NMPRA’s 50th Anniversary & A Common Question

Happy 50th Anniversary National Miniature Pylon Racing Association (NMPRA)!  Founded in 1965 to help deepen and develop the country’s interest in RC Pylon Racing, for the last 50 years, NMPRA has been an active part in developing pylon racing competition around the world.

In honor of this anniversary, museum staff wants to take a moment to answer one of the most common questions visitors (especially school children) ask during their museum visit.

Why is that man in a cage? Is he in jail?

A male mannequin wearing an AMA shirt and pith helmet stands inside a large cage in the pylon racing exhibit.
The mannequin in the pylon cage tends to startle most visitors as they come around the corner.

The short answer:  No, he is judging the competition.

The long answer:  Safety is an important factor in all competition, but especially when model airplanes are careening above one’s head going 150+ miles per hour during a pylon race.  Made from a double layer of chain link fence and positioned on the course in such a way to lessen a full-on crash, the cage was designed to be a protected space where the pylon judge could watch the race and manipulate the shutter to inform the pilot/caller teams how they performed.

The pylon racing exhibit at the National Model Aviation Museum has the cage with an orange and white pylon attached. Multiple aircraft are flying around the pylon.
The RC pylon racing exhibit

Cage use first appeared in the AMA Rule Book section on Pylon Racing in 1996.  There was to be one cage for each pylon, so each course had a set of three.  The largest cage was placed at the first pylon and was big enough for four judges (each judge was responsible for watching one competition aircraft).  The cages at the second and third pylon each contained one judge, as the way the course was set up the judge could watch all four aircraft at once.  When stored, the smaller cages would stack inside the larger cage, like a series of nesting dolls.

The cage in the museum’s collection is one of the smaller cages for the second or third pylon.  It is outfitted with shutters that the judge would open and close to communicate with the callers and pilots during the race.

There are two shutters attached to this safety cage and in the exhibit one is open and the other closed.
The shutters opened and closed as a method of communicating with the callers and pilots off the course.

The use of safety cages fell out of use after only a few years.  Judges were moved off course entirely and a light system was set up to indicate the turns.  Recently, a similar light system was donated to the museum’s collection;  we are still talking about the best way of placing this on exhibit.

The shutters and fencing block most of the view from inside the safety cage, but some of the Scale Exhibit can be seen.
A view of the Scale Exhibit, as seen from inside the safety cage.
When looking straight up from inside the pylon safety cage, the fencing doesn't quite block the view of the racers overhead.
Inside the pylon safety cage, this is what you see looking up and to the right.
When standing inside the pylon racing cge, the fencing doesn't quite block the view of the models overhead.
This is the view from the pylon cage when looking up and to the left.

While the NMPRA is going to keep racing into the next 50 years of its future, the cage, shutters, light system and collection of pylon racing aircraft will continue to tell visitors its history by answering, “why is there a guy in a cage?”

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