June 12, 2007
Tift Co. -- More and more people have taken to the skies in the past 10 years, but they don't leave the ground. A man with rare talents helps make it possible for others to get the buzz they want.
If a man's workshop is his castle, then Gene Senkbeil's castle hides a rare talent. "I love it. I love taking a box of wood, set of plans-there's an airplane ready to fly," says Gene as he puts a long cardboard box on his worktable.
He's the king of a high output airplane manufacturing facility. "I've been involved for 42 years, building 20 to 25 airplanes per year," says Gene as he opens the aged box.
The hobby has grown at least 400 percent over the past 10 years, according to the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the industry trade group.
In 1996, about 500,000 radio control airplanes were sold, compared to about two million bought last year.
Why the sky high interest in the planes? Many of the new airplanes have battery-powered motors and the electronics that control the planes costs much less than 10 years ago. The newer planes come almost ready to fly, right out of the box.
Gene says he can do anything with his model planes that pilots can do with the full-size types, except ride in them.
He amounts to a one person assembly line where craftsmanship rules. "Most are built for other people," says Gene.
He takes particular pride in giving customers what they bought, a model airplane that looks like the picture on the box. "Absolutely," says Gene without hesitation.
He can do what few people can do--- he can refurbish history. "This airplane is probably 20 years old," says Gene, while the wood looks new.
It will get a new lease on flying thanks to Gene's seemingly unlimited amount of elbow grease and his perfectionist attitude. "When I get through with it, it will look like a new airplane," says Gene.
He enjoys bringing airplanes back to their useful lives. "Rather do repairs than a building job," says Gene as he sands a repaired area, saving model airplanes to fly again.
"This could have been a garbage can plane. It could have been thrown away," says Gene.
The nose area, where the engine sits, looks as if suffered a fire with the dark, charcoal colored wood. Gene says the discoloration comes from years of oil spit out by the engine that collected there.
The time it takes to rescue or to build a plane doesn't matter to Gene. "I spend mostly eight to 10 hours a day, everyday, six days a week," says Gene.
An obsessed craftsman. "My wife fusses. How do you spend so much time out there? Cause I love it," says Gene
He built hundreds of airplanes and the question comes up: Would he rather build them or fly them?
He has hundreds of flying hours behind the electronic stick, but he prefers to watch others fly the planes he built. "I love it," says Gene.
Every Sunday afternoon he joins other radio controlled flying enthusiasts in northern Worth County to get sky high.
And that's just fine with him to see others enjoy what he loves so much especially when one of his planes comes in.
Gene also loves helping people learn to fly radio controlled airplanes, offering to show how it's done free of charge. Call him at: 229-386-8239.
He is one of the founding members of the Country Flyers radio-controlled model airplane club that has a web site: www.countryflyers.com.