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Online exclusive event coverage.
Five days of jet-flying fun.
Article and photos by Kyle Matthew.

The 2013 First in Flight Jet Rally was held at the Wilson Industrial Air Center, conveniently located a few miles off of I-95 in Wilson, North Carolina. This site was perfect for a jet rally—with its smooth, flat, and wide 4,500 x 150-foot paved runway. The taxiway was used as the main strip, where pilots and vendors had plenty of room to set up tents and display their beautiful jets. There also was plenty of space near the entrance to the field for those who traveled by RV, and was a short walk from the action.

The event was held May 22-26, and during these five days, more than 100 pilots registered and 300 airplanes from the East Coast and Midwest were flown. Throughout the event, there were many spectators, but Saturday showed its biggest crowd. I can assure you that they were not disappointed and not only were they treated to some great-flying and impressive aircraft, but they also had the opportunity to interact with the vendors and sponsored pilots.

The weather was hit or miss for the first few days of the event. Saturday saw clear skies, but the pilots fought a stiff 15 mph crosswind all day. That didn’t stop them from flying and they showed the crowd some wonderful flying skills on those tough crosswind landings.

Flying for Fun

The First in Flight Jet Rally’s main goal is to provide a low-pressure, fly-when-you-want atmosphere for Jet enthusiasts, as well as to promote positive exposure of the hobby to the public. This was not a competition or contest, which lead to a laid-back, stress-free atmosphere where pilots could relax and freely share their knowledge, techniques, and experiences with fellow pilots and spectators.

The event was dominated by turbine aircraft, but there were a few impressive electric ducted-fan (EDF) jets and turboprops. Bob Violett showed of his eBandit EDF jet painted in aggressor squadron colors with VFA-127 markings. It gave those turbines a run for their money. EDF technology has come a long way in the past few years and is only getting better. We likely will see more of these exciting aircraft at these types of events in the future.

During the five-day gathering, there were many things to see and plenty of beautifully crafted aircraft to admire. But the best part of this (and in my opinion, any event) is the people.

I’m a Navy jet pilot and avid RC pilot, but in my more than 10 years of model flying, I’ve never flown a turbine-powered aircraft. Ken Wade, a former member of the U.S. Navy who is new to jets and whom I’d met for the first time that morning, graciously allowed me to fly his BTE Reaction 54. With experienced pilot Joe Rafalowski, a former Navy pilot, on the buddy box with me, we took to the air for my first turbine flight. All I can say is: wow, I think I’m hooked! It was special to see three Navy men pull this off at First in Flight.

This was only one half of the main drag that led to the flightline. The other half had just as many jets waiting to be flown. This was a jet jockey’s dream come true.

Goetz Vogelsang poses with his new Quantum Mono airplane from Tomahawk Design. This unique jet can be flown as a biplane or quickly converted into a single-wing design.

Nir Schweizer’s Fly Eagle Jets BAe Hawk comes in for a landing. With all of those sponsor logos, it looks like it belongs on a NASCAR track.

Louis Patten always shows up to events to impress, and this one was no different. His Fly Eagle Jets A-7 Corsair II was awesome on the ground and in the air.

Jeff Stubbs’ FeiBao F-18F Super Hornet makes its landing approach. Painted in a Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-102) color scheme, it looks like the real deal in the air.

This wonderful rendition of the Royal Air Force Hawk Display Team 2010 aircraft is an Extreme Jets 1/5.5 BAe Hawk built and flown by Scott Geller from New Jersey. It has a JetCat P80 turbine and flies great!

Every time I turned around I saw this F-4 Phantom screaming by a few feet above the runway. This was the most-flown jet at the rally. The Best Military Jet award winner, Steve Stricker, built and flew this Skymaster Jets F-4, and is one of the most skilled and entertaining pilots I’ve seen.

Every time I turned around I saw this F-4 Phantom screaming by a few feet above the runway. This was the most-flown jet at the rally. The Best Military Jet award winner, Steve Stricker, built and flew this Skymaster Jets F-4, and is one of the most skilled and entertaining pilots I’ve seen.

