For the past four years, the Southern Minnesota Model Aircraft Club (SMMAC) outside of Owatonna, Minnesota, has hosted an excellent all-electric fly-in called WATTS over Owatonna. It has quickly grown into a well-attended event with more than 150 pilots and sponsors, including Great Planes and Sig Manufacturing, as well as vendors from numerous states. Pilots representing more than 12 states, including some from both the East and West Coasts attended this year!
What draws pilots to a grassy field surrounded by soybeans and cornfields? As the organizer of the event, I’m slightly biased, but just ask any pilot who was there and he or she will tell you it’s the atmosphere. For some, it’s the excellent field with a 700-foot fabric runway surrounded by a 1,200-foot grass runway.
For others it’s the ease of parking a camper at the field and not leaving all weekend. With food running from breakfast to dinner, electric power on the flightline for keeping batteries charged, and more than 150 of your fellow electric RC pilots, why would you not want to attend?
That is our club’s the goal for any event we host, and WATTS is no different. After all, if you’re not having fun, it’s not worth doing.
Curtis Beaumont and his son set up camp for the weekend. Photo by Steve and Carla Mills.
Prizes from many generous sponsors went out to many happy pilots. Mills photo.
The SMMAC, near Owatonna MN, has hosted the all-electric fly-in for the past four years. Mills photo.
Alex Schauer and Ashleigh Heath fly a pair of 72-inch 3D Hobby Shop Extras during one of the many 3-D timeslots. Mills photo.
A beautiful Dragon Rapide biplane rolls out for a flight. Mills photo.
A beautiful blue sky and calm winds kept the flightline busy throughout the weekend. Mills photo.
Having a seasoned farmer on your side when you’re planning an outdoor event is a big bonus. Farmers know the weather and know when we’ll have the best chance for clear skies.
For those of us in southern Minnesota, that time of year is roughly the end of July and early August. Taking place on the first weekend in August this year, WATTS was blessed with excellent weather, mild temperatures that peaked in the low 80s, and winds that stayed below 10 mph. Blue skies and calm winds made for a busy flightline and sky.
The event officially started on Friday morning, but the club invited people to come early and fly on Thursday. This helped those bringing new airplanes and people who wanted to get used to a new field. More than 50 pilots were at the field by Thursday evening for the pre-event spaghetti dinner put on by the SMMAC club.
Friday morning brought more great weather for the pilots. As early as six a.m., with the sun was peeking up over the horizon, pilots were out on dawn patrol with slow fliers and enjoying the completely calm skies. The club’s kitchen was busy making pancakes and sausage for the early risers. Registration was moving quickly and after a brief pilots’ meeting, the flying continued.
Most of Friday was dedicated to open flying. Two flightlines were set up to make the most use of the field and give pilots the more area to fly. The main flightline, with eight flight stations available, was primarily used for larger sport flying.
The main line was staffed with a flightline crew with the help of the Twin Cities Radio Controllers club. They helped make sure everyone was flying safely and the landings and takeoffs were coordinated. Their hard work helped keep things moving smoothly and kept people safe.
At the top of every hour, the main flightline was reserved for 3-D flying. This allowed the 3-D fliers some dedicated time, where they could open up and not worry about the general pattern., and was well used by many 3-D pilots.
Helicopters were also given a time to fly following the 3-D fliers, and a few made good use of the open time.
To the west end of the property, a park-flyer field was set up so pilots with smaller and slower aircraft could enjoy the time without being overrun by larger and faster aircraft. This line was well used by the 3-D foam airplanes, micro RTF airplanes, and even some smaller helicopters or multirotor machines. Available space and multiple flightlines helps pilots feel as though they can get more flying in without worrying about mixing small and slow with large and fast aircraft.
Saturday brought more amazing weather and more pilots. A light breeze down the runway kept people wanting to fly all day long. The only break in the general open flying was a few organized events throughout the day. With more than $3,000 in prizes to give away, the event staff and other sponsors were busy pulling prizes from the cash raffle and performing prize drops from a Sensei trainer. It’s always fun to see kids of all ages chase down a parachute for a chance to win a prize.
At nearly noon on Saturday, the grounds were hopping with spectators checking out the event and visiting the many vendors in attendance. Not wanting to exclude the pilots from any flying activities, the noontime demos were pilot-inclusive, beginning with a mass warbird launch with more than 20 pilots and airplanes taking to the air to circle the field, hoping to return safely. There were no midairs, although the runway was littered with warbirds that had belly-landed after their flights.
The next event had plenty of carnage, as the Combat airplanes took to the air to fight for the WATTS 2013 Combat Champion title. Many hits took out a number of airplanes early on, until it became a battle of energy management. Scott Russell made the final hit with his flying wing and the two airplanes came down.
A few more flight demonstrations of helicopters and Scale airplanes and the field went back to open flying.
