored, but I had my own agenda,” he says. “My ultimate goal is to show people they shouldn’t give in to circumstances. Sometimes when people get depressed, they have no more sense of accomplishment. That shouldn’t be. I want to show them that once I’m flyin’, I’m equal to the guy standing next to me. And they can be, too.

“A while back, after a show, an older gentleman came up to me in his wheelchair. He had muscular dystrophy, too. He said his wife had bought him a radio-controlled plane, but he’d never taken it out of the box. ‘After watching you, I’m going home and take that plane out and fly it,’ he said.

“It brought tears to the eyes of everybody on our team.”

Carnes’ Web site includes more videos and photos of his flying exploits. For more on the sport, visit the AMA site.

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