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Model-Airplane Flyers Push City for Designated Space in Inwood Hill Park

 John Feliciano (right) and a friend work on their model helicopters at an Uptown school yard.
John Feliciano (right) and a friend work on their model helicopters at an Uptown school yard.
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John Feliciano

INWOOD — A group of model-airplane enthusiasts has high hopes for making a section of Inwood Hill Park their own — but the city says safety concerns make it a no-fly zone.

The Dyckman RC Modelers, a recently formed group of Uptown model-airplane fans, want to see the fields near the Dyckman Street entrance to park designated for flying on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Members of the group have been casually meeting at the location for a few years to fly their remote-controlled planes and helicopters, despite the practice being limited by the Parks Department to five model-aircraft fields in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

“Right now we don’t have permission,” acknowledged John Feliciano, the club’s president. “We just go early and leave early.”

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department said that while the agency is open to requests for new airfields, it could not designate Dyckman Fields as one because of safety issues.

“We permit many Little League and soccer games at Dyckman Fields and the area is often heavily used,” the spokeswoman said.

The field sits adjacent to La Marina, a controversial nightclub operated on Parks Department land where a security guard was shot last summer.

There are currently no designated airfields in either Manhattan or The Bronx, according to the Parks Department. Feliciano said his group is made up of Uptown residents who just want a place to fly locally.

“We have every other kind of sport up here except one thing, and that’s model airplanes,” he said.

Now that the members have formed a club and are applying to be recognized by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which charters about 2,400 clubs throughout the U.S., they want to make their flying location official.

“We don’t want to break any laws. We want to do it the right way,” Feliciano said. “We want to have a piece of paper that says we have permission.”

Model airplanes have come under scrutiny this year, as two city councilmembers introduced bills to limit or ban the flying of unmanned aircraft within city limits because of concerns about safety and privacy.

Feliciano said that all of the members of the group follow proper safety protocol. In addition, they only plan to fly between 6 and 9 a.m., when this section of the park has few visitors.

“We’re not bothering anybody,” he said. “If anything we see people, like parents of young kids who come by and ask, ‘Can you explain to my kid how it works?’ It’s educational.”