Print this articlePrint this article


Written by Jennifer Alderman
Once a competitor, always a competitor: Senior TOC pilots reunite
Feature
As seen in the January 2019 issue of Model Aviation.

Bonus Video


Forty-five Years ago, RC modeler Bill Bennett, owner of the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, had a vision to bring attention to model aviation. Along with Model Airplane News publisher, Walt Schroder, he formed the Tournament of Champions (TOC) competition, bringing 20 of the top US and international pilots to the North Las Vegas Model Airfield—later known as the Circus Circus RC Field and now as Bill Bennett Field—to challenge themselves and test their skills against one another. As Don Lowe noted in his February 1983 Model Aviation coverage of the event, “From the beginning, the driving desire was to create an event that would eventually emulate, in model form, the same spectacle of aerobatics as the manned full-scale aircraft flown by our brothers.”


Mike Klein prepares to take off during a Known maneuver flight. Chuck Edwards is his caller/spotter. Chuck loaned Mike the Carden Extra 300 Pro, which was built by his late father, Bob, for the contest. It featured stickers on both wing halves in memory and dedication to Bob and Mike’s brother, Matt. Mike competed in the 1992, 1994, and 1996 TOCs.

Don went on to write, “Both aircraft and equipment used in the tournament represented the most advanced concepts in aircraft design, engine development, and accessories in use. The combination of an evolutionary change in aircraft requirements, patterns flown, and other competition rules has created a class of model aircraft that can be said truly representative of its full-scale counterpart.”

The competition was held annually from 1974 to 1978, biennially from 1980 to 1994 with a break in 1986, then annually again from 1996 to 2000. The TOC was skipped in 2001 and the last one was held in 2002, a couple of months before Bill passed away. It was the richest cash prize aeromodeling competition in the world, with the purse totaling more than $180,000 in the last year that it was held. It drew thousands of spectators, and being invited to compete in the TOC was an honor.

The TOC was innovative in many ways, creating the pathway for other genres of model aviation and model aviation competition, including International Miniature Aircraft Association (IMAA) Giant Scale aircraft and International Miniature Aerobatic Club (IMAC) and 3D competition, as well as the advancement of technology and electronics such as radios and gyros.

Fast-forwarding approximately 42 or 43 years after that first competition, the thought of holding a TOC reunion at the International Aeromodeling Center in Muncie, Indiana, passed through the minds of AMA’s National Model Aviation Museum Director Michael Smith and Technical and Safety Director Tony Stillman. Their original idea was to hold a reunion of the TOC participants to reminisce about the events, airplanes, maneuvers, and how the model aircraft technology had advanced, as well as offer a chance to bring the memorabilia together that competitors had kept from those significant years.

Clover Creek Aerodrome in Toone, Tennessee, carried this thought a step further. The owner, John Schroder, who passed away in 2018, was the son of TOC founder Walt Schroder. John held an invitational Freestyle 3D competition every year opposite of the invitational Tucson Shootout—both of which followed the same basic maneuvers that started with the TOC.

At the same time that Michael and Tony were considering a reunion, before John’s death, he, Gil Major, and David Moser from Clover Creek began talking about holding a reunion, although John hesitated, stating that the TOC pilots would not come.

Gil said, “[John] slowly started wearing down, and in 2017, [we] kinda started talking about it ’cause we were thinking about our 2020 event, ’cause the deal was that Clover Creek would be in the even years and Tucson would be in the odd years.

“So we were talking about it and how we were going to do it and everything, and in 2018 we started talking about it a little more, and then, of course, John passed, but then David and I started talking about it again later in ’18. So, the first part of February [2019], I get a text from David. ‘Have you seen Facebook?’ No. ‘Go to the Clover Creek page.’ Tina [John’s widow] has announced that 2019 Labor Day, we’re gonna do a TOC reunion at the event! I said, ‘Well, David, I guess we’re about a year behind!’”

Tina connected with Tony, who got the ball rolling and helped her with information about the TOC senior pilots, and she, Gil (as the contest director), and Skip Kixmiller (the flightline boss) ran with the idea of holding a Senior (50 years of age or older) TOC invitational contest/reunion at the same time as the Clover Creek Freestyle Invitational. Invitations were sent at the beginning of 2019 for the event, which would be held Labor Day weekend, August 29-September 1, 2019, at, as Gil called it, “our little slice of heaven.”

Twenty-one Senior TOC pilots were invited. Many, unfortunately, could not attend because of travel arrangements, health, work, or other reasons, but six pilots made their way to southwest Tennessee several days ahead of the event for a week of fun and flying, and to show the 15 invited “young guns” who would compete in the Freestyle portion of the event how it all started and what they could still do.

