International Tournament of Champions: A Timeline

The International Tournament of Champions (TOC) was an invitation-only Radio Control Pattern/Aerobatics event that focused on challenging pilots and providing the best spectator experience possible. It was one of the only model aviation events to have cash prizes – and certainly the only one to have huge cash prizes – not just for the top three winners, but all competitors.

The TOC influenced all aspects of the RC hobby by motivating companies to design and manufacture larger, more reliable engines and radio equipment, as well as innovating new materials and designs. It inspired an unknown number of people to try model aviation and/or become better pilots. Here’s how it developed.

Watch the museum’s Fly By video segment detailing the history and importance of the Tournament of Champions.

(Want more details?  Check out the blog post listing all the relevant articles and then contact the museum for re-prints!)

1974 – The First TOC
• Bill Bennett, Owner of the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino, and Walt Schroder, President and Publisher of Model Airplane News conceived the idea to hold an invitation-only event based off of the current International Radio Control Pattern (F3A) contests. They started planning the event in the Fall of 1974. The event was held in December of the same year.
• This event would be geared towards spectators, and would award cash prizes. They wanted it to be the premiere Radio Control event in the world. Reporting for Model Airplane News, Art Schroeder described it this way:

“The Tournament was the first pattern event to offer big cash prizes to the winners. An event of this type has been needed for some time to upgrade R/C’s image; much as golf and tennis have grown through the public’s natural interest in big money events.”.

• One of the main changes made from a regular pattern contest was the use of “Olympic-style” judging to keep the spectators interested.
• Art concluded his article with:

“Did the Las Vegas affair meet its objectives? It would seem so; many spectators were drawn to the field by the dollar sign and the attendant publicity will reap further “image” rewards. Certainly the inclusion of representatives from seven foreign countries met the objective of a truly international event not associated with World Championship. In the future the event could well rival the FAI World Championship itself as the most prestigious of modeling affairs. Whether the prize money was the lure – or whether Las Vegas was the lure is unclear. It really isn’t important since no one can deny that the idea that was planted in the Nevada desert, nurtured by Bill Bennett and Walt Schroder has taken root and will be a pinnacle for R/C’ers to reach for in years to come.”

Winner: Hanno Prettner of Austria
2nd place: Wolfgang Matt of Liechtenstein
3rd place: Dave Brown of the United States of America

Total Prize Purse: $11,000

An open magazine to a page with lots of black and white pictures and text, and a color cover showing a man in a red jacket holding a model airplane. He's standing between two young women.
Cover- Hanno Prettner, winner of the 1975 TOC on the cover of Model Airplane News, March 1976. And, interior coverage of the 1974 TOC in Model Airplane News, March 1975.

1975

Winner: Hanno Prettner of Austria
2nd place: Rhett Miller of the United States of America
3rd place: Dave Brown of the United States of America

Total prize purse: $21,000

1976

This pink and black patch is hard to read with the pink text on the pink background. At the very center is a silver airplane with "RC" under it' "Circus Circus" is in bink in a ring next to this. "International Tournament of Champions, Las Vegas Nevada" is around the outer edge.
Patch, 1976 Tournament of Champions, National Model Aviation Museum Permanent Collection, donated by Jay Yenco, 2005.21.19

• New elements and maneuvers were added to the typical F3A Pattern, and there was some changes to the number and method of rounds. Overall, though, the event still had the feel of a F3A Contest.

Winner: Hanno Prettner of Austria
2nd place: Wolfgang Matt of Liechtenstein
3rd place: Rhett Miller of the United States of America

Total prize purse: $30,000

1977

On a white background, this patch has a blue airplane outlined in pink at center. "International Tournament of Champions Las Vegas Circus Circus Hotel and Casino" is around the outer edge.
Patch, 1977 Tournament of Champions, National Model Aviation Museum Permanent Collection, 2005.21.20.

• A Museum Scale contest was added to the TOC event line-up this year.
• For the Pattern contest, more new maneuvers were added. Which was apparently a good thing because all the pilots had mastered the new moves added the previous year.