One of the things I like most was the chance to meet fellow RC enthusiasts and see what they are flying. It was great to see some young and talented pilots enjoying the event.
There were quite a few young pilots at WATTS, but three who really caught my eye were Ashleigh Heath from Michigan, and Alex Schauer and Ben Kies from Minnesota. The three could be seen flying together during every 3-D flying-time slot. Each has only flown for a few years, but they all have put hours in on simulators and at the field practicing. It showed when they flew.
They connected online through various RC forums and websites, but this was the first time they had met or flown together. It was great to see them challenging each other and helping each other figure things out both in the air and on the ground. They even put on an excellent nighttime demonstration after the sun went down.
This beautiful Dragon Rapide, flown by Dan Schmidt, won the Best Multi-Engine award at WATTS. Anderson photo.
(Unknown Pilot) Fokker Triplane. Smith photo.
(Unknown Pilot) Storch. Smith photo.
Flying doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. That’s when it’s time to pull out the lighted aircraft. Mills photo.
(L-R): Ashleigh Heath, Ben Kies, and Alex Schauer were some of the younger fliers, but they impressed people with their flying abilities. Mills photo.
The SMMAC awarded trophies in a variety of categories during the Saturday steak dinner. Mills photo.
Don Kunath, of Wisconsin Dells WI, flew his beautiful Gilmore Red Lion and was awarded Best Scale Airplane at WATTS over Owatonna. Smith photo.
Ashleigh impressed both pilots and staff so much that she was awarded Best of Show for WATTS 2013. Keep an eye out for them in the near future at more fun-flys and 3-D events.
Events such as WATTS would not be the same without the support of RC manufacturers and vendors. Great Planes has been a primary sponsor for WATTS from its first year. They came with a trailer full of their more recent releases and set up on the flightline. They were busy flying with pilots and even letting pilots get flights on some not-yet-available airplanes.
One of the favorites that pilots anxiously await is the Flyzone Hadron. Chris Sydor and Greg Meyer were busy all weekend discussing the Hadron and many Great Planes and Hobbico products.
Sig Manufacturing also had its new line of ARFs on display. The newly released Four Star 40 and T-Clips caught many pilots’ eyes. Sig’s Mike Gretz and Mike Stott demonstrated the airplanes and let pilots try them out.
The AMA was well represented. Not only were several district associate vice presidents in attendance, but AMA District VII Vice President Tim Jesky spent the weekend. Tim mingled with the pilots and spoke with as many of them as he could. It’s great when someone such as Tim can get out to events such as WATTS, not only to meet the people they represent, but to also let the everyday AMA member feel more connected to the larger organization.
As Saturday winds down, the club hosts a large steak dinner and an awards ceremony. The dinner is all prepared by the club, with huge rib eye steaks, baked potatoes, and all-you-can-eat corn on the cob. This Midwest steak-and-potatoes dinner will not leave you hungry!
Following dinner is an awards ceremony. Although the event is not a competition, the SMMAC club likes to recognize individuals who bring something special or show exceptional skill in the air. The awards are in a variety of areas such as Best Sport Flyer and Multiengine, Pilots’ Choice, and Best of Show.
After a final raffle for some of the choice prizes, it’s back to flying and a round of night flying with the “Man versus Mosquito” night event. Pilots during this event are entered into a special raffle by putting up one night flight with any aircraft.
There were many airplanes in the air and, thanks to some nice, dry weather, there were few mosquitoes to battle—just the airplanes dancing among the stars during a cool, Minnesota, summer night.
WATTS over Owatonna continues to grow each year, yet it retains the goal of being relaxed, friendly, and fun. SMMAC members love to share the field each year with electric RC enthusiasts from many states. With the support of great sponsors such as Great Planes, Sig Manufacturing, and AMA, this event continues to grow yet remain enjoyable for all involved.
Keep an eye out for WATTS over Owatonna in its fifth year in 2014. For more information check the event’s website at www.wattsflyin.com.
Mike Stott from Sig Manufacturing brings up the new 4 Star 64 for a flight. Mills photo.
Helicopters were welcomed and shared the skies with their fixed-wing brothers at WATTS. Mills photo.
Chris Sydor and Greg Meyer prepare for another flight with the Flyzone Corsair. Mills photo.
SMMAC member Marty Zinsli worked with many other club members to keep the grills going all weekend long. Mills photo.
AMA District VII VP Tim Jesky was on hand, checking out the Calypso glider with Greg Meyer. Mills photo.
The line was long, but moved quickly, for the steaks on Saturday evening. Mills photo.
Todd G. accepts the award for Sport Pilot for his Goblin Helicopter. Mills photo.
Sig Manufacturing Co.
Zeke’s Park Scale Models
B & E Graphix
Bob Smith Industries
WATTS over Owatonna