[Headline: Camp AMA 2014]
[Subhead: Popular event soars to new heights]
[Author: Rachelle Haughn]
[Photos by the author]
[Additional callout: Watch a video of Camp AMA at www.ModelAviation.com.]
Since its inception in 2011, Camp AMA has grown from something that no one in the aeromodeling world had heard of, to a group of 36 eager and talented young men and women who scrimped and saved, mowed lawns, and gave up their first cars so they could attend.
The model aviation community has also embraced this camp. Clubs across the country have found ways to raise funds to send their young members to camp, and two AMA districts have pooled money to help their youth attend. Camp AMA appears to be the perfect springboard for future AMA competitors and leaders.
To attend Camp AMA, one must be age 13-19, and be a beginner, intermediate, or advanced helicopter or airplane pilot. Some who attended this year’s camp, held June 15-21, made their first solo flights there. Others looked as if they were ready to compete with the country’s best 3-D pilots.
There also were crashes. Several bottles of glue were emptied. Airplanes were rebuilt, crashed, and rebuilt or taped back together again. There also was music, good food, laughter, and plenty of fun. At the end of the week, some of the campers were so sad about leaving that they cried.
“The flying, I can do at home,” camper Michael Belanger, age 18, said. “The friends that you make here and spend a week with, that’s priceless.
“This is my third year. I want to come back as many years as I possibly can,” he added.
Shortly before and after they left the International Aeromodeling Center, in Muncie, Indiana, and traveled home, camp attendees began posting their photos and videos online so they could relive those moments. Michael, and his friend, Rob Thomas, are two such campers. They enjoy populating a Facebook page and YouTube channel they created that is dedicated to Camp AMA, called AMAture RCSpinsider.
“I got us to start the YouTube channel to create more exposure for camp,” Rob, age 17, said. Rob commented that he hopes to see the number of campers grow to 88 next year. The first year that Camp AMA was held, three attended. In the second year, there were 11, and the third year, 17.
“It’s growing into a really good program,” said AMA Education Assistant Jessy Symmes. She attributed the camp’s continuous growth to AMAture RCSpinsider, AMA’s social media postings, advertising in MA and Park Pilot, and word of mouth from those who previously attended.
AMA Education Department Director Bill Pritchett said that 17 of this year’s campers had attended in previous years. “I think anytime someone goes back to a camp, that tells you a lot about the experience they had.”
In addition to having the largest attendance, there were some other firsts this year.
Savannah Slayton and Alex Strehlow, both 14, were the first females to ever attend camp. “It’s been pretty fun,” Savannah said. Her home club, the SkyBlazers RC, of Oklahoma, helped pay her expenses.
“We’re tickled to death,” Savannah’s fellow club member, Dan Wescott, said in a telephone interview. “Everybody pitched in.”
Alex said she took her first solo flight while at camp. She and Savannah agreed that they want to attend camp in 2015. “They’ve all been helpful,” Alex said of the other campers.
“Everyone has been really kind and polite to [Savannah and Alex],” Rob said in an interview during camp. “They’re not much different than the guys.”
“It was exciting to have girls,” Jessy said. “Boys don’t get to fly with girls much. There are girls out there who put in the time and effort—they build their own aircraft and they can fly just as well as the boys can.”
For the first time, an essay contest was held in AMA District VII. The prize: a paid week at Camp AMA. The lucky winner was Ethan Aldrich, age 13, of Michigan. AMA District V also sponsored two campers.
Ethan said that after he learned about the camp and decided he wanted to attend, he began doing landscaping jobs with his father to earn the money he needed to attend. “I really wanted to come and had two months to save. The most I ever made was $120.”
To win the trip to Camp AMA, Ethan wrote in 250 words or less why and how he got started in the hobby. He found out at the Toledo R/C Expo that his essay was selected as the winner.
“I really didn’t know until I went to the Toledo Show and they surprised me there. They kind of announced it in front of everybody. It was kind of weird.” Ethan said he expected another teenager’s name to be announced and was watching for him or her to go up on stage.
He added that his family knew before he did. “I knew something was up because they would change the subject” every time he mentioned camp.
Ethan wasn’t the only person who struggled to come up with the money for camp. Jessy said some of the teens collected aluminum cans, mowed lawns, sold candles at their flying sites, and saved their birthday and bar mitzvah money. One of the 16-year-olds used the money he was saving for his first car to pay his camp tuition.
Some of the campers said that the reason they wanted to attend so badly was because of the opportunity to learn from top 3-D pilots, Nick Maxwell and Andrew Jesky. The two are proficient in flying airplanes and helicopters. Both have previously won the Extreme Flight Championship, and have competed on US world teams and in the AMA Nats. RJ Gritter has also served as a camp instructor in previous years, but was unable to attend this year.
“It’s about their character and we couldn’t ask for better role models,” Jessy said of Nick, Andrew, and RJ.
“I’ve never met guys who could do some much and be so humble about it,” Michael said about the instructors.
Andrew said that the small accomplishments, such as “seeing someone who could not take off and land, and within two days they were able to fly on their own,” made being an instructor a rewarding experience for him. He said some nailed maneuvers they had been working on, and others learned new building techniques.
Andrew tried to teach the pilots about more than flying, such as life lessons. “I learned things the hard way and want to pass [my lessons] on as well.” Andrew spoke with the campers about the importance of doing well in school and being respectful.
“The campers are all well-behaved kids,” Nick said. “Regarding the flying, while the instructors do help with some technical aspects, a lot of times the campers group together and help each other as well.”
When there was a crash, several campers rushed to the flightline to help. For those whose aircraft were damaged beyond repair, other attendees willingly shared theirs.
“The best thing about camp is that everybody works together to make others better,” Rob said. “Here, everybody’s the same, so you can’t even predict how good it feels to have that connection with basically everybody here.”
“The best part about camp is not only being able to have fun with your own models, but having fun with everyone else and their models as well,” Michael said. “The whole thing is just an amazing time.”
During camp, there was no sitting in a classroom and listening to a lecture about how to fly. All of the learning was hands on. Some of the camp sponsors donated aircraft for the pilots to fly, and those came in handy for some unlucky teens who could not fix their own airplanes or helis.
At the end of camp, some took their models home in pieces, but several also walked away with door prizes, plaques, and aircraft autographed by their peers.
Jessy recognized all of the companies, organizations, clubs, and districts that supported the camp this year. This experience is something that these teens may remember for the rest of their lives.
Many of those who attended Camp AMA are talented and could pursue careers in aviation, Jessy said. Some even expressed interest in working for the AMA. “They’ll fly the rest of their lives. They’re in it to better the hobby,” she said.
“Camp AMA has been a really kind of a game changer in my life,” Rob said.
“The youth is what will keep this hobby going,” Jessy added.
To learn more about Camp AMA, visit www.amaflightschool.org/campama.