The 2021 Nats

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Written by Rachelle Haughn
Annual contest adapts to a "new normal"
As seen in the November 2021 issue of Model Aviation.

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dale arvin presents his fokker d vii for static judging in the rc scale contest
01Dale Arvin presents his Fokker D.VII for static judging in the RC Scale contest. Photo by Matt Ruddick.
bobby mears and leonardo silva share a laugh while competing in cl combat
02Bobby Mears (red shirt) and Leonardo Silva share a laugh while competing in CL Combat.
ron columbo and steve kott launch for mike evans in cl combat
03Ron Columbo and Steve Kott launch for Mike Evans in CL Combat.
colleen gilbert pits for her husband joe gilbert while he competes in cl precision aerobatics
04Colleen Gilbert pits for her husband, Joe Gilbert, while he competes in CL Precision Aerobatics. Joe finished fourth in the Open class.
this republic p 47d thunderbolt was assembled from a vq warbirds
This Republic P-47D Thunderbolt was assembled from a VQ Warbirds ARF kit. Burt Brokaw competed with it in CL Fun Scale. The fullscale aircraft was one of the largest fighters of World War II. Photo by Fred Cronenwett.

The year 2020 was anything but normal. As the calendar changed to 2021, many hoped that the new year would bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Although life as most knew it might never be the same, one constant that modelers have been able to rely on is the fun, joy, and sense of normalcy that the hobby brings. For some, part of the thrill of aeromodeling is competing. In June, July, and August 2021, pilots had a chance to do just that at the Nats, which took place in somewhat of a normal fashion.

david fitzgerald competes in the open class finals at the cl precision aerobatics nats
06.David Fitzgerald competes in the Open class finals at the CL Precision Aerobatics Nats. Ruddick photo.

The handful of Nats contests that were canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, returned for 2021. Modelers who had barely traveled were finally able to see their friends again. Indiana’s face-mask mandate was lifted, so when people were reunited, they could actually see each other smiling and were able to shake hands (and use hand sanitizer).

Some of the annual traditions at the Nats also came back, such as banquets, cookouts, and simply sitting around a campfire in the evenings to chat.

Other things changed, including the schedule. Instead of the Nats taking place consecutively during a period of roughly six weeks, this year, those six weeks were spread out across three months. The first Nats contests (RC and Control Line [CL] Scale and RC Scale Aerobatics) began June 17 and the final event, RC Soaring, ended August 27.

After approximately 1-1/2 weeks, the Nats took a break for the scheduled World Championship for Aerobatic Model Aircraft (F3A) that was supposed to take place at the International Aeromodeling Center (IAC) in Muncie, Indiana, which is where the Outdoor Nats also took place this year. Earlier in 2021, that international contest was canceled because of the global pandemic.

The Nats resumed on July 20 with the Indoor Free Flight (FF) contest, held at the Indoor Soccer Arenas in Pontiac, Michigan. The RC Aerobatics Nats also took place at the IAC that week.

gary freeman jr. calls for his son brody
07Gary Freeman Jr. calls for his son, Brody, age 11, at the RC Pylon Nats. Ruddick photo.
pilot david moser and his caller jj hedrick
Pilot David Moser (R) and his caller, JJ Hedrick, visualize David’s next flight while competing in RC Scale Aerobatics. Ruddick photo.
a group of callers react to the launch of rc pylon aircraft
09A group of callers react to the launch of RC Pylon aircraft.
jack buckley spent 2 years perfecting this 36 fairchild 24
10Jack Buckley spent 3-1/2 years perfecting this 36% Fairchild 24. The 156-inch aircraft featured a cockpit with crushed velour and carpet and the same cockpit details as the full-scale airplane. It played recorded cockpit audio from Sully Sullenberger’s 2009 flight where he landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River near Manhattan NY. Jack’s aircraft won first place in Designer Scale, first place in F4H, received the High Static award, and won Pilots’ Choice for Best Civilian aircraft.

Another break in the Nats schedule began August 4 for the International Radio Controlled Helicopter Association Jamboree and the MultiGP International Open.

