Static judging this year was handled by a single, four-man team evaluating all the entries requiring judging. This task has been managed by two separate teams, but the smaller number of entries due to Covid-19 concerns meant that the number of judges could be adjusted accordingly. The changes were well managed and the results followed previous tradition—totally successful!
At an event as long standing and prestigious as Top Gun, you would expect to see a field of excellently executed replicas with many of them falling into the “outstanding” category, with entries that go way beyond the definition of “models” and are, more accurately, reduced-scale replicas. Top Gun rules allow the Craftsmanship judge in the static portion of the competition free rein to get as up close and personal with the model as we chose. And it can be a daunting task!
As expected, there were some really amazing models competing at this edition of Top Gun. I’ve attended all 32 and have to say that this year’s competition featured a large number of truly outstanding replicas. They weren’t limited to one type, either. Here’s why. For the benefit of those of you that insist “rag” airplanes like Cubs, Champs, and the like are simpler subjects and therefore easier to model. I’ve got a news flash, they aren’t! This year’s Mr. Top Gun, Bret Becker, chose a Lockheed U-2C as his subject, starting only with a 3-view and lots of motivation. He fabricated nearly everything on the all-composite model himself and did a masterful job! For those of you that think it takes a razzle-dazzle, “look at me” finish to successfully compete at Top Gun, I suggest you look at Bret’s entry. It’s a black airplane, devoid of nearly all markings but extremely well executed. Surface detail was outstanding as was the finish, which matched his documentation perfectly. Hard to find fault with the model, he was awarded a perfect 100 static score for his effort! That doesn’t often happen!
The entries, as in past years, varied all the way from Henry Castellano’s beautiful (and big) twin-turbine Boeing 787-8 to Rich Feroldi’s gorgeous Albatros DVa and covered every period in between. With so many outstanding subjects to look at I found it difficult to come up with favorites for this coverage so I narrowed the field by choosing three models that had never before appeared at Top Gun, demonstrating the fact that there are always new and exciting projects underway, getting prepared for Top Gun. First of these was the 1/4-scale Fairchild PT-23 from the Hostetler plan masterfully executed by Tim Dickey. The PT-23 is a pre-WW II trainer— the “round-motored” version of the popular PT-19 Cornell—and Tim did an outstanding job of replicating it. Those of you who think that partially fabric covered subjects are “easy” need only to look closely at the covering job on this machine. The pinked-edged tapes and rib stitching were details to behold. Staying with fabric but moving the clock forward nearly a half century is the Cub Top Cub general aviation machine entered by Larry Folk. Starting with a Balsa USA kit, Larry put lots of extra effort into this 1/3-scale (144-inch) beauty. This isn’t a model that screams “Look at me! Aren’t I beautiful?” It rather subtly beckons you to come closer to absorb and appreciate the many smaller details that are everywhere. With this beautiful replica, “understated” is an understatement!
Equally understated and clearly at the other end of the subject spectrum is the F-86 Sabre from Brian O’Meara. So many “scale” models these days seem to suffer from “over-weathering,” negatively impacting the overall realism. Too much dirt and simulated fluid leakage, gun gas staining and panel line/skin chipping that would indicate that the real version never had any maintenance or paint touch up. Brian’s subtle touches to the Tomahawk-based kit were just right; very convincing and well executed, in keeping with the rest of the model. There were many others, like Mike Fetyko’s SBD Dauntless, Mike Barbee’s Beech King Air, the Bücker Jungmeister of Craig Bradshaw, and the Machinchy/ Hammerstadt Team entry Me-262 Schwalbe—all amazing scale modeling efforts!
Some say that the longevity and popularity of any event lies in its ability to adapt to a dynamic environment, expand to accommodate change and welcome participation from new sources. Event originator and promoter, Frank Tiano, seems to have accomplished these objectives with his event as it passes the 32 continuous year mark. It is unique and enjoys a worldwide reputation for bringing the best scale radio control modelers together for an intense competition with the victor being crowned “Mr. Top Gun.” This title has been bestowed upon a small number of outstanding modelers/fliers who clearly have what it takes to earn the honor.
Over the years, I’ve watched some pretty magic and impressive things happen at the event. Models have grown dramatically in size, complexity, sophistication and quality. The trickle-down effect has obviously impacted the everyday, sport-scale modeler because the interest in scale is evident, right down to the local field level. Obviously, suppliers of product recognize it also; just look at the types of models being offered to the consumer these days! Hard to believe, but some of the ARFs available today rival the models being flown at Top Gun during the early years!
It is now possible to buy composite airframes of a large cross-section of model types from warbirds and bizjets through some new-generation gunslingers. Most, if not all, of these offerings come with all that neat detail likes panel lines, access hatches, rivets and fasteners already molded into the surface. Do these models jump out of the box right onto the static judging table with no intervention from a “modeler”? Not by a long shot as there is a lot of “systems integration” and finishing to be performed before that happens. How much of that is “modeling” is a question that always has been, and will continue to be, debated where ever scale competition takes place. The models, as part of their growing sophistication, continue to grow in size. Those “smallish” .60-powered models seen at the first Top Gun are no longer players in this arena with some of the models in this year’s competition approaching 10 foot or better in wingspan with weights on the 60-70 pound range, wet. The lightest model in competition (not counting the foamie EDF jets in the newly established class) was 17 pounds and there were very few of those in that weight range with the average model being in the 35-45 pound area! This size, sophistication, pre-fabrication doesn’t come without a price tag, however. A quick tabulation with my pocket calculator shows that some of the models on hand could easily exceed $20K, exclusive of labor, which you wouldn’t consider anyway; this is a “hobby” right?? Now, before you jump on that number and proclaim, “I wouldn’t spend that kind of money on an RC model to compete in any contest!” remember, this is Top Gun, not just any contest and you still get there by invitation only.
