OTTUMWA — When you're good, you don't have to brag. Chip Hyde is very, very good.
Hyde, a soft-spoken Californian, is one of the best pilots in the world, at least as long as his feet are on the ground. He flies radio-controlled planes.
But the word “fly” doesn't do him justice. In his hands the plane seems to be less a machine and more a creature. It flips, hovers, dances and dives. With just the barest hint of a breeze he can stand the plane on its tail, then make it sidestep into a twisting blur shooting across the field.
How good is Hyde? Hummingbirds get jealous when they watch the 13-time national champion.
Of course, hummingbirds don't have 37 years of experience to fall back on.
“I started when I was four,” Hyde said.
Hyde's dad flew model airplanes. That's how he learned. By the time Hyde was eight or nine his father had become his mechanic. He won the national championship earlier this year and, in addition to the 13 wins he has finished second 15 times.
So what was Hyde doing in a sunny field just south of Ottumwa Regional Airport on Saturday morning?
Saturday saw fly-ins across the country in support of the Wounded Warrior Project. The events raised money to help soldiers returning from combat. Ottumwa was fortunate enough to host Hyde.
Ottumwan Joel Wilson said his involvement started when he saw a story on CNN about soldiers' suicides. The rate, nearly one per day, is appalling. The initial goal was 50 fly-in events, one in each state.
Organizers underestimated the support.
“We have 176 air shows going on today,” Wilson said, including one in England and another in Puerto Rico.
A glance at the field showed how enthusiastic people are about their model airplanes. Dozens sat in the morning sun. Some represented historical aircraft, like World War II bombers. Others had capabilities no human pilot could stand.