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Written by Jennifer Alderman
Ten years of midwinter indoor fun-flying
Event coverage
Photos by the author
As seen in the June 2016 issue of
Model Aviation.


Great Planes
Hacker Motor
Tower Hobbies
Model Airplane News
Hobby Merchandiser
Lukes RC Planes
JR Americas
University of Illinois Department of Aerospace Engineering
Electric Flight
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Illini Drone Club
Model Aviation
Fly RC
MultiRotor Pilot
Castle Creations
Horizon Hobby

E-Fest pilots are innovative and creative when it comes to transporting and displaying the many models they bring to the event.

Each year when I visit E-Fest, hosted by Hobbico, two words come to mind: controlled chaos. The event celebrated its 10-year milestone on February 6-7, 2016, and that chaos must be something hobbyists look forward to in the middle of long Midwest winters, because 286 registered pilots and more than 3,600 spectators came through the doors of the University of Illinois Track and Field Armory in Champaign, Illinois, to see what the chaos was all about.

At any time during the two-day, electric-only event, there are more than a dozen indoor aircraft in the air—foamies, flying wings, scratch-built micro park flyers, micro helicopters, and drones. It’s hard to keep track of who is flying what! Everyone is having fun. You only need to stand along the flightline to see smiles on the faces of the pilots and hear laughter in the air.

It is hard to describe E-Fest beyond controlled chaos—you have to experience the atmosphere yourself before you can really understand. E-Fest is typically the first big event of the year and the flying season. It’s still cold and harsh outside, so it’s a respite from the midwinter blues when everyone is wishing for warmer weather so they can fly outdoors.

To see the tables lined with transmitters and chargers, PVC-pipe aircraft holders, cardboard boxes stacked full of Combat foamie wings, and even retail boxes lined with the original Styrofoam and doubling as carrying cases—you know that modelers anticipate the next year’s event the minute that the current one ends.

Frank Noll is the E-Fest event director and he, along with many volunteers, designed this gathering as a chance for people to get together with like-minded individuals, socialize, fly, and shake off the winter blues. “We’ve tried to stick to this philosophy over the years and to keep it enjoyable without making too many drastic changes,” Frank said.
Trends dictate some of the changes, and the staff occasionally tries out a new event to see what type of a response it receives, but the organizers stick to the popular standards, including Combat, balloon busts, and the Children’s Make-It-Take-It Airplane Launch.

The University of Illinois Track and Field Armory flightline as seen from the east end of the building. Tables for pilots lined the entire outer edge of the flightline, while vendors set up behind them along the building’s perimeter.

A few pilots, such as Rusty Dose and his son, Tom, tried FPV using micro aircraft such as gliders and multirotors.

F3P RC Indoor Aerobatic and 3-D-style foamie profile aircraft were popular with younger pilots and could be seen hovering in the air at the west end of the Armory throughout the event.

Registered pilots fill the floor when it’s time for Combat. Many bring several foamies or flying wings simply for this occasion, knowing that a complete airframe—or one capable of flying—might not come home. It’s essentially a demolition derby in the air. The objective is to be the “last man flying,” battling opponents’ aircraft until they fall from the sky.

Styrofoam pieces rain down, and spectators sometimes hear the loud “whap!” of two aircraft colliding. The armory floor is often littered with debris after this event, but the cheers (or boos) and laughter in anticipation of a hit tell the entire story—the pilots are having an awesome time.

One of this year’s main attractions was the Drone Flight School—an area where you could fly RealFlight Drone Flight Simulators and try your hand at the Altitude Control Station. After basic flight skills were achieved and a “flight permit” was earned, you could step into the Hobbico Drone Cage with an experienced pilot to assist you in flying a multirotor.

Josh Schiff, from Hobbico, helps a young pilot maneuver a drone in the Drone Cage. The Drone Flight School gave registered pilots and spectators a chance to fly the RealFlight Drone Flight Simulator, get the feel for the transmitter stick at the Attitude Control Station, and earn a flight permit before hands-on drone flying with an expert in the cage.

Several seminars and workshops highlighted information that included FAA Drone Regulations, Aerial Photography Tips and Tricks, Speed Controls for Quads, Build and Fly Your Drone Racer, and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Operator Training. The seminars were informative and featured exceptional and knowledgeable speakers.