The flights for the Senior TOC Invitational would include preliminary rounds of Known maneuvers based on the Aresti system on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. One Unknown round of maneuvers would be flown on the final day, Sunday, with two more rounds of Knowns before the winner was determined. Of note, the Unknowns that were used were those that were flown by TOC competitors in 1988.

Unlike the original TOC competitions, the Senior pilots did not fly Freestyle; that was instead left up to the younger pilots to fly choreographed flights to music. Rounds for the Senior and Freestyle portions alternated to allow pilots and judges a chance to take a break from the hot, humid weather.

Although the weekend was hot and humid, the sky was blue and spirits were high with excitement, making it perfect for the Clover Creek Senior TOC and Freestyle Invitational contest, as well as a reunion of pilots!

Tyler McCormack leaves a smoke trail during his Freestyle flight. Tyler also competed in the 2016 Clover Creek Freestyle Invitational.

The Senior TOC Invitational pilots included Mark Radcliff, Don Szczur, Bill Cunningham, Mike McConville, Mike Klein, and Frank Noll. With those six pilots, all of the TOC competitions were represented. Mark was one of the first to participate when the TOC was sponsored by Circus Circus, and Don and Mike McConville participated in the last event when it was sponsored by the Sahara Hotel and Casino.

All of the Senior TOC pilots brought fantastic memorabilia in the form of programs, awards, photos, magazine articles, and clothes, including the famous pink Circus Circus silky jackets and the blue silky Sahara jackets. Don flew his original TOC airplane and he even still had and used his original stick airplane to practice the maneuvers!

Bill Cunningham reunited for only the second time in 31 years with his original caller/spotter, Rick Pelliciotti. The two had not flown together since 1997, until 2 years ago at the Red Flag contest in Lakeland, Florida.

These men had the time of their lives! The flying was just a small portion of the event. They had more fun reminiscing and hanging out with each other under the Aerodrome’s hangar eaves and their shade canopies than anything else. The laughs, talking, and smiles never stopped. Although some of these pilots have competed in more recent events and are still active in the model aviation hobby, others do not fly as often, but they all picked it up easily again—similar to riding a bicycle.

The Freestyle pilots seemed to enjoy having the Senior pilots there and might have even had a few history lessons about how the competition style that they all enjoy began. Many felt honored to be with those who started it all several decades ago, and the feelings were mutual. The Senior pilots were in awe of how far the hobby has come and the skill of these up-and-coming pilots.

The Freestyle pilots are fun to watch. Their style is different from their predecessors, who flew high in the sky as they most likely did during TOC contests. Low rifle rolls, inverted and knife-edge passes, and hovering with smoke on low to the ground were the order of each day’s Freestyle rounds, and all of the pilots brought their A games, upping their previous flights with each round to better their scores. There were a few mishaps, but other competitors offered backup airplanes and helped pilots get back in the air.

Adi Kochav, from Israel, was one of four international pilots invited to compete in the Freestyle portion of the contest. Adi was honored with the International Miniature Aerobatic Club (IMAC) President’s Award during the 2019 Nats in July at the International Aeromodeling Center in Muncie IN for his work with the international membership of the Special Interest Group, but he was not able to pick up the award until his visit to Clover Creek.

While the younger pilots were affectionally called the “Adderall” generation and the older pilots the “Geritol” generation, all came together and learned from each other throughout the event. Many were seen, as in this photo, sitting with each other to watch the competition and smiling and laughing.

The 2019 Clover Creek Senior TOC and Freestyle Invitational pilots (front, L-R): Senior TOC pilots Frank Noll, Mike McConville, Mark Radcliff, Don Szczur, Bill Cunningham, and Mike Klein. (Back, L-R): Freestyle pilots Miguel Alcala, Bryant Mack, Santiago Perez, Kal Reifsnyder, Mel Lipkow, Adi Kochav, Will Jackson, Jacob Ramsey, JJ DeAngelo, Rhett Lambert, Tyler McCormick, Tom Edgecombe, Jase Dussia, Christopher Gini, and Spencer Nordquist.

Because of generous donations and raffle prizes, the purse between the Senior TOC and Freestyle classes was $10,000. Mike McConnville was the Senior TOC Invitational top pilot and Jase Dussia won the Freestyle Invitational.

The Senior pilots all agreed that the flying portion was great and reignited their love of the hobby, but it was not the most important part of the event. “The Senior TOC reunion was the highlight of my year,” Mike Klein said. “It rejuvenated my passion for flying RC. Most of all, the chance to reconnect with lifelong friends and make many new friends was so special. I cannot wait to do it again!”

Mike McConville felt that it might have been the best TOC he had ever participated in. “I was amazed at how well all of the Senior TOC guys flew. No one seems to have lost any skills. And meeting many of the young guns in Freestyle was a highlight. [They are] great kids with absolutely mind-blowing flying skills—all of them!”