For Museum Scale
Winner: Robert Nelitz of Canada
2nd place: Dave Platt of United States of America
3rd place: Phil Moore of England

Total prize purse for scale: $14,000

For Pattern
Winner: Hanno Prettner of Austria
2nd place – Wolfgang Matt of Liechtenstein
3rd place: Dave Brown of the United States of America

Total prize purse for Pattern: $30,000

1978
• The Museum Scale event was dropped.
• All model aircraft flown needed to be stand-off scale of a full-size aerobatic aircraft.
• Models were flying maneuvers as described in the Aresti catalog, and were judged in an aerobatic box, just like full-size competition.
• Hanno Prettner flew his Dalotel with a 2,700 square inch wing.

Winner: Hanno Prettner of Austria
2nd place: Dave Brown of the United States of America
3rd place: Ivan Kristensen of Canada

Total prize purse – $51,800

1980
• TOC was moved to every other year, off set with the World Championships.
• The models were bigger!

Winner: Hanno Prettner of Austria
2nd place: Dave Brown of the Untied States of America
3rd place: Wolfgang Matt of Liechtenstein

Total prize purse: – $72,000

1982
• The models were even bigger.
• According to Jerry Nelson writing in Model Airplane News, “This year, a unique impartial section process was used for the first time.”
• Computerized scoring and score keeping was introduced.

Winner: Hanno Prettner of Austria
2nd place: Wolfgang Matt of Liechtenstein
3rd place: Dave Brown of the United States of America

Total prize purse: $100,000

1984

Bright pink patch with blue and white detailing of the circled plane logo of the 1984 Tournament of Champions.
Patch, 1984 Tournament of Champions, National Model Aviation Museum Permanent Collection, donated by Jerry Epps, 2019.10.40.

• To encourage flying biplanes, a 10% bonus was available to anyone who flew a biplane.
• Freestyle routines are beginning to play an even bigger role in the contest.
• Don Lowe, writing for Radio Control Modeler, explains:

• “Over the years the competition has emphasized a trend toward emulation of full scale aerobatics. This year the aerobatic schedules directly copied full scale maneuvers in content and variety. Aircraft requirements continued to promote modeling of full scale aerobatic designs.”

• Steve Rojecki flew what is considered to be the first knife-edge loop flown in competition.

Winner: Steve Rojecki of the United States of America
2nd place: Steve Strickler of the United States of America
3rd place: Ivan Kristensen of Canada
Total Prize Purse: $125,000

1988
• Rich Uravitch writing in Model Airplane News explains the contest structure:

“This contest is structured so that the first three days are used for qualifying rounds in which all competitors fly Unknown Compulsory, Known Compulsory and Three-Minute Free Programs. The fourth, and final, day has the field narrowed to five finalists who then do it all over again, a number of times, in the same day.”

• The models are still getting bigger.
• Many authors of various modeling magazines note that they saw things done with model airplanes that they had never seen done before.

Winner: Hanno Prettner of Austria
2nd place: Chip Hyde of the United States of America
3rd place: Wolfgang Matt of Liechtenstein

Total prize pure – $118,000

1990

Rectanuglar patch with dark blue trim and a white background. The design is busy with a partial star and airplane in gold, blue and pink. - 1990

Patch, 1990 Tournament of Champions, National Model Aviation Museum Permanent Collection, donated by Jerry Epps, 2019.10.43.

• A “Three Minute Free” event was added to the contest. This was an optional choice for the pilots and had a separate trophy.

Winner: Chip Hyde of the United States of America
2nd place: Steve Rojecki of the United States of America
3rd place: Wolfgang Matt of Liechtenstein

Three-Minute Free Contest
1st place: Quique Somenzini of Argentina
2nd place: Chip Hyde of the United States of America
3rrd place: David von Linsowe of the United States of America

Total prize purse: $126,500

1992
• Norm Staub describes the contest set-up as:

o “This TOC included three elements to test a pilot’s ability:
Known sequence – 40% of score
Unknown sequence – 40% of score
Free Style – 20% of score (“Most competitors used aircraft smoke trails and music played over the public address system to enhance their presentations.”) While the sequences were incorporated into the final scores, separate prizes and prize money was awarded to those who did best in this event.

• Steve Rojecki was contest director for the first time.

