TOP GUN 2009

Mar 27, 2012 No Comments by




David Hayes’ Rockwell Thrush crop duster on one of its high-scoring flights. Just isn’t good enough to build a spectacular model, you’ve also got to fly it!


Nearly perfect touchdown attitude on the big F-16C in Thunderbird markings. First place in Team, Graeme Mears/David Shulman collaboration.


Greg Hahn with his veteran, 120-inch-span B-25D Mitchell bomber won in the Expert class.

Dave Wigley stands guard over his unique Westland Wyvern while sizing up the competition. Placed fifth in Masters.

The cockpit on this FW-190A-8 is as detailed as the exterior; beautiful work!

Builder Graeme Mears is well recognized around international scale circles; his efforts keep getting better. His Thunderbird F-16 earned a perfect static score of 100 points.

One of four Corsairs entered, this one by Marco Benincasa. Fourth place in Pro-Am Pro class.

Danny Carozza’s impressive ?.5-scale Laser 200 earned him a third-place finish in the Pro-Am Sportsman class.

Dave McQueeney flew his F8F-2 Bearcat to ninth place in Pro-Am Pro.

The Team entry of Roger Spoor and Steve Peckham, beautiful Focke-Wulf FW-190A-8. Ninth place finish.

Primary sponsors: Fly RC, ZAP Glue Major sponsors: FTE Inc., Futaba, JR Radio, Kempinski Hotels, SOS Intl., PST Engines, Red Bull Associate sponsors: Bob Violett Models, Nick Ziroli Plans, RC Jet Intl., Warbirds over the Rockies Supporting sponsors: Fuji Engines, Model Airplane News, Saito Engines, Sierra Giant Scale, Sport Flyer, Top Gun Hussies, City of Lakeland, Imperial RC Club


“In the strictest and, by the way, original sense of the word (or at least the one that put the term on the street, so to speak) it’s Ultimo, Head Man, Ganze Mache, top o’ the heap. It’s the exalted title that the Navy bestows on the hot-stick crews that “best” all their peers in aerial gunfights that would cause mere mortals to seek milder forms of competition… checkers, maybe! These are the guys who speak with God on a daily basis or at least have a handle on His address. No foolin’! The games these guys win are played with no “shoo-ins,” no gifts; they’re strategized, exercised and fanta-sized, where the name of the game is WIN! Prepare for the mission, compete as a team, fly at the edge and use the next guy’s mistakes to your advantage.”

All the way from Mexico City, the superb Stearman N2S-3 built and flown by Gerardo Galvez. 97.5 Static score, had to be seen to be appreciated!

Dave “Mr. Scale” Platt (left) joined announcer Sam Wright in the tower to provide interesting and informative narrative.


Smoke on! Really on! John Boyko’s Pitts S-1S on a low pass. Well-deserved first place in Pro-Am Pro category. Very consistent flying paid off!

Folding the wings on the big Corsair during taxi out and back completes the illusion. Jason Shulman placed 2nd in Pro-Am Pro, less than 0.4 of a point behind John Boyko!

Those of you who have been readers of Model Airplane News over the years may recognize the previous words. I wrote them 21 years ago as part of MAN’s coverage of the very first Top Gun Invitational event. Some say that the longevity and popularity of any event lies in its ability to adapt to a dynamic environment, expand to accommodate change and welcome participation from new sources. Event originator and promoter, Frank Tiano, seems to have accomplished these objectives with his event as it approaches the quarter-century mark. It is unique and enjoys a worldwide reputation for bringing the best scale RC modelers together for an intense competition with the victor being crowned Mr. Top Gun.

Over the years, I’ve watched some pretty magical and impressive things happen at the event. Models have grown dramatically in size, complexity, sophistication and quality. The trickle-down effect has obviously impacted the everyday, sport-scale modeler because the interest in scale is evident right down to the local field level. Obviously, suppliers of product recognize it also; just look at the types of models being offered to the consumer these days! Hard to believe, but some of the ARFs available today rival the models being flown at Top Gun during the early years.

Among the other obvious changes is a huge presence of turbine-powered scale jet models. What we could only once dream of is now not only a reality, but readily available and proven. 1989 winner, Bob Fiorenze, took the first Top Gun with a dazzling ducted-fan jet model, an incredible feat in its time. Today we find Bob still flying ducted-fan models, not necessarily in competition, but demonstrating the new generation of ducted-fan propulsion, “electric” power, which is producing thrust levels far exceeding that offered by glow versions of years ago.


This breakdown of planes flown in Top Gun 2009 includes several crossovers of type and era.

Military 65
Civilian 17
WW I 9
WW II 38
Jets 27
Biplanes 19
Multi-engine 8

How about sophistication and complexity? Computer radios? Big displacement, 4-stroke radial engines and all composite airframes? Turboprops? Counter-rotating propellers? All-metal construction? We see all of this now and it really does beg the question…where can we possibly go from here in RC scale? I must admit, it is getting more and more difficult to predict.

