After Hours: Greg Swink flies fast and low in RC airspace

If he had his druthers, Greg Swink, co-owner of Hobby World (along with his wife Rita), would ratherSwink prepares to go take to the air in a four-seater Cessna than do most other things. In fact, he plans to bring his pilot’s license up to current status and buy a plane (the second he will have owned) so he and his wife can easily visit their daughter, who lives in Washington, D.C.

But, to get his fill of flying in the meantime, he has to content himself with piloting smaller (yet very realistic) radio controlled (RC) aircraft. “I’ve had up to 16 RC planes, although I only have three right now,” he says.

Swink has been an airplane buff all his life. “I took my first flight in a private airplane when I was about 9 years old and living in a small town in Indiana. The guy who owned our town’s only car dealership had a Cessna. Somehow I convinced him I really needed to go flying. So, he took me up. That day I swore I would become a pilot.”

When Swink was in the  second tour of his Navy enlistment, he and his wife made the vow come true. They both earned a pilot’s license. “It was on May 12, 1977. Rita’s has had her license an hour longer than me,” he chuckles.

About the same time they took to the skies, they also started planning for their future. “We decided to find a business we could run after I got out of the Navy,” he explained. “We saw a ‘for sale’ ad in the paper for a hobby/arts and crafts shop in Orange Park. It was a small store, with only about a couple thousand dollars in merchandise. My father, who was a baby-furniture rep, had connections with a hobby distributor in Miami. We put up about $20,000 and told them to send us what they thought we would need. They sent a truckload of stuff. That was the start. Now, almost 33 years later, we have two stores and more than $1 million in inventory.”

Both stores—one in Orange Park and one off I-295—are full-service hobby stores that carry radio control planes, boats, and cars; model trains; plastic models; rocketry; and other scientific activities. “Not a lot of craft items, though,” says Swink. “Mostly ‘big-boy’ toys.”

swink testingIt was because of the hobby store that Swink enhanced his flying abilities from maneuvering full-sized aircraft to RC models. “For the first couple of years, while I was still in the Navy, Rita ran the store. Once I got involved in the store, I figured it would be good for me to learn some of the hobbies, so I got into them.”

He did something he advises newcomer RC pilots not to do: He taught himself how to fly. “Teaching myself how to fly only cost me about an airplane and a half,” he laughs. “But I did learn, and I fell in love with RC flying.”

Perhaps it’s a throwback to his second stint in the Navy—he re-enlisted after getting his pilot’s license and chalked up more than 8,000  hours as a flight engineer on P3 aircraft—but Swink’s RC aircraft of choice are “war birds.” “They are fast—really fast,” he says. “They can go more than 100 miles an hour. I like to fly them fastand low.” And land them upside down sometimes, he confesses.

“I’ve landed inverted three times,” he says. “The first time I was flying about five feet off the ground, going as fast as I could, and then the engine quit on me. I decided to land it on its back. It wasn’t too bad—only a broken propeller, scraped canopy, and about one-half inch shaved off the tail.”

Swink flying RCThe next two inverted landings weren’t so pretty, he says—especially the last one. “It was my favorite plane. The wind changed on me, and I accidentally relaxed my finger on the controls. The plane inverted and hit the ground at about 120 mph and left parts for about 100 yards.”

The crash demonstrates the danger gas RC models pose. Swink says they should only be flown at a flying field, such as those kept by the model airplane clubs around the area. Electric-motored aircraft, which are slower and much lighter, can be flown on playgrounds or other open areas, however.

Swink says he has seen trends in hobbies come and go as people cycle through them. They always seem to have an interest in airplanes, although the type may vary. Right now he says giant-scale aircraft weighing more than 40 pounds with wingspans exceeding eight feet—are gaining in popularity.

“I’ve been flying for 30 years,” he says. “I’ve got customers who have been flying for 50 years. RC airplanes are a lifetime hobby.”

Swink is intent on buying an airplane (a real one), but until he does, it’s a sure bet when he has a few minutes of free time, you can find him practicing take offs, maneuvers, and landings behind the flight simulator in either of his stores or out back demonstrating an RC aircraft to a customer. “Once you get the bug, it never lets go,” he says.

Greg and Rita Swink are owners of Hobby World,, located at 7273 103rd St., Jacksonville, and 175 Blanding Blvd., Orange Park. He can be reached at 904-772-9445.



How to get started with RC aircraft

• Get the right airplane. Start with a trainer. They are slower, easier to maneuver, and more forgiving than some other aircraft, such as war birds. Swink and his staff work hard to match the customer to the right plane. “ If you give the customer the wrong airplane and it crashes on the first flight, you are going to lose a customer. So we try to fit customers to the right product.”

• Get instruction. Flying clubs have members who will teach you how to fly, usually free of charge.

• Join a club. The area has several RC clubs, including JAX RC, Gateway RC, Shade Tree, Clay County Flyers, and Ancient City flyers (St. Augustine).

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