About Top Gun
Top Gun was fathered by Frank Tiano in an attempt to circumvent the rules that were being applied at scale contests at the time. In the early days of planning T.G. Frank had a lot of assistance from another well known scale modeler, David Platt. Some of the rules in place at the time allowed sub par airplanes to compete along outstanding ones with little or no consequence in the final static score. And sometimes, the flying scores for these not so scale models were quite higher than the more accurate models because they were more stable. Enlarged stabilizers, more vertical fin area and thicker wing sections were the norm for many scale models and these models flew like giant sport models. The rules were easy to get around and in some cases out and out cheating would take place. Tiano’s mission was to get rid of the nonsense while offering an entertaining event packed with action and fun for the whole family.
Top Gun introduced more stringent static guidelines
and tougher flying guidelines too. The event was far tougher to compete
in than the Nats or the ever-popular Scale Masters. And to make matters
more interesting, this was the first scale contest to become an “Invitation
only” event. It all started in 1989, in Coral Springs, Florida.
The first event, hosted by the Condors Flying Club, featured just about
30 contestants. The event was sponsored by Model Airplane News and Pacer
Technology, manufacturer of Zap glue.
In 1991, Frank struck an agreement with Palm Beach Polo and for the next 11 years W. Palm Beach, Florida would remain the location of Top Gun as it grew larger and larger. By 1993, the stadium’s grandstands would be packed every day to watch the 80 or so pilots compete for their share of $20,000 worth of cash and merchandise. That’s correct, by that time, TG was offering cash for First thru Fifth places in the Expert Class, the new Team Class and the experimental Designers Class. Average spectator attendance since 1993 has been around 10,000 for the major 3 days of competition. In 2002, the event moved to its current location, Lakeland Linder Airport in Lakeland, Florida. The new site proved to be the best ever. Possibly not as much panache’ as the Polo venue, but it offered a wide open flying area with no restrictions on pilot or plane. By this time, many well known Hobby Manufacturers had joined in the sponsorship role and this made things so much nicer for the spectators and contestants as well. Along with Pacer / Zap and Model Airplane News, much needed support was provided by Futaba, O.S. Engines, JR Radio, Robart Mfg., and a host of smaller contributors. Glenn Torrance Models made a donation so that Frank could install, maintain and improve a grass strip for high wing, lightly loaded models like those from WW1. Most recently Top Gun has been fortunate to receive sponsorship aid from Kempinski Hotels, The Pizza Company, PST Engines and Red Bull. In 2002, Fly RC Magazine became the Primary Sponsor, along with ZAP Glue.
Top Gun is as much a Social Event as a model contest. With 70 to 80 contestants, there is a lot of work that goes on to make the event come off, or appear to come off, smoothly. There are 20 paid Judges, a Score Keeper, and huge club involvement, this time by the Imperial RC Club, that make it all come together. There is a staff of 6, that set up and tear down the “show”, and 10 temporary employees that do everything from parking cars to keeping the rest rooms clean. TG attracts, on average, 50 different model manufacturers and food vendors. Sort of like a Mini Toledo Show.
But where TG differs from most model aviation events is in the way it is orchestrated. From beginning to end, there is a great, and obvious, attention to even the tiniest detail. From the minute the contestants arrive, there is no mystery as to where they will pit, where the restrooms are, where the parking area is and where the judging will take place. As each contestant “signs in”, they receive some sort of commemorative item, in some years it was a personalized Top Gun polo style shirt, one with the pilot’s name embroidered over the left breast, compliments of Fly RC and Zap. A special hat, designed for contestants only was also given to each entry. A Pilot Package is handed out to each entrant and this package contains everything the pilot will need for the entire competition. Included are all necessary score sheets, a map of the area, pit ribbons, dinner tickets, a copy of the static judging schedule, a copy of the flight line order, and, a complete list of all entrants that includes specific data on the pilot and their aircraft.
The judging parameters for Top Gun are a little
different from most AMA contests. For example, the static judging score
sheets are broken down into 4 sections instead of 3. There are 30 points
awarded in each of 3 categories, Outline, Color & Markings and Craftsmanship.
Then there is a separate 10 points for Realism. Realism asks the static
judges to apply a score, from one to ten, on how realistic the model is.
Is it too shiny, over weathered, does it look like a toy, or does it appear
that the model is a shrunken full size aircraft? The flight portion of
the contest includes 4 rounds of flying. For Masters, Expert and Team,
Two are completed on Saturday and 2 on Sunday. Maximum score for the 10
maneuvers is 10 each, for a possible perfect score of 100. The weakest
flight score is discarded and the remaining 3 rounds are averaged for
a final flight score. The contestant has 4 mandatory maneuvers and 5 optional
maneuvers for 9 total maneuvers and a final realism category for flight,
worth a maximum of 10 as well. The 4 mandatory maneuvers are Takeoff,
Slow Fly-by, Fast Fly-by and Landing. The 5 optional should be prototypical
of the full scale airplane. So, we don’t see DC-3s doing 4 point
rolls, and since the rules prohibit any aircraft capable of doing aerobatics
from doing straight flight maneuvers, we see great loops, bomb drops and
inverted fly-bys from the airplanes able to perform them. The title of
Top Gun goes to the pilot that has the highest total score, flight added
to static, between the Masters class and the Expert class.