Tiny Turbines

Ever seen a radio-controlled model aircraft do 300 mph? Visit Metropolis, Missouri, this fall.

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“God, that was ugly!” Fuller adds. “What is your saying, Jack? ‘Run out of airspeed…’?”

“You run out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas, all at the same time. That’s what causes accidents.” Much laughter.

Later, Mathias sent the engine back to the manufacturer, SWB Turbines of Neenah, Wisconsin, where technicians found the combustion chamber clogged with grass clippings but otherwise undamaged.

Earlier that day, Dave “Stick” Valdez, who drove a van from his home in Orlando, Florida, was admiring his fiberglass BVM Maverick Pro as it performed a split-S, a maneuver he’d done at least a hundred times. Five other aircraft were aloft simultaneously, including a balsa model flown by Kevin McLeod, a Canadian from Burlington, Ontario. Both pilots had their eyes glued to their aircraft, Valdez watching his come straight down from the top of a loop, McLeod monitoring his as it turned from crosswind to upwind, when suddenly both saw that the two models had merged. Fragments fluttered into the nearby acreage, whereupon Jerry Caudle trundled off in his golf cart to pick up the pieces.

“It happens,” Valdez says later. “It’s nobody’s fault. You can do whatever you want here, as long as you maintain that oval pattern. And we were both doing it.”

“This was my third flight of the day,” McLeod says. “And everything was going real good until…I speared him from behind.

“The engine’s come out quite well,” he adds, eyeing his SimJet 1200 turbine as it cooled on the ground. “I haven’t run it up yet. It looks like it might have ingested a little bit of dirt, but there’s no damage to the compressor blade and it spins over smoothly, so that’s usually a good sign.”

Indeed, a little FOD (foreign object damage) is nothing insurmountable here, not with the presence of the Repair Technology International trailer and turbine mechanic Carlos Villarreal. Based in Miami, Villarreal travels from one jet rally to another with his mobile repair shop, in which he can rectify practically any engine failure short of a major burnup in just a few hours.

“I have a balancing machine in the trailer, I’ve got a lathe, I’ve got all kinds of welding equipment—everything I need.” His workbench is covered with what seems like hundreds of wrenches, screwdrivers, drills, pliers, torches, and so on, all neatly stowed in their allotted spots. He has an endless supply of ceramic ball bearings, bearing housings, combustion chambers, turbine wheels, compressor wheels, glow plugs—the works. Jet engine repairs are not cheap—a simple bearing change, the most common fix, is $295—but at least you’re flying again.

Spend some time on the rally grounds and you realize that the emblem of BVM Jets is omnipresent. The trademark appears on hats, jackets, T-shirts, coolers, and the wings and fuselages of the models. BVM stands for Bob Violett Models, a top manufacturer of radio-controlled jets. “Probably 40 percent of the aircraft out here are Bob Violett’s kits,” says Vernon Montgomery, a modeler from Mississippi who is flying a BVM F-4 Phantom II.

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