Round Top R/C Expo


Written by Lee Ray and Fitz Walker |
Photos by the authors
An RC event worthy of Texas
As seen in the February 2022 issue of Model Aviation.

It is well known in the South that "Everything is bigger in Texas." Big Bend National Park, cowboy hats, pickup trucks, high school football stadiums, and now we can proudly add the Round Top R/C Expo to that list.

The concept for this event centered around the announcement that The Toledo Show: R/C Model Expo was closing after a great run of 65 years. Many attendees were sad to hear the news, including Terry Foote, a Texan who had attended the Toledo Show for the past 10 years. Terry commented, "When COVID hit and shut down the Toledo Show, I was lamenting about it with my friend, Fred Massey. After telling him what a huge loss it was for the modeling community, we discussed the idea of filling that void by creating a large RC event here in Texas."

After that initial meeting, Fred and Terry chatted at least once a week to put the plan in motion. Fred, a resident of Round Top, Texas, an RC hobbyist, and a full-scale pilot since the 1970s, loved the idea and wanted to bring it to his town. "With Toledo shutting down, this was a great opportunity to provide RC pilots from the South a similar experience as the Toledo Show. We’d make it an exciting outdoors flying event, including covered areas for vendors and a swap meet."

Round Top is a small town of 90 permanent residents that sits between Austin and Houston. You might wonder why this place would be considered for such a huge event. In fact, the town is famous for two major antique shows every year, one in the spring and another in the fall. It swells up to 100,000 visitors, with more than 4,000 vendors from around the globe, to fill countless fields, tents, and barns along Route 237. They sell everything from priceless antiques to $1 items for a crowd that includes A-list interior designers, weekend thrifters, and casual browsers.

Because of those popular shows, there are several food vendors, bed and breakfasts, and outdoor rental facilities (tents, chairs, tables) available. Fred’s family has been a part of Round Top for nearly 20 years and his son, Mark Massey, is the mayor. They love the people out here and hope that they can bring another popular event to the town.

Fred and Terry wanted to join forces with one of the most popular groups of RC pilots in Texas, the Texas Warbird Thunder Flying Team (TWTFT), headed by Randy Larsen and Greg Yancy. These men know how to put on a flying show, and they attend many flying events across the Southern states.

It is said that whenever TWTFT is coming, good times are not far behind! The group consists of select pilots who mainly fly Giant Scale warbirds. Many enjoy performing gaggle flights (five-plus aircraft flying at the same time), and a few members build and fly identical aircraft in formation, such as what you would see at a full-scale air show.

The team has roughly 50 pilots, including original members Randy "Firewall" Larsen, Greg "The Godfather" Yancy, Albert "Rajun Cajun" Thibodaux, Jimmy "Two Rags" White, "Ballistic" Brandon Courtney, "Lightning" Larry Peck, "Super" Dave Brown, and Corey "DJ" Johnson. The team also includes two extremely talented young pilots, Chris Dunin and Grant Schroeder.

the center of the flightline shows some of the models in attendance
02. The center of the flightline shows some of the models in attendance.
Mike Laible’s beautiful B-24 Liberator is on a simulated bombing run.
03. Mike Laible’s beautiful B-24 Liberator is on a simulated bombing run.
a biplane in the air at sunset over thunder field
04. A biplane in the air at sunset over Thunder Field.

Randy, the head of TWTFT, wasn’t sold on the concept at first. The initial pitch evolved around a flying site that didn’t yet exist, and there were additional questions, including the cost. Months later, Fred built a temporary runway on the edge of town and invited members of the TWTFT to a meeting in hopes of hashing out all of the details for the big event.

Fred made it clear to everyone that he wanted to put on a large event, he wanted Randy and Greg to run it, and that he would provide the funds and land that were necessary to put it on. They talked for hours and tossed around all of the ideas to make this something special. Fred regularly said, "Whatever you need." In the end, they had a plan and a name: The Round Top R/C Expo.

The first runway ended up being nixed because of the size and location, so Fred suggested that they use part of his farm to host everything. With some amazing help from volunteers, such as Fennis Hopson (mowing) and Tim Ott (striping), the new Thunder Field 1,000 × 385-foot grass runway was laid out with an amazing view of wide-open Texas land all around.

A small shelter/pit facility was built front and center off of the runway. Hay bales were laid out to designate pilot stations and boundary lines. Areas for parking, food, hobby vendors, and a swap meet tent were mapped out. Two weeks before the event, Fred rented large tents for all of the pilots at no charge! All that was missing for the big weekend were pilots and fair weather. They got both!

My friend and fellow cohost of the RC Roundtable, Fitz Walker, shared his personal thoughts on The Round Top R/C Expo.

"As soon as I turned my car off of the lonely, rural road onto the flying field, I knew I was at something special. The large flying field, which I had only visited a couple of times early into its conception, had been utterly transformed into a mecca of RC model flying. Vehicles, trailers, and motorhomes were parked in multiple rows as far as I could see. Large tents formed a line near the runway, with food trucks taking up space at center stage, along with the pilot registration area.

"Behind the flightline was another large tent housing the swap meet tables that already had an impressive showing despite it only being Thursday. I eventually found a decent parking space at one end of the field, where I could take advantage of an unused communal table in a tent. The air was actively filled with large warbirds of all types and would be a constant sight throughout the weekend. Registration was quick and efficient and included some nice swag.

