Model Airplanes buzz the sky above Old Foothills Landfill

By Suzanne Michaels  Photography courtesy of Las Cruces Utilities

It’s a sunny Saturday morning in October and the sky over Old Foothills Landfill (OFL) is abuzz with radio-controlled model airplanes. With a capable pilot on the ground the planes perform aerial tricks high in the sky, creating smoke trails, doing aerobatics and loop-de-loops, flying upside down, and touch-and-go landings on the runway.

For this event, 40 pilots registered to participate in the first ever regional fly-in at the new Model Airplane Park at the OFL, hosted by the Mesilla Valley Model Airplane Club (MVMAC). The pilots came from Alamogordo, Albuquerque, Deming, El Paso, and Las Cruces; some traveled from as far away as San Antonio and Big Spring, Texas.

“Without a doubt, this is the nicest model airplane park anywhere in the region,” says, Jerry DeLong, MVMAC president. “The closed landfill, at the foot of the Organ Mountains, provides the perfect open space for flying in a beautiful setting. We have two paved runways measuring 600 feet by 100 feet, a large paved parking lot, bleachers for observers, and shade structures. MVMAC is thrilled to have this model airport available to us.”

The park is located on the 150-acre OFL, the original landfill in Las Cruces at 555 S. Sonoma Ranch Blvd., which is now a closed landfill and accepts clean fill as well as green waste that is processed onsite into composted mulch for the community.

In 2016 two new recreational venues (an archery range and the model airplane park) were constructed on the site thanks to the coordinated efforts of Las Cruces Utilities (LCU), which operates the OFL, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, the City’s Public Works Department, which brought in recycled asphalt to build the roads, runways, and parking lots, and MVMAC. Wastewater Administrator, Klaus Kemmer, former Solid Waste administrator for LCU, says the OFL is the only closed landfill in New Mexico that has been repurposed for recreational activities.

Three members of the Womack family, who attended the fly-in, say, “This hobby is well-suited to being a family affair, involving several generations.” Grandfather John Womack, Jr., MVMAC contest director, was joined by his son John Womack, III, of Big Spring, Texas, and his grandson, Jonathan Womack, who arrived from San Antonio, Texas, for the fly-in.

All the pilots transport in and fly their scale model airplanes, bringing with them friends, spouses, and by the end of that day attracted more than 100 additional local residents who saw the planes in the sky from the parking lot of a nearby grocery and wanted to know more about the event.

“It was a big crowd,” says Fred Upshaw, who noted, “I know we went through 400 hotdogs that afternoon.”

Upshaw, a police officer by trade, describes himself as a military aircraft fan who spends almost every weekend – in good weather and if the wind is not blowing – flying his F4U Corsair scale model airplane.

Upshaw describes the planes, “A scale model is a replica of an actual plane that flew or is flying now. The scale airplanes work just like the actual planes;” says Upshaw, “with an average wingspan of 82- to 90-inches and generally weigh 25- to 40-pounds but can be much larger. The cost for this size and quality of plane can range from $3,000 on up.” Upshaw’s plane is a scale version replica of a US naval aircraft flown mostly in the Pacific theater during WWII. Upshaw pilots his plane from the ground with a radio controller in his hands at the new Model Airplane Park in Las Cruces.

Todd Penka from Alamogordo says he participates in this sport because of the camaraderie with other pilots, and jokes, “It keeps us out of trouble.” Penka’s plane has an 89-inch wingspan and the engine is a gas-powered, 50cc 2-stroke engine. He also compliments the new Model Airplane Park as an “excellent facility.”

Model airplane enthusiasts take a lot of pride in their planes, even placing miniature pilots in the cockpits of the scale planes. Some use a great deal of humor; one pilot on this day had Toy Story characters waving from the controls with Barbie dolls along for the ride in the backseat.

“Members of MVMAC include former pilots, engineers, kids, women, and your average working guys,” says Upshaw. “Older children who are attracted to this hobby are those likely going into careers in aerospace, as pilots, or engineers.”

Anyone interested in knowing about future events and learning more about this radio control hobby is encouraged to contact MVMAC. The club offers a wealth of information and some free training for people who want to learn to fly. Training planes are provided by the club with a qualified Club Instructor, so you don’t have to spend money just to learn the basics of flight. For more information, please contact Jerry DeLong, MVMAC President, at (575) 202-7400 or visit

Winter 2017


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