As I said, I’m just not sure of where it can all go from here, but I will say that based on my chats with a number of competitors, next year might just see a Ω-scale Fokker E-III Eindecker, a large, all-metal Vultee BT-13 Vibrator, a big F-84F Thunderstreak and a turboprop-equipped OV-10 Bronco. And these are projects that are already underway!

It is an exciting, inspiring event that can’t help getting you pumped up for more. The weather was great, fellowship outstanding, competition fierce and the experience memorable. Put it on your “must attend” list and here’s to another 21 years!

Where can we possibly go from here in RC scale? It is getting more and more difficult to predict

Who says only warbirds and jets win at Top Gun? Mr. Top Gun for the second time in a row, David Hayes, holds his impressive civilian Rockwell Thrush for the cameras. David also won first place in the Masters class and earned the top static score for the category.


  • MR. TOP GUN: David Hayes, Rockwell Thrush
  • 1st PLACE, MASTERS: David Hayes, Rockwell Thrush
  • 1st PLACE, EXPERT: Greg Hahn, B-25
  • 1st PLACE, TEAM: Graeme Mears/David Shulman, F-16C
  • 1st PLACE, PRO AM PRO: John Boyko, Pitts Special S-1S
  • 1st PLACE, Pro Am Sport: Ryan Haldenwanger, F9F Panther

Magical and impressive things happen at this event

This impressive º.8-scale A-4F Skyhawk was flown in Pro-Am Pro by Andreas Gietz. Built from a composite ARF kit, it weighs in at 44 pounds and has a JetCat turbine engine. Placed 12th in the category.


Close up of the wing structure of Carlos Rangel’s Sonex shows carefully crafted, all-metal structure resembling the full-scale version.

Jack Diaz brings his F-86F on the deck. Veteran competitor from Venezuela placed sixth in Pro-Am Pro. I can’t wait to see what he’ll bring next year!

Matt Lupri brought a pair of Mustangs, one for competition, one for practice. Even the practice model looked competitive!

In the quest to produce that perfect scale model, especially if the full-scale version is of metal construction, modelers employ a variety of techniques to simulate/duplicate all those pesky little surface details like rivets, fasteners, screws and similar devices to hold sheet metal together. Top Gun competitor Carlos Rangel has an unusual approach: he actually fabricated his 35 pound, ? scale Sonex Waiex (pronounced “Y-X”) from REAL metal and fastened it all together with actual rivets and screws! Yup, no aluminum clad wood with simulated fasteners here-all-metal work! Material thicknesses range from .005 to .032 and you have to see the quality of his work to believe it!

This is not the first all-metal model that Carlos has produced. His Zenith 801 was the recipient of the “Engineering Achievement” award at TG 2007 and his metal-working technique has only been refined on the Waiex. After spending some time with him discussing his methods, aviation background and obvious skills, its clear that he loves what he does and everything airplane-related. You can see more of his terrific work at his site,


I have been privileged to serve as the Craftsmanship Judge for the Masters and Expert categories at Top Gun for the past six years. Top Gun is unique in that the Craftsmanship judge is permitted to examine the entry from essentially “zero” distance: nose to nose, so to speak. This provides him the opportunity to evaluate all the extra effort required of the builder to insure that the model can withstand all this microscopic scrutiny. Can this make a difference in scores? Absolutely! Here are some of the things I look for.

  • Surface detail and overall texture. Are the fasteners and rivets of the proper size, pattern and spacing? Are they of the correct type? If they are applied as glue dots, which produce a “raised” fastener and the documentation photos show the surface to be flush riveted, a downgrade is in order. Exposed, non-scale control linkages are another area for potential downgrade. Ditto for tires; the tires on your Cub, Champ or FW-190 shouldn’t have a “Sullivan Lite Fly” logo visible on them!
  • Wheelwells. It always amazes me that a builder will produce a superb model complete with an outstanding landing gear mechanism while the home for that landing gear is complete with visible º * Ω-inch spruce spars, plywood reinforcement ribs and raw balsa upper wing skins, all of these items unpainted-except for overspray, no less?
  • Hinge lines. They shouldn’t vary a lot in width, and the fit should be close with some exceptions being Cub-type models where control surface gaps can be significant. Hinges themselves? Du-Bro and Robart hinges work great, but may be downgraded if the full-scale hinge consists of metal fittings, nuts and bolts.
  • Surface edges. The sharp ones should be sharp and, when applying color coats, move the surface to get paint on the edges rather than letting the primer be visible.


Perhaps the most coveted award at Top Gun is the High Static Score Award. Where half of the contestant’s total score is earned on the wing, the static half of the total score is earned on the table. Flight scores can be affected by wind and weather conditions and equipment performance during flight rounds. But, when it comes to the Static points, it’s wholly in the hands of the modeler. Here he uses his building, finishing and painting skills to maximize his model’s quality in craftsmanship and to match his own documentation presentation. In order of highest static scores, here are the three winners.