Bobby Watts, a well-known RC helicopter pilot and commercial drone pilot who specializes in aerial cinematography and videography, flew in from Florida for the event and spoke about using his expertise in the commercial film industry.

Another guest speaker on the seminar schedule was full-scale air show pilot and modeler, Matt Chapman. Matt took time out from his busy schedule to talk to attendees about how he worked his way up from flying model aircraft as a child, to his full-time career as a commercial pilot, to his time as an full-scale competition aerobatics pilot.

Matt currently flies in air shows across the country as an individual act and with the 4CE four-airplane formation team. His love of all things aviation was evident not only in his speech, but by watching him on the flightline when he flew alongside other pilots.

The Make-It-Take-It Airplane Launch is a thrill for children who attend E-Fest. Saturday afternoon, the make-and-take area is packed with children who design, color, and put together foam gliders of their own. At 5 p.m., the main flightline is closed to pilots, and children are invited out onto the armory floor for a mass launch—and en masse they come!

The Make-It-Take-It building area was busy Saturday afternoon with children building and decorating their own model gliders for free. The youngsters were invited to take part in a mass launch of their airplanes later in the day.

Matt Chapman enjoys a moment of flying RC at the main flightline. Matt, a commercial pilot and full-scale air show pilot sponsored by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, was a highlighted guest speaker.

From east to west, children filled the floor. On Frank’s count, dozens of foam gliders launched into the air! The kids had a ball, repeatedly throwing their airplanes as far as they could. Will we see any of these budding aviators return to E-Fest in another 10 years as pilots?

The day didn’t end with the children’s mass launch—in fact, far from it! There was plenty of competition and fun to be had until the doors closed at 8 p.m.

The Freestyle Airshow featured some of the top pilots in Indoor Precision/F3P-style flying and outdoor 3-D and RC Aerobatics, showing off their moves choreographed to music. Swooping high and low with turns, loops, and knife-edge passes, these fliers wowed the spectators, bringing cheers from throughout the armory.

Following the Freestyle Airshow was the fun and crazy Gauntlet obstacle course. Open to all registered pilots, speed and precision flying skills were tested as the pilots raced against one another under and over gates and through loops lit up by LED lights. Some were not so successful and a few even “pretended” to fly while holding their airplanes, throwing them through the obstacles, and running the length of the course. I’m not sure if pretend airplane sounds were included ...

The aforementioned Combat “Last Man Standing” competition showered foam and broken parts onto the armory floor before the lights went out for the Blackout Night Fly. Registered pilots were invited to rig their aircraft with LEDs and light up the air for the final event of the night. Some used strip LEDs around their airframes, while others used bright white lights on the wingtips that dazzled as the models swirled in the air. It’s a special, somewhat magical, part of E-Fest to see.

The Gauntlet is a fun and crazy obstacle course that gets laughs and cheers from pilots and spectators! Registered pilots tested their skills by racing their airplanes against each other up, over, and through obstacles in several heats.

Pilots always look forward to seeing broken parts and foam raining down on the floor during the Last One Standing Combat event. Knocking other aircraft out of the air and midair collisions are a part of the fun.

Although doors opened early on Sunday and there was open flying until early afternoon, many used this day to pack their aircraft, reflect on the day before, say their goodbyes, and leave for home. There were diehard pilots who stayed and flew until the end. I’m sure they wished that it wouldn’t end, and that it wasn’t another spring, summer, fall, and winter before the next event.

With E-Fest’s 10th anniversary come and gone, I asked Frank where he saw the event being in another 10 years. He told me, “The popularity of indoor flying and the advancement of technology will dictate a lot of what happens. Everything in our hobby is cyclic, as we’re all aware, so as long as it remains popular, there’s really no need to change much. We’ll just have to wait and see where it takes us!”

If you have never visited the University of Illinois Track and Field Armory in the middle of winter for the E-Fest Indoor Electric event, hosted by Hobbico, put the 11th anniversary on your calendar. It definitely beats the winter doldrums when you have an excuse to celebrate and fly!
—Jennifer Alderman



Bonus Photos

Model Aviation Magazine - E-Fest 2016

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