Tucson Aerobatic Shootout – October 2 – 5, 2003

By Frazer Briggs

Over a few quiet beers in the Sahara with Dave Johnson (Desert Aircraft) following the 2002 TOC in Las Vegas, Dave asked me if I were keen to come back the following year for the Tucson Aerobatic Shootout, as the next TOC would be 2 years away. Another beer later, and the plans were all sorted. The new TOC model was to stay behind with Dave for storage in Tucson, and the number two model would return to NZ. This made the trip home from the TOC easier, and the trip back for the Shootout would be a breeze.

So with the transmitter case in one hand, and some essential spare parts in the other, 3 of us left for the 2003 Shootout in late September. Myself, Mike Briggs and Alan Belworthy of New Plymouth were the team, and a short 10 day trip was the plan. Travelling to an overseas aeromodelling event without having to lug your models too is definitely the way to go ! 12 hours overnight to LA (Mike snored for 6 of them) and then a 1hr domestic down to Tucson, it was too easy. For those of you wondering where Tucson is, its down the bottom of Arizona, about 1 hour drive north of the Mexican border. Its desert country, so not much greenery, and plenty of cactus. We’re getting to know this part of the States quite well after 5 previous TOC trips. So we’d been to Tucson before, its only a few hours south of Phoenix.

On arrival long trousers and polar fleece jerseys were quickly switched for shorts & jandals. The temp was a balmy 35 C, with almost zero humidity….sweet. Dave met us at the Airport, and we collected our rental van. A 15 foot Dodge !

Next day, after a tour through Desert Aircraft’s new premises, we soon had the model unpacked and engine running in the carpark. The new DA factory is impressive. Office space, new workshop for the engine manufacturing, and a huge warehouse stocked with large model / IMAC gear. A shopping trolley & credit card session was soon added to our itinerary, particularly Alan who had never seen so many propellers !

We headed a few hours drive north to a place called Apache Junction. There is a remote desert practice site here with one really great feature … you can fly while standing in the shade from a lone tree. The guys we stay with are all into flying IMAC too, so they were also practicing for the Shootout. We stayed with John Heigl and his family for a few days. As usual the hospitality is fantastic.

The plane was flying well. On test flight it required one click of trim, and it only took a few more flights to get it feeling the same as the model back home in NZ. 4 days of solid practice went without any drama what so ever. A bit of a relief after the debacles that had occurred last year. I would guess that we flew at least 40 litres of gas through he model. In fact the only thing that happened during our practice was the pilots ten gallon hat falling off. One of the local guys, Len, offered to do a repair job for us. He reckoned a hat pin right through his head would keep that sucker in place. Wait, how about an arrow he laughed ! Well Len took the pilot home and returned the next day with his cowboy hat glued back in place, and a number of arrows through his neck and chest ! This was sure to get a few laughs down at the contest. It also went well with the western themed Freestyle I had put together. Music from Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”, and our famous Rawhide finale.

Back down to Tucson for the Shootout. Dave reckoned this was to be the mother of all IMAC contests. Four classes flown, Unlimited through Sportsman, and the number of entries capped at 60. Thanks to a large list of sponsors, about $40,000 worth of product made up the prize table, engines, kits etc, plus another $10,000 in cash for the top three in unlimited, and the winner of freestyle.

On the first day of the contest we were amazed to see almost every model was 40% size, and mostly ARF. Yes, it’s a bit different over there, the Sportsman guys fly 40% ARF IMAC planes with 150cc engines in em ! There were a few guys flying the smaller 100 inch sized models, but I think out of the 50 models on the flightline, there were perhaps only 3 models under 90 inch. To get all the flying through over the four days, two flight lines were flown side by side. There were no mid airs, and the contest was very streamlined. Each pilot started their engine and had taken off before the previous pilot had even finished his sequence. Planes taking off took right of way over planes landing. As soon as the previous pilot completed his sequence and exited the box, you walked in front of the judges and called “entering the box”. At times there were four planes in the sky. After your flight you held out of the box  until clear to land.

The std of flying in the Sportsman, Intermediate & Advanced classes was pretty good. Over the four days we flew 7 rounds of the Known sequence (most of these were two sequences back to back) and 3 rounds of Unknown sequences.

On the second day of the contest a strong crosswind made the flying a little tougher, but things got really exciting when a dust devil came through late in the afternoon. We’ve seen these so called dust devils plenty of times before off in the distance, but this was the first time we had actually been inside one ! It’s basically a mini tornado measuring 30 to 50 feet across the base, and extending several hundred feet up. Not as nasty as the ones we see on the TV, but enough to make things pretty hectic wen it went through the middle of a line up of expensive airplanes.  Alan dived on the model while I held down as many deck chairs as I could. The two guys who were flying at the time lost total sight of their models for almost a minute. The sky was completely browned out. Further down the line a few guys out of the dust could see the models in the air and were yelling directions. It was amazing that these two guys were able to regain sight of their models and land them still in once piece. I was quite expecting to hear the sound of balsa and foam & glass compressing. A while later Mike reappeared from an RV with a half finished watery beer in one hand wondering why the model was so messy !

On the Friday night we enjoyed an outdoor steak dinner at the official Shootout do. Unfortunately the Americans are not into the socialising aspect of eating out as we are so accustomed to here in NZ. As soon as the last spoon full of desert had been hoovered up, all 60 of them up’d and left at 9pm sharp. Well it would have been rude for us to leave so early, so along with a few Canadians and Peter Wessels from Germany, we had a few more quiets before calling it a night to work on the next days Unknown.

There were some pilot eliminations for the final day of the contest. The top 12 unlimited pilots made up one flight line, while the top 4 pilots from each of the other three classes made up 12 pilots for other flightline. We had been jostling for 3rd spot all week with Mark Leesburg who managed to win a round of Unknown and was flying well. The pressure was on to post a good unknown score. The previous days unknown had ended early with a dead stick, and an off field landing. As it turned out, Sunday was our best day. The unknown went really well & during the tailslide I held my breath as it slid backwards. If it had fallen towards the canopy instead of the wheels, we would have instantly moved back to about 7th place. But we nailed it, and scored well. Our known flight later in the day was also a blinder. So I was stoked to finish in 3rd place behind Jason Shulman and Chip Hyde. Even more reason to have a few coldies, when the final scores came out we had won both rounds of the day !

The model was re boxed and left at Desert Aircraft ready for future US events. There will be a Shootout in 2004 and Dave hopes he can entice a few more international pilots into signing up. Thanks again to all the folks in Arizona who made our stay very enjoyable, John & Lisa Heigl up north, plus Dave & Terry Johnson of Desert Aircraft who looked after us in Tucson and put on a fantastic contest. Thanks also to the guys on my team, Mike did a sterling job as the caller, and Alan was a great help on the flightline. Alan has a new nickname now, as every day he was particularly pedantic about ensuring the cooler was always stocked with plenty of ice, beer & water !

The flighthome was chocka, but after 10 long days in the Desert, getting some sleep was not a problem.


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