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Learn what it takes to represent your favorite brand
Written by Rachelle Haughn
Read the full article in the May 2014 issue of
Model Aviation.


They are difficult to miss at events in their bright orange, red, or blue shirts. You may find them on the flightline competing for a top prize, or they may be in the pits helping another modeler tweak his or her airplane. Kids and adults may have admiration in their eyes as they ask these sponsored pilots for advice and check out the latest Horizon Hobby, Futaba, or 3D Hobby Shop products.

Sponsored pilots don’t live glamorous lives but they have coveted spots that some aeromodelers only dream of having. Pilots must work hard to get to this point, while keeping their egos in check and remembering to focus on what this sport is all about—having fun.

Aeromodeling companies have various methods for finding their next sponsored pilots, but officials with three of them agree that character is more important than skill. After all, these pilots proudly represent the brands that they wear and fly.

“They’re targets. They need thick skin,” said Peter Goldsmith, field marketing manager for Horizon Hobby.

Horizon Hobby, Hobbico, and 3D Hobby Shop officials have spent years looking for the best pilots to sponsor, and prefer certain methods for finding these individuals. Pilot résumés are welcomed at Hobbico. Those sponsored by Horizon Hobby and 3D Hobby Shop are typically handpicked or recommended by other pilots, and modelers who ask to be sponsored are rarely considered.

“If I don’t see them in my travels, they can submit a résumé,” Frank Noll, Hobbico field communication manager, said. “That gets their foot in the door. We do reference checks. A lot send in YouTube videos.”

Frank chooses pilots based on their personalities, their knowledge, and their flying skills. He said roughly a third of the pilots chosen submit résumés, a third he sees at the flying fields, and the rest are recommended by current Hobbico team members.

AJ Seaholm, a 37-year-old RC Pylon Nats champion, is sponsored by Hobbico. Another sponsored Pylon racer recommended to the company that AJ be sponsored. “I submitted my bio and got an opportunity,” AJ said.

“I grew up looking up at the sponsored pilots and thought it would be neat to be a Team Futaba pilot. There’s something pretty neat about putting that orange shirt on,” AJ said.

Ben Minor, a helicopter pilot also sponsored by Hobbico, began his string of sponsorships by submitting a résumé in 1993 to Miniature Aircraft USA. He went on to be sponsored by Futaba in 1998, which is now distributed by Hobbico.

Horizon Hobby appears to spend the most time looking for pilots to sponsor. Peter said he “courts” potential candidates for 12 to 18 months. He watches them at events and speaks with people who know them. His company also accepts applications, but those candidates are rarely selected.

Being friends with and mentored by one of the hobby’s top pilots helped Extreme Flight Championship winner Seth Arnold get his foot in the door at Horizon Hobby. “I purchased an airplane from Quique Somenzini. He started helping me fly.”

When Quique saw Seth’s skills soar, he passed along this knowledge to Horizon Hobby. Seth now works as a product developer for Horizon Hobby and enjoys competing in RC Aerobatics.

When asked how she became Horizon Hobby’s only female sponsored pilot, Caroline Goldsmith said, “It’s interesting that you use the term sponsored pilot. I don’t think of myself that way. It was a natural progression that I think I fell into more than ‘became.’ I remember it was a decision that was made for me by some key folks at Horizon Hobby who decided I was a good fit for the team. This was after I had been active in the Soaring segments for several years and was working at Horizon Hobby.”

Caroline is the senior team lead of promotions at Horizon Hobby, and she is married to Peter Goldsmith. She has been sponsored by the company for 10 years.

Similar to Horizon Hobby, 3D Hobby Shop prefers to find its pilots. “If they have to apply, there’s no chance,” Ben Fisher, president of 3D Hobby Shop, said. His company receives résumés daily from pilots saying they have never used 3D Hobby Shop’s products, but would like to be sponsored. He said others say they are award-winning pilots and would “consider” being sponsored by the company. Pilots who submit résumés with such statements are never hired, he said.

“They first need to be a fan and enthusiast of 3-D. If someone’s not already a fan and enthusiast, they’re not going to be a good pilot,” Ben Fisher said. “If someone is destined to be a sponsored 3D Hobby Shop pilot, I already know about them.” He said the company learned throughout the years what the best methods are for finding potential sponsored pilots.

Sponsored 3-D pilot Joe Smith, age 19, remarked that attending large events and competing helped him get noticed by 3D Hobby Shop. He said he also was active on online forums and posted videos of himself flying on YouTube. “All of these took a lot of work and time, and I am very fortunate to have great support from my parents,” he said.

Although Horizon Hobby, Hobbico, and 3D Hobby Shop have different methods for finding their next sponsored pilot, they have similar criteria for what makes a good candidate.

When Frank is searching for a potential new pilot to sponsor, he wants someone who’s “well respected, easy to talk to. If they don’t have an ego and they’ll take the time to spend with the consumer to help them out.”

Ben Minor, age 45, believes that sponsored pilots should “have a sound knowledge base for all aspects of their chosen discipline. It does little good to be a great pilot if you lack the skillset to help a customer correctly set up their model or the interpersonal skills to relate to them.”

“The one key element to all of the best sponsored pilots is that they get joy out of helping people,” Peter said. “They put their own resolve aside to help someone else. That is something that’s really important to me.”

Peter makes sure that he knows potential sponsored pilots before agreeing to sponsor them. “It’s extremely important to me to know the true character of the person. If he or she has poor character, it makes the company look like an idiot. The character is so, so important.”

