Alabaster Radio Control Association celebrates nearly 40 years of remote model aviation.

By Carmen Shea Brown

Bob Anderson keeps a picture that is near and dear to his heart—a reminder of where it all began. It’s a photo of him as a little blond-haired boy when he was about seven years old, living in Columbus, Mississippi. He is holding the Midwest Esquire model airplane, a popular radio control model built in the 1950s that belonged to him and his father “Both my father and my grandfather were full-scale pilots,” Anderson says. “I practically lived out at my grandfather’s field. I would go out there and stay for hours.” More than 60 years later, Anderson still loves to fly, and as part of the Alabaster Radio Control Association (ARCA), he gets to gather with kindred spirits to build, repair, and fly their model airplanes and discuss all things aviation. ARCA was chartered about 40 years ago by its umbrella organization, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, a non-profit designed to promote model aviation as a “recognized sport and worthwhile recreation.” “Half of our members are retired; they will fly a couple of days and some on the weekend, primarily in the morning,” Anderson says “As long as it’s sunny and not too windy; It’s a very weather-dependent activity.” At 55 members and growing, ARCA has been active in speaking engagements and educational activities with the local schools to get children interested in aero modeling and remote flying. A few years ago, several senior ARCA members, including former Thompson Elementary School Principal Leslie Harrison, visited the fifth-grade gifted class at Thompson Middle School, helping the teachers work with the kids to build their own foam airplanes. During these visits, children learn about the physics of flight and the parts of an airplane. More than 90 children made their own airplane and then went to the football field for a “rubber band jamboree,” an event that spanned over three days. “Oh, did they have fun,” Harrison, who has been a member for more than 30 years, says. “The girls enjoyed it as much as the boys.”

In March of 2023, ARCA teamed up with the Birmingham Radio Club to do a similar program for fifth graders at Oak Mountain Middle School. “Anytime the city has asked, we’ve been very accommodating,” Anderson says. “All of our members started out with this hobby as kids and had an adult influence us.”AR

0164: Bob Andersons with his Dad’s Midwest Esquire around 1962 or 1963. The plane was built in the late 50’s.

Members of ARCA range all the way from age 14 to 80, with members under 18 requiring adult supervision. Members range from newcomers who want to learn about model aviation to licensed pilots who want to share their knowledge and passion for flying. “I would say about 70 percent of our members are long-term,” Anderson says. “One of our members joined the Air Force Academy, and another one teaches people to fly drones; our president has his own private plane.”

The ARCA facility was originally located in Helena at the old Shelby County landfill before moving to what is now Limestone Park at 2400 U.S. Highway 31.“U.S. Steel was going to do some development over there, so we needed to move,” Harrison says. “At the time, Limestone Park wasn’t even there. Everybody worked together to have the field graded and sodded, and we put the runway down and did everything.” Club members also worked together to decide their vision for the pavilion itself. “One member is an architect, and we told him we wanted it modeled after Cahaba Lily Park,” Anderson says. “He went to look at it, put it in his computer, and helped design it for us.”

Fees are $150 a year for those 18 and over; and those who join must also be a member or apply for membership in the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). Anderson says the AMA membership dues cover the cost of insurance in the case of any accidents while flying the planes, but all members must follow both ARCA and AMA ground and flight safety. Liability insurance covers places that are not designated AMA locations.“It used to be that you couldn’t fly anywhere like a park or school that wasn’t in an AMA-sanctioned field,” Anderson says. “ARCA members are now exempt from that rule.”

Anderson, who retired five years ago from his job as an area sales manager for a company in New York, did not follow in his family’s footsteps and become a pilot, but the passion for flying remote-control planes never left him. He has a dozen model airplanes on the walls of his garage.And one is still sitting in a box, waiting for him to build it.

For more information on ARCA and to download a membership application, visit or contact Anderson at [email protected]. Anyone interested is welcome at their next monthly meeting the first week of August; check the ARCA website for details.