, Newburyport, MA

June 13, 2013

Cleared for takeoff

Model jet enthusiasts to gather for annual Plum Island rally

By Jim Sullivan

---- — Some strange flying objects will be seen in the sky over Plum Island this Father’s Day weekend.

To make things more interesting, these crafts won’t have anyone in them. The models will all be part of the fourth annual Plum Island Jet Rally.

“These are actual jets,” contest director Michael Fiorito says. “They burn actual jet fuel, they are turbine-powered, and they fly up to 200 miles per hour.”

These big toys for big boys (and girls) will be taking off from the Plum Island Airport tomorrow through Sunday and came onto the scene about 10 years ago. The jets can take off at 60 mph, fly anywhere up to 200 mph and land at 30 mph.

The hobby is not cheap, as the models can cost anywhere from $2,000 all the way up to $25,000.

“It’s a very expensive hobby,” said Fiorito, an electrical engineer by trade. “I own two, and I’m working on my third.”

Fiorito’s love for model plane flying began back in 1970, when he was 9.

“My father and I started flying planes, and I just got hooked on it,” Fiorito said. “It was fun.”

That young flying enthusiast would eventually go on to get his pilot’s license but of late has been sticking to jets of the model variety, which in many ways have become just as complicated as the real thing.

“It was a lot different back then,” Fiorito said of the models of his youth. “There was a lot more experimenting. There was a lot more trial and error. Now, it’s more technical. Back then, you built everything, you experimented with everything. The equipment wasn’t very reliable.

“Now, the equipment is very reliable, it’s computerized. But the flying part of it is a lot more fun than it used to be.”

The rally is expected to attract around 400 spectators a day. They come from all over the East Coast, including New York, Pennsylvania and Canada. Fiorito and his fellow pilots enjoy visiting with the crowd, answering questions and showing them the tricks of the trade.

“It’s just a bunch of guys getting together to fly these airplanes,” Fiorito said. “We fly sometimes four to five airplanes at a time. They’re fast, they’re impressive, they do aerobatics. They have smoke systems on them. It’s fast, it’s loud, it’s great to watch. People love it.”

The models can sound like the real thing taking off, but Fiorito says the rally hasn’t received any noise complaints. In fact, most of the neighbors come out to watch.

If you go

What: Plum Island Jet Rally

When: Tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tomorrow’s event is for pilots only.

Where: Plum Island Airport, 24 Plum Island Turnpike, Newbury

How much: Free for spectators. $40 fee for pilots, benefits the Plum Island Aero Club.

More information: