Michael Laughlin, a 78-year-old retired opthalmologist, has been flying remote-controlled model airplanes for about three years – ever since sports like golf and tennis became difficult for him.
Flying model planes, he said, is something he enjoys.
“It’s something you can do all your life,” Laughlin said.
But Laughlin also said flying the remote controlled planes has gotten more difficult for him over time.
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Laughlin said he has interstitial lung disease, a condition that limits lung function and usually can’t be cured. He said he doesn't know how much longer he’ll be able to enjoy model planes.
That makes events like Saturday’s “Fallen Eagle Memorial Fly In,” more meaningful for Laughlin. The event, which highlighted model planes, was the York County Flyers’ annual fundraising event for hospice.
Laughlin said he knows in the future he’ll likely need hospice care.
Bob Russell, who organized Saturday’s “fly in,” said since the first event in 2007, the event has raised about $12,000 for Rock Hill-based Hospice and Community Care.
“It’s an easy charity to get people to donate to,” Russell said.
Almost everyone has had an experience with hospice care, he said.
At first glance, most members of the York County Flyers appeared older and retired – and that’s part of the reason they are committed to helping hospice. They’ve seen members rely on hospice. And Saturday’s “fly in” honored members they’ve lost.
However, the members quickly pointed out the teens and kids who attended.
“This hobby is a very unique hobby,” said Bob Grunden, owner of Dymond USA, a model plane company based in Charlotte. “It’s a very family-oriented hobby and that’s important.”
Grunden said more teens should get involved.
“It’s like an achievement,” he said. “You actually have an object in your hand and you can build it and fly it and bring it back.”
Russell, a member of the York County Flyers, said it’s amazing how many people don’t know about the group, or the model aircraft flying opportunities.
Just an hour and a half away in Woodruff, S.C., is the Triple Tree Aerodrome, which Russell said is the No. 1 model aircraft facility in the U.S. The site features campsites, a lake, hiking trails and a full size runway.
But events like Saturday’s “fly in,” with simulators, drone ride-alongs and homemade planes for kids, are good ways to pique the public’s interest.
Russell said he hopes Saturday’s event raises about $2,500 for the Hospice and Community Care. The club pays all event expenses, so 100 percent of the money brought will go to hospice care.
Beth Ann Scruggs, a development associate at Hospice and Community Care who attended Saturday’s event, said it’s a humbling experience to have a club so dedicated to helping.
“A lot of people don’t really think about it until they need it,” she said.
She said Hospice and Community Care depends on donations, no matter how big or small, to continue serving the community.
“Hospice is a different way of viewing end of life,” Scruggs said. “It’s a choice, a chance to be with family.”
So, while he can, Laughlin is taking advantage of the York County Flyers, a club he said gives men, though the club is open to anyone, a place to hang out and bond.
“It kind of takes the place of the old hunting party,” Laughlin said. “It’s a social thing.”
Laughlin said the hobby group is unlike anything else in the area.
“I wish I could tell you how happy I am that I’ve found this group,” he said.