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Written by Chris Savage
The nation’s biggest hobby shop, that’s only open three days each year!
Event coverage
Model Aviation digital exclusive.

The Show Floor

Who was that?

See something interesting? Take a look at the video description on YouTube for a complete timeline of where we were!

Clubs at the Show

Fixed-wing Focal Point

Rotor Road

AMA Expo West 2017

Think about your favorite hobby shop. You know the one—it’s filled with colorful boxes containing awesome RTF models. Or maybe it has shelves lined with everything you need to build your next project—stuff that’s ready to take home right now, not the kind of things you have to order, then wait for the deliveryman to drop off.

When you look at the front counter, it’s tough to tell who is the employee and who’s the customer. Even when you figure it out, it’s hard to tell if the employees are working, or just chatting with a new friend.

Speaking of friends, your best flying buddy is probably there with you, reminding you of the parts you’re buying for repairs after your last “landing,” and counseling you as you trade ideas of the things that pique your interest.

Now, take that hobby shop, grow it to 70,000 square feet and fill it with everything imaginable, from complete airplanes to tiny nuts and bolts, and everything in between. Let’s put it next to a picturesque mountain view. Remember your flying buddy? Now you have hundreds, even thousands, more! Now, you have AMA Expo West!

Thousands of hobbyists flocked to the Ontario Convention Center in Ontario, CA, to celebrate model aviation with AMA and fellow modelers on January 6-8, 2017. The event was presented by Ready Made RC. On Saturday morning, the line of anxious modelers stretched from the exhibit hall doors, through the entire main lobby, and past the outdoor box office! Although the show hadn’t yet opened, by 9:30 a.m., the main lobby was roaring with laughs and conversation.

Inside the exhibit hall, this year’s show felt “right.” With the exception of less activity around traditional helicopters than in years past, there was a great balance of disciplines represented and resources for people of all skill levels. It felt like a great place for an experienced modeler to be immersed in his or her passion—to find a quality engine, balsa, glue, or any variety of components for the next build. Maybe he or she would spend hours wandering the swap shop in search of the ever-elusive whatchamacallit.

This year’s AMA Expo West offered a great balance of exhibitors for hobbyists. Here, Soaring USA highlights its line of sailplanes in this iconic display. Mark Benson photo.

It was also the perfect place for someone who had recently developed an interest in model to experience parts of our hobby he or she never knew existed! Maybe it was a budding multirotor pilot who received his or her first aircraft during the holidays, and whose breath was taken away by the stunning craftsmanship of models in the static display.

It could just as easily have been someone’s child or grandchild or maybe a neighbor’s kid, who had his or her first aviation experience building a glider or rocket, or trying out an indoor Control Line model with the help of enthusiastic club members. In all likelihood, it was both, time and time again throughout the weekend.

AMA Expo West offers opportunities for young people to get their first aviation experience. The Southern California Rocket Association, pictured here, helped parents and children build rockets. The Knights of the Round Circle Control Line club assisted with make-and-take airplanes and even provided a chance for anyone interested to try indoor Control Line flying! Ben Flesher photo.

Aside from the approximately 100 vendors that filled the trade show floor, offering products, expertise, and a friendly conversation, AMA Expo West’s Main Stage offered visitors the opportunity to meet and listen to fascinating people who have made their careers in aviation by working on projects such as SpaceShipOne and for NASA. Other speakers were passionate enthusiasts who are ambassadors to our hobby and sport, such as Chris Wolfe (The RC Geek), who introduces new people to our hobby online daily!

The Main Stage allowed visitors to get up close with presenters such as Dan Kreigh, who worked on SpaceShipOne, online personalities like Chris Wolfe, The RC Geek, and others! Mark Benson photo.

This year’s show saw the return of the Drone Cage, a cube of floor-to-ceiling netting at one end of the trade show floor. The Drone Cage invited the demonstration of everything from micro FPV quadcopters, to a massive octocopter camera platform that was so large spectators could feel the thrust it generated as it hovered in the enclosure!

The Drone Cage allowed for safe demonstrations of multirotor flying right on the trade show floor! A separate, adjacent exhibit hall was dedicated to indoor flying all weekend. Volunteers from the Pamona Valley Model Airplane Club volunteered to help construct the cage before the show opened. Ben Flesher photo.

On the subject of multirotors, Drone Camp was present at this year’s AMA Expo with Try-N-Fly sessions, where participants could learn to build, set up, fly, and even do tricks with drones in hands-on sessions. Separately, instructors from Fly Robotics held seminars for public safety personnel interested in learning more about how advances in flight technology could help fulfill their missions.

Meanwhile, fixed-wing airplanes, helicopters, and Control Line models could be seen flying all weekend in an adjacent exhibit hall, where floor-to-ceiling safety netting created a safe and enjoyable environment for indoor models of all kinds to take to the air, and for spectators to take in all of the action.

As is this case with every aspect of our hobby, AMA Expo West wouldn’t happen without the support of dedicated and passionate clubs and club members, and both were in abundance. In the days before and after the show, club members worked with AMA staff members to set up, decorate, and clean up the trade show floor, but it was during the show is where the real magic happened.

Ten AMA clubs were in attendance, talking with enthusiasts, raising money to support their club efforts, and inviting new pilots to come meet their club members and try model flying with them!

I’ve seen it so many times before, but I never cease to be amazed by the dedication, the passion, the generosity, and the welcoming attitude of our clubs. Many of the clubs in attendance offer free pilot training sessions with club-owned aircraft, giving new enthusiasts a safe and enjoyable way to get in the air and find out if model flying is for them. I couldn’t be more proud to be associated with them.

The 2017 AMA Expo West marked my third visit to AMA Expo. I’ve attended my fair share of trade shows in previous employments, mostly related to the exciting world of print manufacturing (I can sense your jealousy). You know the kind—where elegant and expansive convention centers are filled with men and women in uncomfortable shoes who have been sent by their bosses to talk eagerly with other men and women who have been sent by their bosses, and are trying to avoid an uncomfortable sales pitch.

AMA Expo feels more like hobby shop—if that hobby shop was 70,000 square feet, served food and Starbuck’s coffee, was dedicated strictly to model flying, and you showed up with 5,000 of your best friends.

If you missed this year’s show, or you’ve never attended a hobby trade show, check out our video coverage, presented by MotionRC and see what you’re missing!

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