Flying aircraft they built from plans or kits, entrants in this class add scale detail and modify as needed. All airplanes in the Expert class receive a static score and fly four flight rounds. After their lowest flight score is dropped, the average of the rest is added to their static score for a final number. This year, eight pilots competed in this class.
1st // Bret Becker // Lockheed U-2C
Bret’s all-composite spyplane was originally designed by Rene Saenz. Rene spent several years creating composite molds for this project. He loved the U-2 and felt the C variant with its enlarged intake would be ideal for EDF power. Bret used these molds to produce the first flying prototype. It earned a perfect 100 points from the static judges. It’s powered by a 120mm Schübeler HDS-86 electric ducted fan unit on 12S 6600 LiPos. Bret reports the 22-pound airframe and power system is extremely efficient in the air and flight times exceed 10 minutes. Bret earned a flight score of 378.750 and total score of 195.667, winning the Expert class and the coveted Mr. Top Gun title.
Bret commented, “The major challenge for the U-2 project was the composite skin hinges molded into the wing. In the past I’ve used Kevlar with mixed results. I eventually used peel ply as the hinge material and I’m happy to say it works like a charm! This was not difficult but did take some patience. The final result however was 100% worth the effort.”
2nd // Mike Barbee // Beechcraft King Air T-44A
After earning 96.750 points from the static judges, Mike flew his 1/4-scale aircraft using a Futaba 18MZ radio to earn a total of 194.125 points. Built from Bob Patton plans, the 138-inch-span King Air is powered by twin Kontronik electric motor systems, weighs 55 pounds, and sports the Heritage color scheme
3rd // Larry Folk // Top Cub
Powered by a D&B 3.7ci gas engine turning a 23x10 prop, this 1/3-scale Top Cub has a 144-inch span, weighs 35 pounds and is built from a Balsa USA kit. It earned Larry 96.250 static points, and he flew his model using a Jeti DS-16 radio to earn a total of 192.375 points.
4th // Tim Dickey // Fairchild PT-23
Built from Hostettler plans, Tim’s 1/4-scale Fairchild PT-23 is powered by a Robart R-780 radial four-stroke engine spinning a 28x8 propeller and weighs 47 pounds. The 115-inch-span primary trainer earned 97.500 points at the static judges’ table, and Larry flew it using a Spektrum DX-20 radio to earn 191.042 total points.
5th // Nick Morrow // Yak 130
Powered by twin JetCat P-140 turbine, this impressive jet is built from a BVM kit, is 94 inches long and has a span of 80 inches. The Yak 130 earned Nick 94.000 points on the static judges’ table. He flew it using a Jeti radio to earn him a total score of 189.792.
6th // Jamie Fiffles // F4U Corsair
Built from Don Smith plans, Jamie’s 1/4-scale, 122-inch-span Corsair earned 92.000 static points. It’s powered by a Moki 250 gas engine equipped with a Solo three-blade propeller. Jamie flew the 73-pound aircraft using his Futaba 18MZ radio to earn 183.750 total points. Jaime painted his Corsair in the colors of the VF-17 Jolly Rogers (Chico Fredman’s aircraft).
7th // Craig Bradshaw // Bücker Jungmeister
Built from Don Smith plans, Jamie’s 1/4-scale, 122-inch-span Corsair earned 90.750 static points. It’s powered by a Moki 400 gas engine swinging a Solo 3-blade propeller and weighs 54 pounds. Jamie flew it using his Futaba 14MZ radio to earn 178.075 total points.
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IT'S ALL IN THE DETAILS
2020 TOP GUN SCALE INVITATIONAL
TOP GUN SCALE INVITATIONAL
THE 32ND YEAR OF EXCELLENCE!
THE COMPETITION CONTINUES
Every spring, Frank Tiano’s Top Gun Scale Invitational has heralded the beginning of the flying season, offering builders an opportunity to show off their projects in Lakeland, Florida after a winter spent finishing them in their workshops.
BUILDING BENCH & WORKSHOP TIPS
I have built countless RC models, from kits, plans and even my own scratch designs.
TOP GUN FAVORITE MARK CHAPMAN'S 1/3-SCALE ALBATROS D.VA
When I told Model Airplane News executive editor Debra Cleghorn that I was attending the Top Gun Scale Invitational for the first time, she asked me if I would interview the pilot of one of my favorite planes at the event. As a WW I fan (and a Balsa USA builder), I chose Mark Chapman’s beautifully detailed 1/3-scale Balsa USA Albatros D.Va, flown by Marvin Alvarez in Team Scale.
HEAVY-DUTY SCALE FLAPS
FUNCTIONAL CONTROL SURFACES WITH ADDED DETAIL
SEAGULL MODELS/LEGEND HOBBY SAVAGE SHOCK CUB
A short takeoff and landing wonder!
GETTING STARTED IN FPV
BetaFPV makes getting a bird’s-eye-view easier than ever!
AILERON/RUDDER MIXING EXPLAINED
Build good habits now and fly better tomorrow
BRITTEN-NORMAN - DEFENDER 2000
An electric-powered Islander on steroids