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Written by Mike Hurley
A people meet with airplanes
Event coverage
Photos by the author
As seen in the September 2016 issue of
Model Aviation.

Bonus photos

Model Aviation Magazine - Joe Nall Week 2016

Bonus video

The entire week, while visiting the Triple Tree Aerodrome near Woodruff, South Carolina, I kept asking myself, “How would I describe the Joe Nall experience?” It nearly defies description. It can be laid out in a few words and stats, but does that adequately describe the event? One thing is certain, Joe Nall Week has evolved into a unique RC gathering that crosses boundaries as no other event does.

Not only do enthusiasts from nearly every segment of flying participate, but other RC disciplines such as cars and boats show up in certain areas of the more than 400-acre site. While I was there I saw sailplanes, warbirds, helicopters, scale helis, sport jets, scale jets, military jets, corporate jets, commercial jets, scale airplanes, sport airplanes, turboprops, aerobatic aircraft, 3-D airplanes, float airplanes, Control Line (CL) models, electric, gas, glow, and turbine engines—engines of so many configurations that I couldn’t possibly name them all.

The event started, as most do, in a very humble way. It was a local Giant Scale fly-in, put on by two friends who shared their love for model aviation. The first meet was in 1983. Pat Hartness hosted the event at his personal flying site and Joe Nall ran the event. Joe continued to emcee the event until he died in a tragic airplane accident in 1989. In 1990, the event was renamed the Joe Nall Fly-In. Today it’s known as Joe Nall Week.

The event has grown exponentially since its inception in 1983. Each year, Pat adds to or improves the flying site. There are now at least five separate flightlines, including the main flightline, the pond for float flying, an electric-only field and a 3-D electric field, along with the wild and crazy Giant Scale 3-D line. There’s also an area with three CL circles and a helicopter and multirotor flightline. This year there was a special FPV obstacle course.

Camping, RV spaces, and facilities also seem to expand every year. A few years ago, showers and a gazebo were added at the 3-D line, and then later a charging station was constructed near the electric line. This year, the crew built small pilot stations that jut out into the pond for better access to float airplanes.

With more than 400 acres of space, there are five RC flightlines to choose from at the Triple Tree venue, including a huge pond for float flying. This year, small separate pilot station jetties were added to aid in launching and retrieving watercraft.

A new building is going up that will house a learning center with full-scale and RC flight simulators and other educational facilities. This year, the vendor row was unified in a central location, making RC shopping much more convenient for those who come to the event just for that.

I love coming here to buy airplanes and equipment because this is the one place where you can see, and even test, equipment firsthand from a number of manufacturers, including Giant Scale airplanes that most local stores can’t have in stock. I got to test-fly a 35% Extreme Flight Yak 54 on the 3-D flightline.

I’m not sure if anybody has researched large RC flying events, but I’d guess it’s safe to say that Joe Nall Week has become the world’s largest RC event. According to the staff at Triple Tree, there were more than 1,700 registered pilots at this year’s event, held May 7-14. Along with spectators, friends, and not counting the crew and workers, more than 13,300 people came through the gates.

I don’t know how many aircraft were there, but because every pilot seemed to bring two or more, I’d estimate the number is well into the thousands. Pilots came from 42 states and nine countries, and at any one time there could be as many as 40 aircraft in the air. I’ll bet that no one saw that coming back in 1983!

These statistics are interesting, but they don’t begin to give you the feel of attending the Joe Nall Week. As I walk from flightline to flightline, I continue to wonder how to describe the event. There are hundreds of people here from disciplines that would not normally be seen flying together, yet everybody is getting along famously and enjoying each other’s company.

Austrian champion Gernot Bruckmann flew an aerotow-launched scale sailplane during the noon demonstrations. Gernot has a retail RC dealership based in Austria.

