The new year officially started Jan. 1, of course, but for members of the Cape Coral R/Seahawks, the new year really begins next weekend, when they kick off the first of three 2009 festivals with "Warbirds Over Paradise."
The Cape Coral R/Seahawks are specialized group. They build and fly radio controlled (and often jet propelled) airplanes, some 1/4 or 1/3 scale, spot-on replications of the real deal.
According to club literature, the group is "an AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) sanctioned club #543. This means that strict, nationally recognized guidelines are used by our members for design, safety and training in order to preserve the attraction, enjoyment and safety of all. The club has about 300 active members from early teens to the retired."
The club has three rotating festivals each year, starting with Warbirds, followed by the Gathering of the Giants in spring, and Jets Over the Cape in the fall.
Now entering its fourth year, Warbirds celebrates World War II era planes. Organizer and R/Seahawks member John Niezelski said he arranged Warbirds because he is a "warbird enthusiast," meaning he has a strict passion for military planes.
"We cover the whole spectrum of military planes, from 1910 all the way to modern jets," he said.
Who: Cape Coral R/Seahawks
What: Warbirds Over Paradise
Where: Seahawk Park, 1030 N.W. 28th St., Cape Coral
When: Jan. 16 - 18, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Niezelski will be flying his Grumman F6F Hellcat, a World War II-era carrier-based fighter aircraft.
The price of the Hellcat clocks in at around $4,000, making Niezelski's "hobby" an interesting, if not pricey one.
"My entire collection is worth between $20,000-25,000," he said. "But there are some guys who have just one plane. Then there are entry level planes that cost $300, $400. Those are what you buy when you're just learning how to fly."
All levels of skill and price will on display at Warbirds over Paradise, as bombers, fighters and transport planes all take to the skies over Seahawk Park in northwest Cape Coral.
Niezelski said the club was afforded the luxury of Seahawk Park by the city after officials realized the number of radio controlled planes in Cape skies were increasing.
Many of the R/Seahawks "old-timers" were asking the city for a safe place to fly, a place where they could indulge their passion in a controlled manner.
"They picked the very last street in Cape Coral," Niezelski laughed. "At that point, nobody ever thought there would be houses out there."
Niezelski's passion for radio controlled planes dates back to World War II itself.
As a young man, his family would buy him model kits. And, as his "funds got better and better," so did the quality and quantity of the models he would purchase.
His passion has taken him around the country, attending festivals just like Warbirds over Paradise.
"It's part of the game, we go to different clubs," he said. "I've went as far as Osh Kosh, Wis. If I had the time and money, I'd go even further."
Niezelski is expecting someone from Charlotte, N.C., to bring a quarter scale P51 Mustang, which he labeled as "quite impressive."
He's expecting at least 200 spectators to check out the three-day event, a number that's not as big as the crowds R/Seahawks draw for Gathering of the Giants, which draws thousands.
He said people are drawn to the shows for the chance to see a style of airplane that is all but extinct, plus the chance to see some exciting "dog fights," without the planes actually exploding.
"Spectators are welcome. We're going to have food and drinks available," he said. "If you haven't seen anything like this, you might enjoy it."
He also said the club always welcomes new members, often drawing from the crowd of spectators.
The R/Seahawks will provide everything necessary - except the plane - for new members, including instruction on flying, building and landing the plane.
New planes for those just wanting to learn how to fly cost about $300, according to Niezelski.
"The average start-up plane costs $300," he said. "We'll provide instructors, make sure it's flyable, and that it's built right."
Niezelski has spent a large part of his life pursuing this particular passion. He shares these lifelong sentiments with the members of the R/Seahawks. He compared it to a country club or any other organized gathering of like minded people; the members support each other and indulge in their love of model aeronautics, together.
"It's been a lifetime chase," he said. "I use it to relax ... though, that's a point that can be argued. I enjoy the building part of it, it's good therapy. We have the camaraderie of the club. We go there and hang out and talk amongst ourselves."
There is a $10 landing fee for all pilots who want to land their aircraft for a single day, and $15 for the duration of the event. Landing fees allow pilots to take off and land as many times they want over the course of the three days, and makes them eligible for prizes, including a "complete radio outfit," according to Niezelski.