Expo West 2018

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Written by Matt Ruddick Taking flight at Fairplex As seen in the March 2019 issue of Model Aviation.

Bonus Video

ama expo west 2018
Pictured here are the competitors and spotters for the NASA versus Scaled Composites combat and air race.

Nearly 20 years ago, when the AMA took over what was then known as the International Modelers Show, industry trade shows were traditional. Rows and rows of vendors, showing off new products with the hope of exciting potential and returning customers, was the name of the game.

Renamed the AMA Expo, the event became a staple in Southern California. It was first held in Pasadena before moving to Ontario, east of Los Angeles.

the outdoor flying area proved
The outdoor flying area proved to be a popular addition to AMA Expo West.
mason hutchison of scaled composites
Mason Hutchison of Scaled Composites pilots his Flite Test Bloody Wonder.
although the damage looks bad
Although the damage looks bad, these aircraft were able to be fully repaired and presented to their pilots’ spotters.
rc cars were able to utilize
RC cars were able to utilize the extra space to run demonstrations for attendees.

Likely because of internet message boards and the popularity of e-commerce, trade shows across the country began seeing a decline in attendance and the number of exhibitors. The AMA Expo was not immune to this cultural shift, and following the newly named AMA Expo West in January 2018, a decision was made to do more than simply put a new coat of paint onto AMA’s annual signature event.

The New AMA Expo West

To introduce any meaningful changes to the AMA Expo West format, the Expo planning team, led by Partnership and Sales Manager Erin Dobbs, knew that a change in venue would be critical. Although the Ontario Convention Center had been a wonderful location for many years, it would be unable to accommodate much of what the team wanted to include in its new show.

Only a few miles away, the Pomona Fairplex facility and its more than 500 acres of grounds (including indoor exhibit space and potential outdoor flying areas) became the prime choice to hold the new and improved AMA Expo West. A plan was put in place to expand the show to include RC cars, boats, and trains, and the biggest new attraction would be the inclusion of an outdoor flying area that would operate all day and into the evening hours.

"We knew we had to change something, and we were never able to include cars, boats and trains, much less have actual flying going on. When we visited the Fairplex, we all were just in awe of the possibilities of how it could be used," Erin explained.

Another major change to the AMA Expo was the date. Traditionally, the show was held in early January. Of course, this happens to fall into the heart of rainy season in Southern California. Continuing to hold the show on this date would likely hinder much of the outdoor activities that the team was planning.

Additionally, many vendors felt that meeting with customers before the holiday shopping rush began would benefit them more than a post-holiday date. The decision was made to move the show from January to the first weekend in November. Larry Gustafson of Santa Rosa, California, an AMA member since 1970, cited this date change as the sole reason he attended this year. He said, "I travel a lot during the holidays and the November date is much better and doesn’t interfere with my family’s holiday plans."

Larry wasn’t the only attendee excited about the changes made this year. Nearly all of those in attendance, either at the flightline or in the exhibit hall, had smiles glued to their faces. Whether it was admiring the new products being announced in the EMAX booth or watching the AMA Alpha Free Flight competition, guest after guest remarked about how much fun the show was and how engaging it had become.

Outdoor Flying

It certainly was the outdoor flying area, sponsored by Extreme Flight, that had the most buzz among attendees at the show. The Expo team felt that the inclusion of outdoor flying was going to be essential to the success of this new format.

it was every person for him
It was every person for him or herself during the exciting combat portion of the competition.
model trains were a new addition
Model trains were a new addition to AMA Expo West 2018.

Erin explained, "People who are not familiar with model aviation aren’t going to be excited about seeing a plane sitting on a table … they get excited by seeing them in the air and seeing what can be done with it."

Of course, she was right! Attendees took the short shuttle ride out to the flying site continually throughout the day and were met with a busy flightline and a crowd of excited spectators.

For much of the day, the flightline was reserved for registered pilots to come out and fly their aircraft against the beautiful backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains. Other times, companies and manufacturers were able to demonstrate their products for the onlookers. Seth Arnold, a team pilot with Flex Innovations, echoed Erin’s statements. "We’ve had guys come out and say that they want to see this plane fly or that plane fly, and we’ve been able to go out and fly them and let customers buddy box on them to see if it’s something they’re interested in buying. I think it’s really cool for everybody out here."

