[Headline: Extreme Flight Championship 2014]
[Subhead: Some up-and-coming pilots share what it’s like to be a part of this 3-D competition]
[Author: Rachelle Haughn]
[Photo credit: Photos by the author and Jennifer Orebaugh.]
[Sidebar: within the text.]
[Bonus content: Read an extended version of this article and see bonus photos in the digital edition and online at www.ModelAviation.com.]
1. Jase Dussia
2. Gabriel Altuz
3. Spencer Nordquist
4. RJ Gritter
5. Joe Smith
6. Devin McGrath
7. Ben Batts
8. Chris Hass
9. Johnathan Jennings
10. Jacob Pollack
11. Zach Bloomquest
12. Kal Reifsnyder
13. Andrew Ritschel
14. Michael Leonard Jr.
15. Chris Thorpe
16. Jacob Ramsey
17. Matt Britt
1. Jamie Robertson
2. Kyle Stacy
3. Nick Maxwell
4. Mitch Marozas
5. Ben Storick
6. Colin Bell
7. James Haley
8. Darrick Chekas
9. William Ramsey
10. Ryan Sams
11. Taylor Myers
12 AJ Jaffe
13. Paul Blais
14. Jordan Horwitz
15. Campbell Brudi
16. Damian Przystal
He steps out to the flightline with his aircraft in tow, takes a deep breath to calm his nerves, and listens to the silence only broken by the sound of the sponsor flags flapping in the breeze. Then he hears his name, fires up the engine, and it’s show time!
This pilot may be 10 or 42 years old—age doesn’t matter with you’re competing with the best up-and-coming 3-D pilots. You only need quick thumbs, the ability to fly fast, and the courage to lay the smack down (oh, and maybe some practice)!
Some of these pilots come to Muncie, Indiana, as unknowns in the 3-D world, leave the city as champions of the Extreme Flight Championship (XFC), and go on to become well known for precision flying. Even if they aren’t in the top three, they will always be associated with XFC and extreme flying—and they’re fine with that.
For newer pilots, having the opportunity to meet, fly with, and learn from pilots such as Nick Maxwell, RJ Gritter, Kyle Stacy, Gabriel Altuz, and others, is worth more than a trophy or cash prize. For them, it’s an honor just to be there.
To an outsider, XFC may appear to be black and white—a competition to win money and a trophy—but to the pilots, making and seeing friends and the experience are the essence of XFC.
“It’s definitely my top favorite competition,” airplane pilot Ben Batts said about XFC. “I like seeing all the different things you can get the plane to do with music.”
“It’s a competition, but there’s a stronger camaraderie than with other competitions,” said XFC organizer and director Frank Noll.
Seven-time XFC helicopter competitor Kyle Stacy said at the 2014 competition, which was held June 13-15, that what he likes most is seeing his friends. “I just get to hang out with everyone. Flying is secondary,” the 18-year-old said.
Gabriel looks forward to XFC each year. “This is like a big family to me. I just like having fun and meeting new people from around the world.” Gabriel is 24 and a resident of Puerto Rico.
“I also like to help all of the pilots who are younger,” the pilot added. “I feel very happy to see really young kids [here],” said Gabriel. “I grew up like this—watching all these pilots.”
One of those Gabriel helped at this year’s XFC was 10-year-old Kal Reifsnyder of Lake Placid, Florida. Kal is the youngest airplane pilot who has ever competed in XFC. He said that one of the highlights of being part of XFC was the opportunity to meet one of his idols: Gabriel.
Kal looks up to Gabriel because “he flies fast and low.” He said meeting him was exciting. “He’ll just go out and hang around and listen” to the other pilots to learn, Kal’s father, Tom Reifsnyder, said of his son. “He’s honored to fly with them.”
Kal and Ben Batts were invited to compete this year. In 2013, Ben, age 22, was a last-chance qualifier (LCQ). “It was a huge relief. It made me feel good to not have to LCQ.”
LCQ became part of XFC roughly 11 years ago. The LCQ contest is always held on Thursday before the main event. The actual competition begins Friday morning and runs through Sunday.