This year’s schedule was definitely different, but one thing that regular Nats attendees knew they could rely upon was inconsistencies in Indiana’s weather. For the most part, it was hot at the Nats, with temperatures hovering in the low to upper 90s°. Sometimes there were heat index warnings; other times, strong wind cut events short by a day or two. Predicted thunderstorms also forced contest directors (CDs) to make the tough calls to fly fewer rounds and determine winners much sooner.

Except for RC Aerobatics, all of the contests saw an uptick in the number of preregistered participants, especially when compared with the 2020 figures. Many of these events had even more pilots than in 2019, long before news of a potential pandemic even made it to the US. In the Sportsman class of the RC Helicopter Nats, there was a record 10 pilots—most of them competing in the Nats for the first time.

Let’s hope that the 2022 Nats will be even closer to the ones that pilots fondly remember from a time before mask mandates, social distancing, and lockdowns.

chris fitzsimmons brought his quark to the rc aerobatics nats
11Chris Fitzsimmons brought his Quark to the RC Aerobatics Nats. There are believed to only be two Quarks in the world.
denny dock launches his rise off water aircraft at the outdoor ff nats
12Denny Dock launches his Rise-Off-Water aircraft at the Outdoor FF Nats.
h. thomas bell releases his airplane into the summer sky at the outdoor ff nats
13H. Thomas Bell releases his airplane into the summer sky at the Outdoor FF Nats.
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mark groves smiles while waiting to compete in nostalgia thermal rc soaring
14. Mark Groves smiles while waiting to compete in Nostalgia Thermal RC Soaring.
john bradley competes in soaring unlimited with his brother
15John Bradley competes in Soaring Unlimited with his brother, Dave, acting as his timer. Ruddick photo.
chuck edwards watches louis matustik prepare his airplane to compete in the rc aerobatics
16Chuck Edwards watches Louis Matustik prepare his airplane to compete in the RC Aerobatics Masters class. Ruddick photo.
don richmond tries to keep his eyes on his sailplane while competing in two meter soaring
Don Richmond tries to keep his eyes on his sailplane while competing in Two-Meter Soaring.
jeff gitchel competes in cl sport jet at the cl speed nats
Jeff Gitchel competes in CL Sport Jet at the CL Speed Nats. Ruddick photo.
the 2021 rc helicopter nats had 10 pilots in the sportsman class
19The 2021 RC Helicopter Nats had 10 pilots in the Sportsman class, which is the most in recent years. Pilot Geena Tucker is shown here competing, with CD Mike Unger serving as her caller.
mike anderson launches pete mazurs aircraft at the starting line on the carrier deck to compete in cl navy
20Mike Anderson launches Pete Mazur’s aircraft at the starting line on the carrier deck to compete in CL Navy Carrier. Because there were few pilots, the 2021 CL Navy Carrier Nats was only one day long. Ruddick photo.
patrick hempel prepares to launch in cl racing
Patrick Hempel prepares to launch in CL Racing. Ruddick photo.
jonathon garber launches during unlimited soaring
22Jonathon Garber launches during Unlimited Soaring. Ruddick photo.
steven wrigley captured a beautiful photo of this aircraft in flight at the indoor ff nats
Steven Wrigley captured a beautiful photo of this aircraft in flight at the Indoor FF Nats.
jonathan nunez and his peanut scale model
Jonathan Nunez and his Peanut Scale model. Jonathan placed second behind his dad, George, at the Indoor FF Nats, held in Pontiac MI. Jonathan is an engineer for SpaceX. Photo by Rob Romash.
timothy guillow and dave smithgall compete in rc combat
25Timothy Guillow and Dave Smithgall compete in RC Combat. Ruddick photo.
cliff hiatt brought his old futaba enya 16 with a supertigre
26Cliff Hiatt brought his old Futaba Enya 16 with a SuperTigre carburetor to the 2021 Nats. He used this helicopter to compete in the first world championship contest for RC Helicopters in 1985, held in London, Ontario, Canada. Other Nats pilots were fascinated by the heli’s outdated technology and Cliff’s stories.

By Rachelle Haughn
Photos by the author and as noted

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