3D Hobby Shop looks for someone who is “going to be on the flightline helping people, talking to people,” Ben Fisher said. A potential sponsored pilot is someone who is “organized about their hobby, on time to events, and the people in the field know that pilot and have a good impression of that pilot,” he added.

Joe agreed. “A good team pilot should be very helpful and active in the hobby. It should be easy for a potential customer to get ahold of a sponsored pilot to ask them some questions, which means they should not disappear between events.”

In addition to character, Horizon Hobby considers someone’s potential commitment level and his or her competency in the sport. Peter noted that if the pilot is too busy to commit to being a sponsored pilot and attending events to represent the company—that is a strike against him or her.

“Ninety-nine percent of people who want to be sponsored think it’s all about their skill level,” but it’s not, Peter said.

Seth believes that a good sponsored pilot should be willing to help others with problems. “People see that you’re a representative for that product.”  The 23-year-old said that a sponsored pilot must “be willing to go above and beyond and willing to go out and promote the products.”

“I think having the ability to talk to people, regardless of what their interests are, is important,” AJ noted. “They should be respectful of the hobby and be knowledgeable of things other than that niche.”

Hobbico, Horizon Hobby, and 3D Hobby Shop have sponsored pilots of all ages. Frank’s youngest pilot is seven, and his oldest is in his 70s.

Peter prefers to have sponsored pilots who are “mature enough to make their own decisions. We don’t allow anyone younger than 16 on the team.”

3D Hobby Shop has pilots ages 13 to 50. “We like to have as diverse a group as we possibly can,” Ben Fisher said. He added that he would like to make his team of pilots more diverse by adding women. Ben said that more women are becoming interested in flying 3-D, and some of them are quite skilled. “I’m excited about this change. I’m hoping [we hire one] really soon.”

Of the three companies, Horizon Hobby is the only one that has a sponsored female pilot: Caroline. In addition to Soaring, Horizon Hobby sponsors pilots who fly helicopters, electrics, Giant Scale, run RC trucks and buggies, and participate in racing, and Soaring.

Hobbico also sponsors helicopter pilots. Additionally, the company sponsors pilots who compete in International Miniature Aerobatic Club (IMAC) events, and fly Pattern, Pylon, and Soaring.

“We focus mainly on sponsoring pilots for freestyle fixed-wing 3-D. We have sponsored some IMAC F3A pilots in the past,” Ben Fisher said about 3D Hobby Shop.

To be a sponsored pilot can mean many things. Those who are sponsored can purchase products from a company at various discounted rates, and some get products for free. Some sponsored pilots have the opportunity to help with product development and/or testing.

Few are considered full-time pilots and receive paychecks from the sponsoring company. Ben Minor is a veterinarian and AJ works as a software developer for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. Joe is a college student.

“Sponsorship is not about getting free products or products at a reduced cost,” Ben Minor said. “Sponsorship is about promotion of the products you represent and making sure the customer receives the best support possible in order to get the most enjoyment out of the products purchased.”

The discounts and being able to try out new products is nice, but for AJ, traveling and meeting people are his favorite perks of the sponsorship. “The best part is probably getting the opportunity to go and represent the brand. You go to a race or a larger national one and you get a lot of good questions. As my wife would say, I like to shoot the breeze a lot and that’s a good opportunity to shoot the breeze.

“Gosh, I’ve met so many neat people from around the world doing this. Like, wow! I look at my Facebook [friends list]. I would never have met all these folks if not for RC.”

“I get to meet a lot of new people and build relationships with them,” Seth said is why he likes being a sponsored pilot.

“My favorite aspect about being a sponsored pilot is just the feeling of being on a team,” Joe stated. “This especially shows at events when we all stand on the flightline together and talk, fly, etc. Usually, sponsored pilots are some of the most enthusiastic modelers in the hobby, and it is great being able to hang out with them.”

Caroline is thankful for the opportunities that being a sponsored pilot have offered her. “I do enjoy getting to events that bring a lot of Soaring pilots and spending time with them. I learn a lot from everyone at the events.

“It’s also very special to be able to help a pilot out who is having a bad day on the field, and hopefully see their day get a little better.”

—Rachelle Haughn
rachelleh@modelaircraft.org

Sources:



3D Hobby Shop
(717) 814-5316
www.3dhobbyshop.com



Hobbico
(800) 637-7660
www.hobbico.com



Horizon Hobby
(800) 338-4639
www.horizonhobby.com




3 comments

Ms. Haughn

For industry members, it all comes down to who can help sell more products.
Although I'm just an average RC pilot, in a small way, so far, I've been able to help sell more products than any profession RC pilot. What I've been successful at, is helping to create aero modeling programs in schools.

I have been the co director of STEPS camp for 7th grade girls over 14 years and well over 1000 Pilots. And their planes they make and fly are just the beginning to unlock science and math majors future!
Oh and I'm also a member of the West Michigan Aerobats Show Team Who USED to proudly be sponsored by:
AMA
Horizon Hobby
Hobbico
Just to name a few...we do miss you! But we are still at it better every day!

We are actually looking to find a couple of great pilots to showcase our product lines in videos and on social media. We would like to find a couple for our Brushless Motor and ESC line, and one or two for our Multi-Rotor line.

Take a look and send us an email at xrayair.com

Free T-shirts, Frames, Motors, ESC's, and other new products to alpha and beta test.

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