Enthusiasts gather for high-flying model competition


The Southern Indiana Flying Eagles Academy of Model Aeronautics Club 2868 played host to one of the model aviation world’s biggest national events this past week at Seymour.

While two hurricanes may have kept some competitors from making the trip to the west side of Freeman Field Municipal Airport, the U.S. Scale Masters Championships went off with no major glitches.

The club had hoped to have as many as 60 flyers coming from the four corners of the country to compete in the championships, said club President Steve Ort.

“We didn’t have quite as many as we had hoped for, but that just made the event more manageable,” Ort said.

Club member Justin Drake of Clearspring attributed the lower turnout to Hurricane Irma in early September and Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas and Louisiana at the end of August.

“We didn’t see any of the fliers from Florida and some of the other southern states and with the hurricanes down there, that’s no surprise,” Drake said.

The championships is the culmination of efforts by remote-controlled airplane enthusiasts from across the country to be the best. They qualify by doing well at regional competitions.

“This is the end of the season for the contestants, so this is the big one,” Ort said of the event described by some as “the Olympics of the RC plane world.”

Although there’s no prize money associated with it, there is bragging rights and prestige.

The Academy of Model Aeronautics, which promotes aeromodeling, also produces several publications and bi-monthly videos highlighting winners and the sport, Ort said.

Bob Sneberger of Seymour was the only local person to compete in the event, held at the Southern Indiana Flying Eagles field on the west side of Freeman Municipal Airport.

“I started building model planes 20 years ago, then stopped for about 19 years before deciding to pick it back up again this last year,” said Sneberger, as he stood next to his scale model Spacewalker. Sneberger built the plane that was more common among amateur fliers and builders in the past.

“I like to build things and work with my hands, and it’s nice to get out and socialize with people interested in the same hobby,” said Sneberger, who also is a crop duster flying out of Freeman Field.

Sneberger competed in several other events this past year and has flown the remote-controlled plane about 70 times. He even managed to place first in his class and third overall at the AMA National Championships in Muncie.

Sneberger said he was “glad to be back in Seymour with such an active and friendly club.”

Judging for the event was broken down into two parts.

The first was static judging to determine how accurate the model is compared to the real plane.

“There are historian model builders out there who have their plane narrowed down to a single plane and know everything about the plane, the pilot, his record, total kills or flights, then we have people who just build to represent a type of plane like a J3 Cub and there’s everything in between,” Ort said.

The planes, which have wingspans from three feet to nearly 10 feet, ranged from models of World War I, World War II, aerobatic planes, home built and even several modern recreational planes.

Contestants provide judges with documentation on the plane, everything from blueprints to pictures, drawings and history which the judges use to examine the model’s color and markings, outline and the craftsmanship that went into the model.

After that, contestants are judged on flying.

One of the contestants competed and qualified for the championships with only a year and a half of training.

Brady Ornat, 12, of Wakarusa flew his plane Saturday, and the event was only the third he has ever entered.

“He got a model plane for his birthday a little over a year ago and taught himself to fly in the backyard,” said Ornat’s father, Glen Ornat.

While many learn from a mentor, Brady Ornat learned on a smaller scale model before working his way up to a 25-pound model British Spitfire capable of reaching 100 mph.

The goal of the flying is to perform a set series of five required maneuvers and five optional maneuvers, with the intent of flying the model in the same manner that the real plane would fly.

“There’s a lot of difference,” Ort said. “A World War I plane is slower, more stable but lighter so a model has to fly the same. World War II planes were faster, more maneuverable.”

Sneberger said he feels like his real-life flying skills play into it.

“I’m more attuned to how the wind will affect my flight,” he said.

But flying skills aren’t the only trait that makes good remote-controlled fliers as many contestants have never flown a real plane before in their life.

“My favorite movie is Battle of Britain if that tells you anything,” Brady Ornat said. “There is a difference between what the smaller ones can take and what the larger models can take. The big ones you can’t turn as sharp or corner as hard.”

For some, building the plane is just as important as the flying.

“They’re just really fun to build,” Sneberger said. “The possibilities are endless.”

Sneberger said now that he has gotten back into the hobby, he has a few models in mind he would like to build.

Ort said the club was really happy to have the championships in Seymour.

“The level of the planes you see is just topnotch,” he said. “It’s just a great event and you can come out and see excellent aircraft and excellent pilots.”

The field is one of several in the running to be one of four permanent homes for the Scale Master Championships. The event will be rotated among the sites, which are located in different sections of the country.

“It would be great if we were selected,” he said. “That would mean we could see the championships again in 2020.”

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