In addition to the RC flightlines, there were three CL circles at Triple Tree. There is where we met 8-year-old Layla Barry from Grovetown GA, flying with her dad. Layla has been flying CL since she was 3 years old. Anyone could take a demo flight on a CL airplane, and both the author and his wife gave it a go.

The main flightline is crowded with canopies packed together leg to leg, and everybody’s happy to have you set up beside him or her. I wasn’t there early in the week so I had to set up my space behind another pilot. When I arrived, I asked if he would mind if we joined them and by the end of the week I was good friends with all of those around us; this starts to hint at what the Joe Nall event is.

There are so many people here. All of them have a story, and all of them have a gift—some of them have the gift of piloting skills, others are builders, and all are modelers and enthusiasts. That itself is a gift.

Some of the more notable pilots or aircraft owners were asked to put on a show at the main flightline each day at noon. I was able to watch parts of the shows on three of the days. The performances were surprising and many were downright astounding. The noon demos at Joe Nall Week will remind you that even in a hobby you’ve been involved in for years, you still haven’t seen it all.

Each day at noon, the main flightline is closed for demonstration flights and huge crowds gather behind the pit area. Top pilots from around the world come to Joe Nall Week to be a part of the noon demos. Many of these pilots represent manufacturers and are here to show their products, some come to debut new innovations, and others demonstrate extraordinary skill levels.

The Jeti USA Girl Flight Team showcased two young women, Aneta Bouskova and Ashleigh Heath, flying 3-D aerobatics. Each day crowds gathered around the main flightline at noon to watch professional teams, pilots, and manufacturers demonstrate their skills and their products.

Every year, those on the cutting edge of our hobby continue to push boundaries and defy what we previously thought were limits of flight and performance, and it’s all here to see firsthand at Joe Nall Week.

One of those pioneering people is RC Aerobatics World Champion, TOC Champion, aircraft designer, and innovator, Quique Somenzini. Quique is part of a new company called Flex Innovations that brings new aircraft, electronics, and flight systems to the RC hobby. Quique demonstrated Flex’s new F-16QQ 3-D turbine jet that has been highly specialized with extreme light weight, a high-angle, thrust-vectoring nozzle, extreme control throws, and more design features to create a jet that performs precision, high-alpha, and post-stall maneuvers as never before. Quique’s performance was nothing short of pushing the known flight envelope into new territory. What would you expect from the man who many credit with inventing 3-D flight?

On the left is the man responsible for creating the Triple Tree Aerodrome and the Joe Nall event, Pat Hartness. Pat congratulates world-renowned pilot and aircraft designer Quique Somenzini after another cutting-edge demonstration flight.

During the past eight years, the Joe Nall event has hosted a public building project called the Valkyrie, based on the 1937 Carl Goldberg model of the same name. The build was set up in Pat Hartness’ personal hangar and only took place during Joe Nall Week. Anyone attending the event was invited to sit down and work on the airplane. More than 1,000 people helped in the build. In fact, I helped build a couple of wing ribs two years ago and I’m sure that a good many of you reading this have also pitched in on the project.

The giant Valkyrie flew in Thursday’s noon demo in graceful style and has been a complete success. Next year, Pat wants to fly the Valkyrie for 48 hours during the Joe Nall event with the idea of soaring during the day and using gasoline at night. He is looking for engineering help to design the needed propulsion system. If you think you can help make this happen, contact the staff at the Triple Tree Aerodrome.

This year saw a flight of the public-built scaled-up giant Valkyrie, based on a 1937 Carl Goldberg design. This aircraft was built during an eight-year span by attendees of the Joe Nall event and completed in 2015. The electric-powered Valkyrie has a 20-foot wingspan.

Two other demos that helped me define Joe Nall Week were a turbine-powered, 5-meter sailplane that could reach 200 mph and perform amazing precision aerobatic maneuvers, and the Legendary Fighters, a nine-member team of warbird enthusiasts that traveled from Germany to perform a precision choreographed team flight with World War II aircraft from many of the war’s combatants.