"After that, I was on my own to assemble my airplanes and partake in the activities. Walking around, I immediately recognized a few fliers from my area of town and even a fellow clubmate. I spent so much time talking to and assisting others that it was quite a while before I was able to attend to my own models.

"Because I was not in a rush, I spent time going over my models and attempting to rectify several minor issues that I had forgotten or that had cropped up on the trip to The Round Top event. Fortunately, there were several well-stocked vendors on-site that had the various parts I needed (and even a broken gas can) for my models to become flight ready.

"Although I didn’t get to fly on Thursday, I made up for it on Friday and Saturday, with both of the models that I brought flying numerous times and even partaking in a couple of large gaggles. Throughout the weekend, I was fully entertained by the large number of impressive models and visits by full-scale aircraft (some even landed for a while), including low flybys by a P-51, among others. The event announcer, Randy Larson, was extremely entertaining and kept everyone safely flying and laughing at the same time.

"Impressive deals were to be had at the swap meet, and only an extreme amount of discipline kept me from returning home with several models. I did, however, succumb to purchasing a jet kit at a price I couldn’t refuse. My buying resistance paid off when I surprisingly won a large Bearcat model, which mostly fit in the space left in my car (thanks, Lee for the use of your vehicle for the rest).

"The Round Top R/C Expo was a well-run event with only a few minor hiccups (which is impressive for a first-time event). The crowds were impressive and the camaraderie infectious. I saw, I flew, and I even got to meet former Texas governor, Rick Perry."

After three glorious days of fantastic weather on November 11-13, it seemed that everyone directly involved in the event, including the pilots and spectators, felt that they had accomplished what they had set out to do—create an RC event worthy of Texas with a lot of potential moving forward. AMA Executive Director Chad Budreau attended the event, along with AMA President Rich Hanson, AMA Executive Vice President Randy Cameron, and AMA District VIII Vice President Lawrence Harville.

Chad commented, "I think this could be the start of something big. There was a good vibe, energy, and excitement all day. There was something going on all the time. It felt like a mini full-scale air show. This event is picking up the baton and creating the next generation of nationwide events. It was exciting to be at the birth of what could be the next big thing for our hobby."

Awards were handed out Saturday afternoon for a variety of categories, including Best World War I: Greg Nowell’s Hemple 65% Fokker Triplane; Best World War II: Ronnie Dean’s Ziroli Hellcat; Best Post WW II: Finnis Hopson’s 3W-Bearcat Beetle Bomb; Best Multiengine: Larry Peck’s OV-10 Bronco; Best of Show: Barry Raborn’s F-104 Starfighter; and Best Crash: Terry Monroe and Albert Thibodaux’s midair. A special Round Top Pilot prize went to Fitz, who won a CY Model 85-inch F8F Bearcat.

Speaking with Fred after the event concluded, I asked him what he thought. He said, "I couldn’t be more pleased. We were at the mercy of weather, but it turned out great. I thought the full-scale airplane flybys by the P-51 Mustang, Stearman, and others were a big hit." He added, "My favorite part of the entire event was getting to fly a model airplane with my son, Owen, and my grandson, Miles. That’s three generations of model pilots right there. I love that this shows how we can ignite and continue the passion for model aviation and getting kids involved in the hobby."

Fitz Walker hits the smoke on his Aichi D3A Val dive bomber.
05. Fitz Walker hits the smoke on his Aichi D3A Val dive bomber.
Greg Nowell (R) flies his Bill Hempel 65% Fokker Dr.I. Wally Warren spots for him.
06. Greg Nowell (R) flies his Bill Hempel 65% Fokker Dr.I. Wally Warren spots for him.
this aerial photo gives a better view of the size of the event
07. This aerial photo gives a better view of the size of the event.

Fred mentioned how wonderful his family has been by helping put this event together, His wife, Susan, volunteered at the main entrance and welcomed the visitors onto their land. Fred also wanted to thank former governor Perry, and Fayette County judge Joe Webber, for coming out on Saturday for the field dedication.

After catching his breath and resting his voice for a few days, Randy summed up the experience with, "I believe that all of the pilots who came to see what it was about felt it was more than they had expected. The entire three-day event went beyond my expectations. If we add more tents, vendors, and offer a few more flying demos, we should easily reach 150 pilots."

It felt great to see the early development of this event turn into something spectacular throughout those three days. It is always a blast to fly with my Texas RC flying buddies at various events throughout the year and also hang out with my good friend, Fitz. I stayed an extra day to help clean up on Sunday and also found time to get in a few more flights at Thunder Field with my sons. Good times.

Mark your calendar to attend the second annual Round Top R/C Expo in November 2022. I can tell it is going to be even bigger!

paul curry and greg yancy give an rc flight lesson to three generations of the massey family
08. Paul Curry and Greg Yancy give an RC flight lesson to three generations of the Massey family: Fred, Owen, and Miles.
lawrence harville ama president rich hanson
09. AMA representatives (L-R): District VIII Vice President Lawrence Harville, AMA President Rich Hanson, AMA Executive Director Chad Budreau, and AMA Executive Vice President Randy Cameron.
a group of texas warbird thunder flying team
01. A group of Texas Warbird Thunder Flying Team pilots enjoy the great weather at the Texas Warbird Thunder Over Round Top event November 11-13, 2021.


Round Top R/C Expo


By Lee Ray and Fitz Walker
Photos by the authors

Facebook Twitter Share

Add new comment