Each day, flightline boss Mark Wood managed dozens of pilots alongside Dennis Lord, who coordinated the airspace between the flightline and nearby Brackett Airfield. When the exhibition hall closed each evening, the flying didn’t stop outside. As the sun set, people were treated to a night-flying exhibition with various airplanes performing exciting 3D routines, and LED-laden helicopters lighting up the sky.

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multigp held the ama
MultiGP held the AMA Expo West Cup throughout the weekend.
the make-andtake rocket area
The make-andtake rocket area isn’t necessarily new to Expo, however launching them after construction is!
hayley carter
Hayley Carter, also known as RC Girl, tried her hand on a flight simulator at the Horizon Hobby booth.
partnership and sales manager
Partnership and Sales Manager Erin Dobbs talks with AMA President Rich Hanson at the annual AMA membership meeting.

One of the highlights of the outdoor flying area was the NASA versus Scaled Composites combat and air race. An idea that was born a year before, the competition pitted 10 pilots from Scaled Composites against 10 pilots from NASA’s Armstrong Research Center in a friendly contest with only bragging rights on the line.

Twenty aircraft built to the same specifications (Bloody Wonder kits provided by Flite Test) were flown by the two teams, and each pilot utilized spotters from the Civil Air Patrol, as well as young volunteers from the gathered audience. At the end of the competition, the pilots from NASA eked out a narrow victory; however, the real winners were the young spotters who were given their pilots’ aircraft to take home and continue their pursuit of flight.

Along with the main flightline, outdoor activities also included multiple RC car courses, a Control Line area that was run by the Knights of the Round Circle, a make-and-take rocket area, full-scale flyovers, and a MultiGP drone racing course that hosted the AMA Expo West Cup.

Members of the Orange County Modelers Association (a local MultiGP chapter) Bob Hunter and Rich Lee put in extra hours designing and building the course, while Joe Scully, MultiGP executive vice president of Race Production, served as the race director and kept everybody on schedule and entertained throughout the weekend. The AMA Expo West Cup also served as a qualifier for the 2018 MultiGP Championships in Las Vegas.

Indoor Activities

Although the outdoor activities were a huge part of the overall AMA Expo experience, the heart of the event was still the 105,000-squarefoot exposition hall. The hall featured a Main Speaker stage where presenters such as Chief NASA Scientist Al Bowers, Mason Hutchison of Scaled Composites, The RC Geek Chris Wolfe, and The Paper Airplane Guy John Collins all gave daily presentations on various topics.

A separate stage housed various how-to seminars and workshops, attracting people looking for hands-on guidance on topics such as soldering, airbrushing, and aerial photography. An indoor flying cage, presented by EMAX, stayed busy throughout the weekend with new product demonstrations and impromptu micro drone races. The swap shop offered classic and modern treasures at bargain prices.

More than 90 exhibitors lined up throughout Hall 4 at the Fairplex, greeting customers and showing off their product lineups. With nearly 50% more space than what was available at the previous venue, larger aisles allowed for greater crowds and larger displays for everyone to enjoy. Although Erin reported a 30% increase in attendance over the previous Expo, the exhibit hall felt much more comfortable thanks to the additional space.

2019 AMA Expo West

It might seem early to begin pondering what the 2019 AMA Expo West will bring, but don’t tell Erin that. She’s been thinking about next year’s show since the doors closed on the 2018 show. Based on the overwhelmingly positive response to the 2018 event, Erin and her team are already thinking about how they can build on the success that they achieved.

One of the more important potential additions to the 2019 show is centered around education. "We’re going to focus one whole day on STEM activities, and hopefully make Friday a ‘field trip day’ for kids," Erin explained.

Of course, the outdoor flying will be back as well, and there might be a few more surprises hidden up the sleeves of the Expo team. If 2018 is any indication, you won’t want to miss AMA Expo West 2019.

The flightline presented a beautiful mountainous backdrop for pilots to show off their skills.


AMA Expo West


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I haven’t had a chance to attend one of these as of yet, due to my work schedule/finances. I heard ‘18s was a HOOT. So much so, I read somewhere they want to combine both East and West together @Pomona Fairplex.

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