Frank said 15 helicopter pilots and 15 airplane pilots are invited each year to compete in XFC. Of those who enter the LCQ, three heli and three airplane pilots are selected to participate. “Throughout the years, quite a few have made it into the finals,” Frank noted. This is the 13th year that XFC has been held, and the seventh year that it has been in Muncie. This popular freestyle competition was founded in 2002 in Las Vegas.
XFC rookie helicopter pilot Damian Przystal, age 20, and airplane pilot Matt Britt, 42, had different reasons for entering the LCQ and both were chosen to compete. Damian said that his friend, Jordan Horwitz, convinced him to try out for XFC. Jordan was selected to compete as a LCQ in 2013 and in 2014.
“I just stared competing two weeks ago,” Damian said shortly after he finished flying his helicopter in the LCQ. “I’m fresh like a newborn baby. I’m excited more than I can possibly imagine to be able to compete twice within two weeks.”
Matt auditioned for XFC to fulfill a promise that he made to his father. Both attended the 2013 XFC. “He and I talked about me doing XFC. He died in October, so this is for him.
“I didn’t even think I would qualify, honestly.” Matt was the only airplane pilot flying an electric-powered aircraft (other competitors flew gas-powered models). He was worried that it would be a disadvantage for him, but he tried to stay positive “I’m just going to do the best I can. I feel like I will walk away a better pilot.”
When asked if he was intimidated by the fact that he was the oldest competitor, Matt laughed and said, “Ask me at the end of the day.”
In order for a pilot to do his or her best, much preparation is involved—yes, there have been female XFC competitors. Some of the pilots, such as Kyle and Matt, began practicing for XFC in January of 2014. Because Indiana had a cold and snowy winter, Matt, who lives in Fishers, had to do much of his practicing on a flight simulator. Kyle also had to deal with heavy snowfall and cold temperatures in his hometown of Rochester, New York. He practiced on a flight simulator, or “just braved the cold.”
Ben, a Bargersville, Indiana, resident, began practicing for XFC only two weeks before the competition, but managed a seventh-place finish with his aircraft—achieving his goal of finishing in the top seven.
Gabriel didn’t decide to compete until two weeks before XFC. His busy schedule includes completing his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and working two jobs. He didn’t think he had time to compete, but he managed to squeeze it in. One of his sponsors brought an airplane for him to use. On Thursday, he made several last-minute tweaks to the aircraft, including replacing its engine. Gabriel finished second.
Of everyone who takes part in XFC, Frank definitely has the longest preparation time. Before most of the pilots are even considering which songs they might like to fly to during the Unknown Rounds, Frank is busy planning and looking for sponsors. “It’s a year-long thing. When I get home, I’ll start on next year,” he said.
Throughout the 2014 XFC, Frank was seldom seen in one place for long. He was making sure that the judges and competitors were in the right place at the right time. During the night-fly, he handed out glow sticks and ensured that the fireworks went off without a hitch. If Frank was nervous, he didn’t show it.
The competitors also needed nerves of steel to fly their best. Each pilot flew Known, Freestyle (formerly called Unknown), and Smack Rounds. For the Known Rounds, the pilots were required to complete a certain amount of maneuvers in a set time.
The nervousness apparently doesn’t go away with time. “The Known maneuvers are the hardest for me,” Kyle said. This was the seventh time that he has competed in XFC. “I am trying to be calmer and contain my nerves.”
In Freestyle, the pilots were free to determine which maneuvers they wanted to fly to the music of their choice. The Smack Rounds are three minutes of flying with or without music.
“You can make it nice and graceful and smooth, or you can push the plane,” Matt said about Freestyle. “It’s kind of the way you feel.”
Some competitors felt nervous and listened to music to relax or napped, but others, such as Damian and Jordan, had some unique tactics.
“Lie down and just relax and think about your routine,” Jordan, age 21, suggested to Damian. The two then demonstrated this technique by lying down, head to head, on a table and closing their eyes. “Keep your shoulders down. Breathe in and out so you don’t tense up when flying,” he said.
Former XFC competitor Manuel Santos, who served as a judge at this year’s competition, had some advice for anyone competing. “The most important thing is to do it with your heart and with passion. Do it for yourself.”[dingbat]