The author after his first RC turbine flight with the BTE Reaction 52. Special thanks go to Ken Wade and Joe Rafalowski for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Goetz Vogelsang put his Tomahawk Design BAe Hawk through its paces. This 106-inch wingspan jet weighs in at 40 pounds and sports the new 46-pound thrust IQ-Hammer 200+ turbine. This aircraft won Best Scale.

The author’s son, Reese, found his favorite airplane in the Bob Violett Models tent. This Korean War-era MiG-15 sports an EVF-3 EDF unit and flies beautifully. It can also be flown with a 14- to 21-pound thrust turbine engine.

Awards and Food

Although First in Flight Jet Rally is not a competition, awards were presented at a banquet. Saturday night was a Southern-style barbecue “pig pickin’” that was cooked on-site. There was no need to leave the field, go to the hotel, change clothes, or trek to some other location. Pilots simply rolled their jets into the big storage hangar and walked to the festivities. It was a gorgeous North Carolina evening with clear skies and cool winds. One couldn’t ask for a better night to have an old-fashioned Carolina barbecue.

The awards were presented after dinner, with some interesting and funny commentary. The coveted Wright Stuff award is chosen from nominations. Robert Vess created the Wright Stuff award to honor the memory of what the Wright brothers accomplished and uses it to recognize an event-registered pilot who “demonstrates the spirit of the Wright brothers through innovation, ability, enthusiasm, flying skill, or anything that advances the hobby or aviation in general.”

This year’s winner was Jimmy Morgan. Jimmy has been an avid RC flier for many years, but only recently began flying turbine jets. He has worked hard to build his skills so that he could confidently fly alongside the best in the country. Not only did Jimmy demonstrate his flying skills, but he did so with the mutual support of fellow club members. He graciously passed the transmitter to them many times at this year’s event.

The storage hangar housed most of the jets overnight, so the pilots didn’t have to break down their airplanes every night.

The Saturday night Southern-style barbecue banquet was held in a storage hangar not far from the flightline. It was a great turnout for some great food.

Jimmy Morgan was this year’s winner of the coveted Wright Stuff award.

Michael Hollowell and Robert Vess did most of the announcing during the event and at the banquet.

CD Larry Lewis with Award of Excellence winner, Louis Klenke.

Until Next Year …

The 2013 First in Flight Jet Rally is over, but there is plenty of time to start getting those jets ready or planning your visit for this year’s gathering. Each year, this event attracts more pilots and larger crowds and there is no doubt that this year’s rally, scheduled for May 21-25, will be bigger and better. The city of Wilson has bent over backward to support the First in Flight Jet Rally and it definitely shows.

Contest director Larry Lewis, event coordinator Robert Vess, airspace coordinator Michael Hollowell, and their team of volunteers put on an unforgettable event. It’s one that shouldn’t be missed. I hope to see you there!

For more information about the First in Flight Jet Rally, see the event’s Facebook page at!/FIFJETRALLY.

Bonus Photos

Award Winners

Top Gun: Chuck Smalfus—Shockjet

Best Military: Steve Stricker—F-4 Phantom

Best Civilian: Jorge Escalona—Hawker Hunter in civilian livery

Best Sport: Albert Hibpshman—Futura

Best Scale: Goetz Vogelsang—1/3.5-scale BAe Hawk

Tech Achievement: Pete Goldsmith—Well-tuned gyros on his F-9 Cougar

Award of Excellence: Louis Klenke—Enthusiastic flight of many jets with father, Bob

Wright Stuff: Jimmy Morgan—Relentless flight of his Boomerang jet


Bob Violett Models

City of Wilson, North Carolina

Dreamworks Mobile Products

Fly Eagle Jets/Nirly Built

Global Jet Club

Jackie Sacks Custom Wing Bags

Jersey Modeler

Jet Central

Jet Pilots’ Organization

Mike Saleeby

Vogelsang Aeroscale


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