Don Szczur (R) shows the National Model Aviation Museum’s director, Michael Smith, some of his memorabilia from the TOC contests he competed in. Don, who competed in the 2000 and 2002 TOCs, was the only Senior pilot in attendance to fly using his original TOC airplane (inset). He also used his original stick plane to practice the Aresti maneuvers.

Bill Cunningham felt blessed and honored to be a part of this significant event. “It was most humbling for a group to have remembered us, and then to have put together a reunion for us to fly at. Remembrances mean a lot! We had a great time back in the day. It was the most amount of effort of any modeling activity any of us were involved in, but the highest reward. I’m just awed [that] someone would want to put forth the effort to have us fly nowadays.”

The Senior TOC was an amazing event in Mark’s opinion. “The best part for me was [that] it allowed me to fly with TOC competitors [whom] I had never flown with, and I enjoyed talking to and getting to know the new 3D young guns of today. I enjoyed answering their questions about the TOCs I had competed in.”

All six of the reunion attendees hope more TOC pilots from yesteryear will take an active role in the next Senior TOC and Freestyle Invitational, which is scheduled to be at Clover Creek Aerodrome on September 3-6, 2020. Because of the 2019 Invitational, they have rejuvenated their interest in competing. Don stated that he has become more focused on competing and would like to see others participate and build the event into a larger reunion, while Mark felt that it forced him to practice aerobatic skills that he hadn’t used in years, making him fly much better.

Several people asked Frank his thoughts about the event. “I’m sure we all feel the same about the experience, and would I do it again? [Heck] yeah! I tell them the same thing … [it’s] the most fun I’ve ever experienced at a competition. Getting to see and hang out with [everyone] was the highlight of my summer for sure.

“We as a group need to pressure the rest [of the Senior TOC pilots] to attend next year so they can see what they missed. [I] can’t wait to see all of you and do it again! ‘In the box!’”
Many thanks go to Clover Creek Aerodrome, AMA, Tina, Gil, Skip, David, the volunteers, donors, and sponsors, for their hospitality and support in making this event happen and keeping the love of model aviation and competition going, no matter the generation!

Bill Cunningham concentrates on his flight while Rick Pelliciotti calls his Unknown maneuvers on the final day of the competition. Bill and Rick reunited for only the second time in 31 years as pilot and caller from their TOC days in Las Vegas. Bill competed in six TOCs and was a two-time finalist.



Some of the TOC memorabilia that the Senior TOC pilots displayed at the Saturday night banquet dinner included jackets, shirts, programs, awards, stickers, pins, and photos from both the Circus Circus and Sahara-sponsored competitions. The pilots even wore their jackets during the cool mornings of the competition and hung shirts up on shade canopies for all to see.

Sponsors

Desert Aircraft
PowerBox Systems Americas
AJ Aircraft
Academy of Model Aeronautics
Horizon Hobby
JTEC Radiowave
JR Propo/Dee Force Aviation
SewBusy Embroidery
Hero RC Custom Charging Equipment
Classic Awards and Engraving
Holy Smokes Smoke Pumps
Spektrum RC
Loose Change Fabrications
Tru-Turn Spinners
FlightReviewz.com
Model Aviation
FlyingGiants.com
Discount Hobbies
Budweiser
Coca-Cola

Contest Winners

Freestyle

Jase Dussia
Spencer Nordquist
Kal Reifsnyder
Santiago Perez
Bryant Mack
JJ (Hedrick) DeAngelo
Christopher Gini

Senior

Mike McConville
Frank Noll
Don Szczur
Mike Klein
Bill Cunningham
Mark Radcliff



Flickr Album

Clover Creek Senior TOC and Freestyle Invitational 2019


SOURCES:

Clover Creek Aerodrome
www.clovercreekaerodrome.net
www.facebook.com/CloverCreekAerodrome
www.facebook.com/events/2366178513613698/?active_tab=discussion
FlyingGiants.com: Clover Creek 2019 Senior TOC videos
https://bit.ly/32iqQYd
FlyingGiants.com: Clover Creek 2019 Freestyle videos
https://bit.ly/2NnU04b
FlyingGiants.com: Clover Creek TOC/Freestyle scores
https://bit.ly/2PUSdoD
Clover Creek Senior TOC and Freestyle Invitational Flickr album
www.flickr.com/photos/modelaircraft/albums/72157711434531372
AMA Podcast, Episode 1: The Tournament of Champions
https://bit.ly/2CoNt2B
National Model Aviation Museum Blog: Tournament of Champions
https://amablog.modelaircraft.org/amamuseum/tag/tournament-of-champions

1 comments

Thank you for the great article. The TOC contests were always the talk of the r/c community in the day. It is important to remember and preserve the feeling and history. Even better to bring it back to life!

Add new comment