Roger Zaun’s retirement hobby is flying miniature airplanes—really big miniature airplanes
In retirement, some people play golf. Some pitch horseshoes or play bocce ball. Some tend to their gardens.
Roger Zaun flies model airplanes, including one that has an 80-inch wingspan.
Zaun, who lived in Grafton for 37 years before moving to Mequon last year, owns 14 model airplanes and is a past president of Astrowings of Wisconsin based in Grafton.
“I try to fly at least once a week when the weather is nice,” Zaun, who was a materials manager at an international water quality company based in Milwaukee, said. “I’m busier now in retirement than I was when I was working full-time.”
Though he was never a pilot, the flying bug bit Zaun when he was younger after he got bored playing with four-wheel vehicles and boats.
“I wanted to add a third dimension,” he said. “My dad got me interested and my uncle flew B-24 Liberators in Africa during World War II.”
So Zaun joined Astrowings in 1992 and has built between 35 and 40 airplanes since.
“By the time I was about six weeks into the club, I was flying on my own,” he said. “Now it’s what gets me through the winters. I’ve always enjoyed woodworking and this was another way to put my skills to the test.”
Zaun’s biggest plane is a 26% scale model of an Extra 300s that is hangared in Illinois and features the same color scheme as the real plane. The plane has a four-stroke, two-cylinder engine.
The Extra series was designed by Walter Extra, a German aerobatic pilot.
“It basically came with a bunch of sticks and plans and I had to figure out how to put it together,” Zaun said. “When I finished, I was pretty proud of it.”
His favorite plane is an Extra 230 model that won several awards in the 1990s. It is a four-stroke glow fuel engine, which is similar to a diesel engine, Zaun said.
“I’m proud to say that it still flies. There is definitely some maintenance involved, but to say I’ve had some planes for more than 20 years is pretty neat.”
Zaun performs aerobatics at the club’s field, a We Energies site near I-43 and
Highway 32 in the Town of Grafton, during the warmer months. The club rents the site from the utility free of charge.
In exchange for the site, the club holds fun fly’s and other events with some of the profits donated to local groups like the Boy Scouts and Special Olympics.
“A lot of what we do is give back to the community. That’s one of the reasons why I joined,” Zaun said. “We recognize that we wouldn’t be around if the community didn’t want us to be around.”
When new members join the club, Zaun and other senior members train the students.
Zaun will take a member out to the field and can program the handheld, battery-operated transmitter to match up with the student’s transmitter.
“That way, if there is ever any trouble, we can help the student avoid crashing,” Zaun said. “We have to help them until they get the hang of it. This isn’t something you can just pick up and do.”
Zaun said people interested in flying model airplanes can get started with an electric plane for a few hundred dollars.
Gas-powered or glow fuel planes can be more expensive.
Upkeep is also needed to keep the planes in working order.
“The nice thing is you don’t have to make a huge investment in it to see if it’s something you’re interested in,” he said. “If you find you do like it, there are tons of other models you can get your hands on.”
Zaun said it’s possible to fly model airplanes just about any time of the year, but most fly better when it’s warmer out. It’s also not a good idea to fly during thunderstorms for obvious reasons.
“It’s just not smart to risk it,” he said. “Some people have thousands of dollars invested in the planes.
“But we have a fun fly on the first of January every year. Sometimes it just turns into us sitting around looking at each other and wondering why we’re out here.
“It’s pretty tough to use the transmitter when your fingers are raw from the cold.”
The club had its 25th annual Fun Fly last weekend and Zaun said several hundred people participated.
The club, which was founded in 1955, has 55 members, but is always looking for more.
It generally meets the third Monday of each month at the Grafton Senior Center, though Zaun said it probably won’t meet this month because of the Fun Fly.
“We need some young blood in here,” he said. “Us old guys won’t be around forever.”
For more information on Astrowings of Wisconsin, visit www.astrowings.com.
Image information: ROGER ZAUN owns 14 model airplanes and is a past president of the Astrowings of Wisconsin, which is based in Grafton. Photo by Sam Arendt