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December 12, 2006   Email to Friend 

SKY'S THE LIMIT: Opportunity Takes Flight At Bradley Farm
Darryal Ray

Steve Bradley, second from left, joins Birmingham Helicopter Modelers club members (from left) Craig Thompson, President David Harkey, Jerry Henderson and Jeff Schock.
There may not be as many arrivals and departures as Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, but there's a definite buzz in the air at Steve Bradley's Jefferson County farm.

Turn your eyes skyward, and you'll see a small red airplane flying reconnaissance far above the farm as it snaps photographs of the tiny, ant-like spectators and vehicles below.

Look again, and you may see a white jet streaking past, or a bright orange helicopter hovering just feet from the ground.

It's been that way for more than two years now, ever since Bradley opened his arms -- and a portion of his hay field -- to the Birmingham Helicopter Modelers, a group of earth-bound pilots who steer their small-scale, radio-controlled airplanes and helicopters through a variety of aeronautical twists, turns and rolls two to three days a week at the Bradley farm.

It's just one more way Bradley lets opportunity take flight at his hay and cattle farm. And it's one more reminder that the boundaries between city and country are growing less defined as the nation prepares to observe Farm-City Week on Nov. 17-23.

"You've got farms all over the state, but we're right in the middle of urban everything," said Bradley. "Yet, when you're standing here, you wouldn't think you're 20 minutes from downtown Birmingham or 10 minutes from the Galleria."

In addition to these radio-control pilots, Bradley also welcomes equestrian who ride out the day's stress across his pastures, motorists who stop along the roadside to let their kids feed the cows over the fence, and pretty much anyone else who simply wants to commune with nature for a while.

"I think it's important to embrace what's coming rather than bristle up and be hostile," said Bradley. "It's good to embrace the community because if you share what you have, then, if there's ever a time when farmers need support, they're going to remember that. They're going to say, 'Farmers are good people."

The Birmingham Helicopter Modelers pay Bradley an annual fee to help offset the loss of hay production, although the area actually used is only about an acre or so. In return, he's allowed club members to erect an aluminum shed where modelers can get out of the sun while preparing their flights.

On any given day, it's not unusual to see a half-dozen or so modelers gathered to fly their planes and copters. Spectators pull up folding chairs nearby or park on the roadside to watch the action.

Club members have enjoyed their indoctrination into farm life. "We've learned that cows don't like the models," said club president David Harkey. "The only way you can run 'em off is when we crank one up."

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