  • Team High Static Graeme Mears’ talent in the workshop produced a first for any Top Gun event. His impeccable F-16C Falcon wearing the distinctive U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds paint scheme, earned a perfect static score of 100.00 points. Graeme’s ?-scale F-16 is built from a full composite Pennix/ kit. It has an 80-inch span and is 114.5 inches long. Dry weight is 41.8 pounds and it is powered by an AMT Olympus turbine engine.
  • Masters High Static As well as earning a first place in the Masters class and taking home the title of Mr. Top Gun 2009, David Hayes flying his Rockwell Thrush, also earned the Masters High Static award with a score of 97.75. So much for the argument that only jets and warbirds win at Top Gun, this is David’s second Top Gun with his civilian Rockwell Thrush crop duster. Designed and built entirely by David, his ?-scale Thrush has a 108-inch span, weighs in at 28 pounds and is powered by a Saito 180 4-stroke engine turning an 18*6 prop.
  • Expert High Static No stranger to Top Gun, David Ribbe earned the High Static award with a 96.75 with his impressive MiG-15. With a span of 68 inches and 68-inches long, the ?-scale jet is powered by a JetCat P70 turbine engine. Dave designed and built the prototype for the popular BVM MiG-15 kit. Dave even designed and made the original scale retractable landing gear.

The amazing Avro Vulcan built by Sam Snyder and flown by Steve Ellzey in Team drew attention both in the pits and on the flightline. Turbine powered, it flew and performed remarkably well. Notice Scott Stauffer on the ladder helping Propwash Video tape the event. The DVD will be available soon!

If you think Dave Wigley’s Westland Wyvern LOOKS great, you should have heard it! It might have been the most unique-sounding model at Top Gun.

Setting a new standard for complexity, sophistication and downright amazing engineering is the F-111E Aardvark designed and built by Mike Selby and flown by Ray Johns. Some early teething problems prevented it from completing the four rounds of flying. Hope it returns!

Marvelous piece of work, the Tupolev Tu-95 Bear, Team entry of George Maiorana and Dave Pinegar. It was electric-powered with counter-rotating props and the second-place winner!

Bob Fiorenze, the very first “Top Gun,” with his F/A-18A Hornet, 21 years ago. He’s still a jet guy, now with EDF power.


First held in Coral Springs, FL, on April 21-23, 1989 and hosted by the Condors Flying Club, the original Top Gun Scale Invitational was the creation of promoter Frank Tiano. Sponsored by Model Airplane News and Pacer Technology, the event was the first time that the country’s best recognized scale modelers came together for high-stakes competition and to settle the argument: who was the best. 39 participants attended and the last man standing was Bob Fiorenze. Bob expertly flew his immaculate F/A-18 Hornet ducted-fan jet and went home with $2,000 donated by Model Airplane News.

In 1990, the second Top Gun was held at the Spook Hill Flying Field in Mesa, AZ, and was hosted by the Arizona Model Aviators. Team Scale class was added to the competition. In 1991, Top Gun moved to West Palm Beach, FL, where, on the manicured grounds of the polo grounds, the Palm Beach Aero Club members played host. Top Gun enjoyed the polo grounds location until 2002, when it moved to its present location at the Lakeland Linder Airport in Lakeland, FL.

Each year, the title of Mr. Top Gun goes to the pilot competing in either the Masters class and the Expert class, that has the highest total score, (flight score added to the static score). Here’s a list of all the past Mr. Top Gun winners. -Gerry Yarrish

2009 David Hayes Masters ?-scale Rockwell Thrush
2008 David Hayes Masters ?-scale Rockwell Thrush
2007 David Ribbe Masters MiG-15, BMV kit
2006 Bob Violett Masters F-86 Sabre Jet, BVM kit
2005 Greg Hahn Expert ?-scale B-25D Mitchell, Enlarged Ziroli Plans
2004 Terry Nitsch Expert F-100F Super Sabre, BVM Kit
2003 Jeff Foley Master Me-109E, scratch built
2002 Bob Violett Designer F-100F Super Sabre, BVM kit
2001 Terry Nitsch Expert Rafale B-01, BVM kit

2000 Jeff Fole Designer Me-109E, scratch built
1999 Terry Nitsch Expert ?-scale F-80C Shooting Star, BVM Kit
1998 Charlie Chambers Expert ?Scale, P-61 Black Widow, Don Smith Plans
1997 Charlie Chambers Expert ?-Scale, P-61 Black Widow, Don Smith Plans
1996 Terry Nitsch Expert Nitsch; ?-scale F-86 Sabre Jet, BVM Kit
1995 Terry Nitsch Expert Nitsch; ?-scale F-86 Sabre Jet, BVM Kit

1994 Terry Nitsch Expert Nitsch; ?scale F-86 Sabre Jet, BVM Kit
1993 Corvin Miller Expert º-scale Globe Swift, scratch built
1992 Charlie Nelson Expert ?.3-scale Waco VKS7F
1991 Mel Whitley Expert Hawker Sea Fury, scratch built
1990 Ron Gilman Expert F-86 Sabre Jet, BVM kit

1989 Bob Fiorenze No. 1 F/A-18 Hornet, Yellow Aircraft kit
The History of Top Gun

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