This year, it seemed that many of the noon demonstrations featured team formation flying or coordinated performances. These two giant 42% Extras were flown by Gernot Bruckmann and Markus Rummer. One aircraft is gas powered and the other electric.

Giant Scale takes on another dimension with this 14-foot-long Airworld Models F-104 Starfighter flown by Ali Machinchy. Ali works for Horizon Hobby and is one of the premier demonstration pilots at Joe Nall Week. The aircraft was built by Trond Hammerstad from Norway and uses a single BF-Turbines B300F turbine.

Aside from the talent invited to perform the demos were untold numbers of brilliant attendees, from the man pitting next to me with mind-boggling, complex, cutting-edge computer systems designed to automatically trim his airplane under every circumstance, to 14-year-old Kobe Cantin on the 3-D flightline, who flew with grace, skill, and maturity well beyond his years, to designer/builder Chuck Gratner who designed and scratch-built his own vision of the quintessential 1930s-era Golden Age air racer that he named the Riley Model B.

This is one of two stunning, hand-built aircraft that came from the mind and skilled hands of Chuck Gratner. The design is a mixture of Chuck’s favorite Golden Age aircraft that he dubbed the Riley Model B.

Joe Nall Week is, as you might gather, a huge event with something amazing happening along the flightlines all day and night. I certainly couldn’t see it all, or even report a small fraction of it, but I can tell you that as my wife and I sat on the lawn outside of the hangar during the barbecue dinner, listening to a live jazz concert and watching the sun set while surrounded by 1,000 or so of our fellow modelers, we both looked at each other and said, “We must be livin’ right because this is just about as good as it gets.”

Even with all of these stories, and the stats, and the enormity of it all, the Joe Nall event is hard to describe. But on Friday, the event’s emcee and rambling “Mouth of the South,” Bob Sadler, wrapped it up nicely in his description of Joe Nall Week. He said, “It’s not an airplane meet. It’s a people meet that just happens to have airplanes.”

—Mike Hurley

Support the vision

In 2011, Pat Hartness placed the Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina, in a 501(c)(3) trust to ensure that it will be enjoyed by aviators for decades to come. It is now controlled by a board of trustees, and Pat’s vision to “Ignite and Expand the Passion for Aviation” will endure. The Triple Tree Aerodrome will forever be a versatile, diverse, and beautiful aviation site for model and full-scale aircraft alike.

You don’t have to be a pilot to appreciate the Triple Tree Aerodrome. It now supports youth programs and a learning center complete with simulators (both full-scale and RC) where people of all ages can learn more about aviation.

However, with all of these amenities comes some responsibility. Nearly all of the efforts to maintain Triple Tree are on a volunteer basis. The facility has
only one paid employee. Funds for the operating expense and improvements come from donations and proceeds from events held at Triple Tree.

To meet the site’s financial obligations and improvements is an ongoing responsibility. How much do you think it costs annually to maintain the fantastic 450-acre site? It is approximately $300,000 a year. Utilities average $24,000, insurance is another $16,000, the fuel bill is roughly $13,000, and seed, fertilizer, and sod are approximately $37,000.

These figures don’t include equipment maintenance, equipment replacement, upgrades, and myriad miscellaneous expenses that add up to roughly
$200,000 per year. Extraordinary expenditures such as the new Education Center are an additional expenditure.

The Triple Tree Aerodrome has been fortunate to have generous, wealthy donors, but everyone who enjoys and appreciates
this first-class aviation facility is
urged to help and we have strength in our numbers. If each of us donates something—anything—it would be a huge boost to Triple Tree’s continued development and longevity.

Donations can be made online at, or you can send a tax-deductible donation directly to Gene Strozier, the treasurer of the 501(c)(3), at Triple Tree Aerodrome, 330 Mary
Hanna Rd., Woodruff SC 29388.

—Jim Hullhorst


Joe Nall

Riley Model B


Flex Innovations
(866) 310-3538

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