By Matt Neumann
Today is the day that we have been waiting for all week—we got to see who won the 2023 Nationals. All week, we have been going through the process of narrowing down the field to the final five that will fly today.
Today, the day started out clear, calm, and not quite as cool as it had been during the week. In this case, when I mean calm, I mean calm. No wind. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Now you may think this is good; however, in our case, it is not. Why, you may ask? Well, we fly in such a small area that we can easily wind up going through our own wake.
Think of the pictures you see when a full-scale airplane goes through some clouds. You will notice the swirling off of the wingtips. In most cases, you are not worried about going through that; however, in our case, we fly in such a small area that we can come around and go right through that. If that happens, the plane can suddenly, without warning, turn in any direction. Because of this, many airplanes have been lost due to strange circumstances. Now if there was a gentle breeze of say 2 mph, then this would be enough to blow the turbulent air away from the airplane. Many times, flying in dead-calm weather can be more dangerous than flying in 15 mph winds. In the 15 mph winds, you at least know what to expect … not so much in the calm.
Today's format has the top five fliers each flying three flights. The best two out of the three flights count and are added together to come up with the final score. After the first round, it was quite apparent that this was going to be a nail biter. There were roughly nine points separating the five contestants, and only .2—yes, .2—points separating the top two. This is turning out to be really close.
Things stayed just as tight throughout the day. After every round, there were never more than 10 points between each pilot. The lead changed after each round. During the last round, we had to literally wait for the last score to be posted. Derek Barry put up a great score on his final flight, putting him in the lead … but David Fitzgerald had yet to fly the final flight of the top five. When David came down, we all headed for the pavilion to find out the score.
When it was finally posted, we found out that David had pulled out a win by only one point. This is from a total of over 1165 points. There were less than 10 points separating everyone! WOW! Yesterday, I said it was going to be a nail biter. I certainly called that one! Congratulations to David Fitzgerald for winning the 100th Nats. If my math is correct, this is his 14th win.
We also had two other events going on for the Senior and Junior National Championships. In this case, these are age groups. Juniors are 14 and younger, while Seniors are kids between 15 and 18 (not 65 and older). Open is technically an age class for those 19 and older.
We had two contestants in each of the Junior and Senior classes. The Juniors were Angstrom Eberenz and Samuel Londke. Samuel had a pull out a little low on his first flight, resulting in some damage to his airplane. With help from his dad and a few other people, they got it back together for the next flight. When all was said and done, Samuel pulled out a win. Congratulations to Samuel for being the Junior Champion.
On the Senior side, you may recognize a couple of names from yesterday: Steven Daly and Gabriel Alimov. Yes, the two fliers who duked it out in yesterday’s top 12 in the Advanced class. The Advanced class, in this case, is a skill class and not an age class. So, both of these fliers were eligible for today's flying as well. Yesterday, Gabriel Alimov won the day, but today it was Steven Daly's turn at victory. Congratulations to Steven on a job well done! I can see these two battling it out for years to come.
After all three Champions were crowned, we had one more event to fly: the Walker Cup. This is a flyoff between the Open Champion, the Junior Champion, and the Senior Champion. The winner was David Fitzgerald.
There was one really weird incident. We just got done with David Fitzgerald's flight in the third round and were thankfully mostly in the pavilion. We suddenly heard the engine of a Pylon racer. It lasted maybe a couple of seconds, and then we heard the unmistakable sound of a splat! A Pylon racer hit full bore into circle four, probably at a speed of around 200 mph. Fortunately, there was nobody there and no one was hurt.
Upon inspection of the impact site, we could see about a 1/4-inch divot, a line where the wing hit, and the huge splash of the fuel that was in the plane. The cylinder head of the engine was found about 100 yards in the bean field to the side of the L-pad. The piston was also found but, as far as I know, the rest of the engine was not. This was a close call.
This now closes the 2023 100th anniversary of the first Nats. Looking back, model aviation has come a long way in the last 100 years. I wish I had a time machine to see what model aviation would be like in another 100 years. I bet there will still be one common denominator: the fact that this is a family affair. Many of us consider those that attend to be an extended family. I can't wait until the 2024 version of the Nats, version 101 if it were. I will again be able to see my extended family. I can't wait.