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Written by Barry Vaught
Scale modelers celebrate 30 years of competition
Event Coverage
As seen in the August 2018 issue of
Model Aviation.

Bonus photos

Model Aviation Magazine - Top Gun Invitational 2018

Top Gun Invitational

The excitement began months in advance as pilots and builders practiced and prepared their aircraft for the 30th anniversary of the Top Gun Invitational, held May 2-6, 2018. Some pilots had beautiful, new, unique entries, and many pilots and their teams traveled thousands of miles internationally to compete in Top Gun at Paradise Field in Lakeland, Florida. This event has been setting the bar for piloting and scale craftsmanship for 30 years. The aircraft and flying skills are among the best in the world.

Jack Diaz obtained his airplane documentation before he built his Fouga Magister jet. He flew his 100-inch wingspan jet with skill and enjoyed the honor of becoming Mr. Top Gun for the second year in a row. Congratulations to two-time Top Gun champion Jack Diaz!

Jack Diaz’s 1/5-scale Fouga Magister has a 100-inch wingspan and weighs 33 pounds.

Two-time Mr. Top Gun, Jack Diaz, with his champion and first-place Expert class trophies.

The scores were close this year and some lost competitions by merely a few points. Lance Campbell’s 14-foot SR-71 Blackbird bent the landing gear on a touch-and-go on Saturday. It had to be replaced to be able to fly in Sunday’s final round. Lance and his caller, Jerry Cruz, were up until 3 a.m. in the hotel conference room machining a replacement. Lance was able to fly his final round and place first in the Masters class. Congratulations, Lance!

Lance Campbell’s self-designed SR-71 Blackbird took nine years to build. The 1/8-scale model has an impressive 13-foot wingspan. Lance was awarded the Engineering Excellence Award and the first-place Masters class award.

One of the most gratifying experiences of Top Gun 2018 took place during the event’s final day. Intermittent light rain showers halted the flying. A pilots’ meeting was held and everyone voted on whether to tally the scores and close the competition or to continue flying in the light rain.

An overwhelming number of pilots voted to complete the flying. The judges were back in their chairs and the pilots flew their prized airplanes without stopping during the light rain. That is how strong the will to compete at the Top Gun Invitational really is.

On notable anniversaries, we often look at the past. The original Top Gun, held in Coral Springs, Florida, on Sawgrass Parkway, was hosted by the Condor Club and included 40 pilots. This year’s Top Gun boasted 155 pilots.

This panoramic view of the flightline provides a glimpse of the excitement of 30 years of competition.

The size of aircraft at the first Top Gun was smaller because of the limited power options available at that time. Back then, the builder was the pilot and the internet was not available yet for builders to search for airplane documentation. Photographers took pictures of full-scale aircraft to sell to builders for their documentation, and three-view drawings were available for a price.

If a pilot damaged his or her airplane, the person was out of luck and probably had to make whatever parts he or she needed and wait for the next Top Gun. Plug-and-play airplane kits were not available, so nearly everything was stick-built.

Rich Feroldi’s Albatros aircraft is similar to an early Top Gun entry. Transmitters, receivers, servos, and power options have vastly improved. Photographers used film then, and there was a longer waiting period before anyone could view the photographs.

Top Gun’s mass Free Flight (FF) launch is always a thrill to experience, and this year was no different. Watching the pilots wind the rubber motors on their airplanes is entertaining. A prelaunch mishap occurred when one of the rubber motors broke and caused a crash.

To see FF champion Dave Platt launch his airplane that flew so perfectly and seemed to have a zero-gravity gyro, was a unique experience. Dave’s unofficial flight time was approximately 2 minutes before his airplane went out of sight.

The Young Guns class was initiated this year and the pilots were outstanding. These young pilots hope to advance and have a chance at being a future Mr. Top Gun. I had the chance to talk with some of them and they are entertaining, enthusiastic, and innovative, and are honing their skills.

The Young Guns classes were popular and Cody Hague participated with his Dusty Duster.

Young Gun Zavi Machinchy follows in his father Ali’s footsteps by flying jets.

Top Gun pilots, builders, and fans are some of the most resourceful and generous people you could ever meet. Congratulations and thank you to event organizer Frank Tiano and everyone involved for carrying on this great RC Scale airplane tradition for 30 years!

Frank hopes that manufacturers and other companies that make their livings from the sale of model aircraft and their accessories will support future Top Gun events.

David Moser’s 1/5-scale B-25 has a 118-inch wingspan and is powered by two G-38 engines. David achieved fourth place in the Pro-Am Prop class.

Franco Di Mauro’s metallic Fiat G.91 Italian jet fighter.

Brett Becker’s XB-70 Valkyrie is a seldom-modeled aircraft. The 1/22-scale Valkyrie is 96 inches long, weighs 25 pounds, and is powered with four 70 mm fans.

Peter Goldsmith’s 1/4-scale D.H.4 has a 127-inch wingspan, weighs 26 pounds, and is powered with a Saito G-40. Peter flew it to first place in the Pro-Am Prop class.

Trond Hammerstad and Ali Machinchy’s 1/4-scale, 126-inch wingspan Me 262 placed fourth in Team class. The 45-pound model is flown using two KingTech 140 turbines.

Salvadore Becherano’s 1/5-scale Viper jet has a 98-inch wingspan and is kept aloft with a KingTech 180 turbine.

Dustin Buescher and Mike Grady’s 1/9-scale B-17 has a 138-inch wingspan. The 67-pound, electric-powered model features four Hacker A-60 motors. The pair placed fifth in Team class.

Mike Wolvin displays his Corsair FG-1D. The propeller that is installed is only for scale judging and photographs.

Master FF grand champion Dave Platt’s unofficial flight time was 2 minutes before the airplane flew out of sight.

Frank Noll and Mike Barbee’s impressive 1/4-scale Beechcraft King Air G90 took first place in Team class. The model has a 155-inch wingspan.

During competition, multiple models can be in the air. Here, Joe Costello’s T-34 is performing a flyby while Rei Gonzalez’s MiG-15 lands.

Robert Lynch’s 1/5-scale BVM F-18A stands out in the air and is powered with two KingTech 310 turbine engines.

2018 Top Gun Results

—Barry Vaught


Top Gun Invitational


I doubt my modelling skills can even get my foot in the door @Top Gun, but if funding & time were available, I sure would visit.

The article did give any details of Dave's FF plane shown in the photo. Name? Plans? Own design? Details please

One doesn't have to compete to have fun at Top Gun. I have been attending as a spectator many times including two or three yearly events in W. Palm. Been in the R/C hobby since 1975
and control line in the 1940's. Sure would be a tragedy if it were to close because of lack of sponsors. Too bad what the Chinese drones have done to our hobby! Maybe things will be more kind in the next life?

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