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11/20/2003

Frequency flyers

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Former software engineer Neil Schmoker has found a way to do something many of us would like to do: unite his hobby with his livelihood.

The former software engineer recently opened R/C Wheels & Wings Inc. in the Vista Commercial Center, east of Longmont on Colorado Hwy. 119, and the store allows him to share his passion for radio-controlled airplanes and fills a niche by offering the only indoor racing track around for fans of radio-controlled cars.

“I think this the only indoor track this side of Westminster,” Schmoker said. “There just are not a lot of them.”

At 5,000 square feet — half of it devoted to the indoor track — R/C Wheels & Wings maintains a well-stocked selection for r/c fans of all types — and Schmoker said the gas-powered crowd is welcome as well.

A Longmont native, Schmoker has been “flying” ever since his father got him into the hobby when he was a kid.

His father, Dean, 76, started out flying what are called “control line” planes and later graduated to radio-controlled. Dean Scmoker marvels at the technology of today’s planes.

“It changes constantly,” said Dean Schmoker. “It’s like computers — about the time they come out with something new, they come out with something different tomorrow that makes it obsolete.”

The younger Schmoker said his store is designed to cater to everyone from the novice to the expert, but you won’t find what he calls the “toy” model planes sold at some discount and toy stores.

Neil Schmoker said the model planes often cost about as much as the ready-to-fly models he sells, but are not built to last.

“I’m not going to carry them, because once you buy that plane, I can’t take that transmission and move it to another plane,” Neil Schmoker said.

As with most other pursuits, radio-control hobbyists can spend as much as they would like to.

Beginner car and plane kits can run a couple of hundred dollars, or, for the expert who chooses to build his own, the price tag can easily shoot up to $1,000.

“We’ve got a small little motor mount over there, it’s just a little piece of aluminum, and it’s $50,” Neil Schmoker said. “There’s different levels of kits. You can buy a ready-to-fly airplane, or you can buy all the way down to just a plan.”

For the curious who are brand new to the hobby, the place to start might be a rubber band-powered plane called the “Flying Cloud,” which runs just $25.

“The thing that we have here is expertise,” Neil Schmoker said. “The people that work here use the products.”

Tate Baumann of Berthoud, who’s been racing radio-controlled vehicles for about 10 years, and John Cole of Erie, who’s been racing for about seven, will handle R/C’s “wheels” end of the business, and they amazed a recent visitor by showing off the intricate design that goes into the cars.

Oil-filled shocks, tiny differential springs, and a front-end set-up duplicating full-sized vehicles — just as with a real street rod, you can go nuts with the accessories, if you choose to.

“It’s kind of like real cars,” Baumann said. “Some of the guys make show cars, and some of the guys make performance cars. Some guys do a little of both.”

Added Neil Schmoker: “The technology that goes into these has not been spared.”

The racetrack, set up on anti-static carpet, employs a state-of-the-art timing system and is easily convertible to being either a road course or an oval.

“The good thing about the track is we can set it up and within 25 minutes have a totally different course,” said Neil Schmoker.

When there’s no racing going on, the track can be used for practice.

Jim Wait, a former test engineer whom Schmoker calls his “second in command and top retail guy,” had come to know Neil Schmoker through their shared enthusiasm for radio-controlled planes.

He said he expects R/C Wheels & Wings to soon become a hub for the local r/c community.

“Word-of mouth is a big deal out there,” Wait said.

Neil Schmoker hopes that surrounding himself with experts, stocking hard-to-find parts and offering valuable expertise and advice, and having a passion for his hobby will provide the right amount of thrust to help his business really take off.

“One of my main philosophies is you don’t have to know everything,” he said. “You have to surround yourself with people who can answer all the questions you need answered.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.