Donovan Malvo is about to launch one of his radio-controlled airplanes during a recent summer day at Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester. (Lucilda Dassardo-Cooper photo)
Most mornings, Donovan Malvo goes flying for an hour before heading to the office, then for a couple hours in the evening. As often as possible, he takes flight on the weekends too. Only rain, high wind and work stop him from doing it seven days a week.
He takes off, soars, makes aerial loops and lands, all without leaving the ground. Standing in Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester, Malvo manipulates a remote control with both hands as his model airplane buzzes, dips and dives above the grass.
He’s not a kid, though. At 44, Malvo is an information technology specialist with serious responsibilities at the Neighborhood Health Plan
“It’s a fun hobby, playing with toys,” said Malvo, who crosses the bridge from Quincy to pursue his passion. “These are definitely grown-men toys.”
His flying antics always attract looks from walkers, joggers and bikers in the park.
Some stop and watch. He has met a few other fliers in the park. One, Kyle McEwen of Dorchester, joined Malvo one morning last week in circling a model aircraft above the soccer fields.
On weekends, Malvo shares his passion for flying model planes in suburban Bedford with fellow members of Aerojunkies he met online. Until recently, he was the only black enthusiast in the local club whose 40 members include doctors, lawyers, engineers and a couple licensed pilots. Two women also are members.
“Last week was the first time another African American joined the group for flying. I don’t meet a lot of African Americans into model planes,” he said a week ago.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Dorchester, Malvo first tried flying model airplanes as a teenager.
“I started at 17, maybe,” he said. “I couldn’t fly the plane. I broke it and I put it in the attic.”
Three years ago, Malvo bought a small plane for his son, now 10. “Then that reminded me of what I wanted to do. I took that 27-year-old plane out of the attic and went looking for someone to show me how to fly it.”
From Internet research, he learned how the motors and electronics of model planes had changed, as had the materials they are made from. His old plane is balsa wood and plastic; newer models are white Styrofoam.
Still, he needed how-to knowledge. So he posted an online message seeking “remote control fliers” in Boston. Members of Aerojunkies responded. “Between the Internet and those guys, they brought me a long way,” he said.
Now, he owns five model airplanes. More experienced fliers “say always have more than one because if, in the beginning you crash, you want to fly still,” he explains.
He keeps two planes in his car’s trunk just in case “I’ll get a chance to fly.”
Each of the planes he was flying in Pope Park on Thursday morning of last week cost $180. One was a glider, the underside of its wings painted the black, green and gold of Jamaica’s flag. That model weighs a pound and a half and manages better in the breezy conditions like that day’s.
He doesn’t fly if it’s raining or if the wind is more than 15 mph, to avoid crashing and damaging his planes.
Earlier that week, he finally got his 27-year-old antique up into the air at the Dorchester park. He calls what he does there “practice” for weekend gatherings with other Aerojunkies at Mitre Field in Bedford.
For each flying session, Malvo attaches the wings to his chosen aircraft and pops in a battery and electronic receiver near the nose of the fuselage.
Then he performs a “pre-flight check” on the rudder, using the remote to wiggle it left and right, up and down. Depending on the model, takeoff is from the ground or from the air, the latter done in much the same way schoolboys toss paper airplanes.
“I still don’t know what it is that gets me so excited about flying,” said Malvo, as his glider buzzed up and around. He once aspired to be a pilot, but the military rejected him for health reasons.
One thing he knows: He has to fly as often as he can during the warm weather.
“In the winter time, I can’t do it (after work) because it’s dark,” Malvo said, “so I have to get it in in the summer.”
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