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Written by Bill Pritchett
Participating in Competitive Events
Column
As seen in the November 2018 issue of
Model Aviation.


"Friendships born on the field of athletic strife are the real gold of competition. Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust." —Jesse Owens

Kids flying model airplanes, competing, and learning were the creative impetus of the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Do you fly in any contests? First, great information from the History of the Academy of Model Aeronautics and the National Model Aviation Museum:

"Before the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) came into existence, aeromodelers belonged to a variety of organizations, including the Junior Air League, the Junior Aviation League, and the Junior NAA (the aeromodeling branch of the National Aeronautic Association.) The Junior NAA, although sponsoring the first ‘National Aeromodeling Championships’ (what we refer to today as the ‘Nats’) in 1923, struggled to be a true aeromodeling organization. The idea for the AMA began in 1935 (perhaps even before that) at the National Championships in Detroit, Michigan. Leaders and contestants were interested in a selfgoverning body of aeromodeling experts, the thought being that there should be expert guidance of, for, and by model builders. Modelers wanted a single voice to develop national rules for aeromodeling contests, as well as one voice to speak to the government.

"First known as the American Academy for Model Aeronautics (AAMA), the organization dropped ‘American’ from its official title and changed ‘for’ with ‘of’ within a few years. The AMA’s first mailing address, 1732 RCA Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, solidified its legitimacy in 1936. Later that year, the headquarters of the AMA moved to DuPont Circle, Washington, D.C., as part of the National Aeronautic Association (NAA)."

So, since 1923, through the melding of three Junior associations, your AMA has been built on competition. Fastforward to 2018, and the percentage of members who participate in a contest of any kind have really dwindled.

We toss around and receive many theories and opinions about this phenomenon. The Nats for example, aren’t "like they used to be." That’s certainly true. For many years, every modeling discipline descended annually on a naval base and competed for a national championship.

What a great site to see. My dad took me to Chicago and the Great Lakes Naval Air Station. It was such a blast to see it all! Radio Control, Free Flight, Control Line—you name it and it was there. I’m sure the participants loved this because we all respect the amazing things other disciplines are doing. To be able to see the best that the US had to offer in the same place at the same time must have been fantastic.

It doesn’t happen like that today. The use of the Muncie, Indiana, site is as compressed as possible, but it’s pretty much single use for each discipline.

Nationally, we know that the number of sanctions for contests declines slightly each year and participation in the Nats slowly decreases as well. And yet, general membership would indicate that there are plenty of people flying! Why aren’t they competing? I’ll offer a couple of possible reasons.

First of all, people don’t like to be criticized, and flying in front of judges or a stopwatch eliminates a whole lot of excuses. You will need to commit to practicing; the price of victory is preparation.

There is also the time/travel/expense facing anyone deciding to compete. You will have to go where the contests are, and except for maybe one each year, they’re not at your local club. That means packing everything up, buying gas, getting a room, and eating out for two or three days every time you go.

After driving three, four, or six hours one way, you’ll have to make friends with the weather. That’s always in play, so while you sit right now reading this in your favorite chair enjoying a quiet evening with your family, all of this might sound like a combination of crazy ideas. It’s not!

Participating in a competitive event might well be the best thing you’ve ever done, except, of course, marrying your spouse or life decisions such as that. Here are some of the things you’ll get.

Maybe not number one, but the one I always mention first, is that you will be a better flier. I don’t care what you fly, that’s just a fact. Going to your field once or twice a week to sit in a chair and tell lies with your buddies will suddenly seem like time you could be practicing and getting better!

You will become a student of model aviation by looking closely at what others are flying and how they present their flights. Suddenly you’re asking yourself, "Who do I want to fly like?" You will have a model for that, trust me. Mike McConville was the first model for me and I’m still chasing him! However, there’s no question that I’m a much better flier as a result.

And the rewards? The rewards are few if you are looking for dollars, a fine piece of jewelry, or something worthy of your mantle. What you will get is a plaque—maybe. Those are usually reserved for the top three places, so if you’re fourth, there’s not even a plaque. The only thing you have is a long drive home and a conversation with yourself about what happened, what went wrong, and why in the heck are you doing this.

Well, this isn’t true at all! What you have are a group of friends that cannot be replaced. The people you just competed with and desperately wanted to beat, are also the ones who would loan you any part you need, give you any help you ask for, and even go as far as to offer you their airplanes. These people will drive hours to meet you somewhere to practice together, learn together, and plan for the challenge upcoming at the next event. You will also have a group of people to call/email year-round with questions or concerns, and, before you know what’s happened, you have a model aviation universe of your own.

Aircraft designer Burt Rutan often shares his story of flying competitive Control Line for the trophy—for the plaque. Money would never have worked for him. Jesse Owens adds that awards corrode while friends gather no dust.

The nicest people you will ever want to meet and the best friends you’ll ever have are flying model airplanes. Get off that chair and enjoy the many benefits of a good contest!

Fly and have fun!

1 comments

The club I pay my dues at in Arizona for the winter has had 5 events in the last 6 weeks, They even charge Club Members a $6 parking fee to attend as a spectator. Well you can skip the $6 fee by paying the $40 entry fee and wait for a chance to fly at your own over crowded field. I under stand it the parking fee that keep this club in existence by paying for the upkeep of a fine, no great flying site. There's got to be a limit to contests and fun flies.

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