It’s seems this winter has been a busy one for me and the RC hobby. Most years wintertime is a building season for us in the northern US states. However with the unseasonably warm weather and many indoor venues becoming available I have maintained regular flying throughout the winter months this year. One of the highlights for this winter so far has been my recent trip to Champaign IL for E-fest. While the event alone is worth the trip for any RC enthusiast I had the added incentive to be able to go meet my friends from Hobbico that have been great supporters of WATTS over Owatonna the past two years. I was excited to finally get to come see their offices and many of the people who help promote and support our fly in. No longer are they just voices on the phone or text in an e-mail. However I think they were just as excited to have me come down. Not only did they host my friend and I but they also provided us with a booth in the vendor area to promote WATTS over Owatonna. This gave us a nice place to base our gear for the weekend but to also talk with pilots and potential sponsors about the event.
E-fest is held in the University of Illinois Track and Field Armory in Champaign IL. The building is almost 100 years old having been built in 1914. The main floor is 200 feet wide by 400 feet long and the ceiling is just under 100 feet high with very few obstructions. This makes for a very nice open area to fly in. Well it was until you cram 275 pilots, close to 2000 spectators and a number of vendors along the sides. The building was busy and at times space was at a premium but the people from Hobbico and the local RC club kept things running smoothly. Outside of the main field area there were concessions all day long as well as a conference hall setup for seminars.
We arrived mid-day on friday and were able to get in around 3pm to set up our booth. There were already dozens of pilots on hand setting up and even getting in some flights. Tables were provided for the pits area but they filled up fast. The field area was split up into 3 different zones for flying, 3D on one end, Micros on the other and the main sport flying area took up the majority of the field area in the middle. Vendors and sponsors were along the back rows and he main walkway around the field. Overall it was not difficult to get around. After setting up and chatting with a few people we decided we were tired and hungry so we left the armory for dinner and a good nights rest.
The doors opened bright and early at 7:30 am so we got up and rolled in right away. Things were hopping on the flight lines as well with the vendors. The main part of the day was generally open flying. There were a few times set aside for faster or slower planes on the main flight line and around noon they held the Electrifly Air Races in the 3D area but for the most part the flight lines were kept open for everyone to just fly. There were many micro arf’s and foamy 3D planes but what was neat to see was the number of stick and tissue planes coming back. The recent micro gear is well suited to these style planes so expect to see more of it in the future.
Many newer releases could be seen flying all day long. Hobbico’s new AnyLink system was flying the new F-86 airplanes along with the Fokkers, Albatross, Playmates and more. Horizon had the Mig, GeeBee, Super Cub and ASK glider out all being piloted by then new DX18 radio.
There were also some interesting foam creations like the flying aircraft carrier from “FoamandTape”. This carrier could be seen floating around off and on during the day and micro flyers would try taking off and landing from it. There was even a helicopter pad ont he bottom for the carrier to really test the heli pilots. I never did get over to photograph it while in flight.
There was time to do some shopping from the vendors. The good people from Luke’s RC were on hand with some excellent deals on the latest micro RTF airplanes and parts. They also had a great selection of batteries, receivers, servos, motors. If you needed it they had it. Model Aero was also there showing off their collection of float planes and prop jets. I picked up a new micro polaris kit to take with to the thousands of lakes we have here in Minnesota. Keep your eye on Model Aero for something new and exciting later this year. If you’re a polaris fan you’ll love what they have cooking. GWSProps were on hand with plenty of batteries, wire, motors, and even some cool combat airframes. Higher Plane Productions were all over filming and photographing the event so if you were not able to be there they give you the next best thing. Check them out at http://www.higherplaneproductions.com . Along with the vendors there were some manufacturers there as well including Hobbico, Horizon and Robart. It was well worth the time to stop and talk to each one about what they have coming out. It’s an exciting time for the RC industry and I can’t wait to see what they all cook up for this next year.
When evening rolled around it was time to start the airshow. They led it off with a mass launch of gliders kids made at the Hobbico make and take table. Over 100 kids lined up to see who could get the longest flight. There were smiles all around and everyone seemed to have a good time. Perhaps there is a future pilot or two in the bunch now. After the kids cleared the field it was time for the scale competition. Six pilots competed in both a static display and scale flying competition. Both scores were combined to determine the winner. Each model was very well done and an amazing level of detail in both the finish and the function of each aircraft was displayed. In the end it was the Vickers Vimmy with working bomb drop that took the crown. Look for this event to continue and the detail these micro aircraft continue to improve.
Following the scale competition they held the Gauntlet competition where pilots raced through a number of gates built from PVC pipe. They ran two at a time which only added to the fun and excitement. It came down to a three-way race with RJ Gritter, Joe Smith and Devon McGrath. Devon slipped in the final get to win the competition.
The pros then wowed the crowed with both an Airplane Freestyle competition and a Heli Smackdown event. In each competition the pilots flew a 3 minute routine along with a mix of music they put together. Judging was based solely on crowed appeal. RJ Gritter won the airplane competition and Kyle Stacey took the helicopter crown.
There was a round of combat where 37 planes took to the air to try to be the last one standing, well or flying in this case. This was full contact combat and the only rules were that it had to be a prop plane with an 800mah lipo or smaller and you had to fly at full throttle the entire flight. When it came down to two aircraft they placed a gate from the Gauntlet competition out on the field and the first one though was the winner.
To wrap up the night the lights were shut down and the night flyers were brought out for a nice relaxing end to the day. The field was lit up with all colors of LED’s. For about 20 minutes the planes flew around and people packed up for the night. It was a long day filled with plenty of flying and camaraderie.
It was a long and busy trip. I had one other big assignment while I was there but I’ll talk about that another time. I hope to make it back to Champaign again. E-fest was a fun event and hopefully others will check it out as I did. Look for it again next year around the second week of February.