Aerobatics Event
Winner: Chip Hyde of the United States of America
2nd place: Steve Stricker of the United States of America
3rd place: Quique Somenzini of Argentina

Free Style Rivalry
1st place: Chip Hyde of the United States of America
2nd place – Quique Somenzini of Argentina
3rd place – Dave von Linsowe of the United States of America

Total prize purse – $127, 500

1994
• The airplanes got bigger.
• Scoring emphasis was placed more on the unknown patterns.
• Quique Somenzini debuted what many see as the birth of 3D Aerobatics.
• Reporter Ron Van Putte confessed:

“Like most of the spectators, I was not prepared for the size of the airplanes. After getting somewhat used to their size as they were being assembled prior to the start of competition, I was again startled by their performance. Unlike some lumbering giants I had seen I the past, these airplanes can fly!

Winner: Quique Somenzini of Argentina
2nd place – Steve Stricker of the United States of America
3rd place – Christope Paysant-Le Roux of France

Total prize purse– $129,500

1996
• Sponsor switched to Sahara Hotel and Casino (teal, not pink, is the new dominant color).

Winner: Steve Stricker of the United States of America
2nd place: Quique Somenzini of Argentina
3rd place: Jason Shulman of the United States of America

Total prize purse- $151,000

1997

A shield-shaped patch in blue and teal showing a model airplane at center. Yellow writing advertises the Sahara Tournament of Champions. Possibly 1997.
Patch, 1997 Tournament of Champions, National Model Aviation Museum Permanent Collection, donated by Jerry Epps, 2019.10.36.

• Rick Allison states:

“The Free programs are always the biggest crowd-pleaser at the Tournament, but since they count only 20% of the final score, they seldom have real impact on the standings. And the “oooh and “ahh” factor builds reputations (and feeds pilot egos) like little else can. The Free is model aeronautical “King of the Mountain” and while it may be fun for all, it is taken very seriously by those involved. Past Tournaments have been marked by different ‘fad’ maneuvers int eh Free, but 1997 had no ‘standout’ maneuver (unless you count cross-runway takeoffs). This year’s Free did have a fair number of pilots who decided to pay some overdue attention to the ‘Harmony and Rhythm’ requirement; there was a little less ‘3-D’ flash, and a lot more graceful and rhythmic maneuvering to the music -at least among those that scored well. That doesn’t mean that pizzazz an ‘wow’ factor was entirely lacking. Many pilots flew lower (and slower!) than ever before, and deep-stalled maneuvers such as elevator flips and the classic Falling Leaf were included in a large number of the routines.”

Winner: Quique Somenzini of Argentina
2nd place: Chris Paysant-LeRoux of France
3rd place: Roland Matt of Liechtenstein

Total prize purse: $180,000

1998

Winner: Quique Somenzini of Argentina
2nd place: Christophe Paysant-Le Roux of France
3rd place: Sean McMurty of the United States of America

Total prize purse – $184,500

1999
• According to Don Lowe in Radio Control Modeler:

“The Sahara Hotel Sponsored TOC in Las Vegas was probably the best yet in terms of intense competition, beautiful flying conditions, and the lack of serious technical malfunctions (crashes) during the competition. It was a cliff hanger right down to the final flights to determine the winner. Interestingly, the final winner had barely survived the semi-final cut to make it to the finals the last day of the competition.”

Winner: Quique Somenzini of Argentina
2nd place: Chip Hyde of the United States of America
3rd place: Christophe Paysant LeRoux of France

Total prize purse- $180,000

2000

Winner: Christophe Paysant Le Roux of France
2nd place: Chip Hyde of the United States of America
3rd place: Jason Shulman of the United States of America

Total prize purse: unknown

2002

A magazine cover showing a large model flying low against a desert background. Bound magazines and library scene behind magazine.
The cover of Model Aviation, showing a TOC model aircraft in flight, April 2003.

• Mike Hurley, writing for Model Aviation states:

“The best way for me to describe the TOC is to liken it to the Oscars. Yes, the Oscars. Not the World Series and not the Super Bowl. This contest is watched by pilots, enthusiasts, manufacturers, and journalists from around the world. The following year’s trends will be set by the actions taken at this contest. Everybody wants to know who is flying what airplane with which engine and whose propeller! Did a servo fail? Was one of the airplanes lighter than another? Who will choke and who will prevail? The gossip will flow for the following months, and manufacturers will gear up to start capitalizing on successes.”

Winner: Chip Hyde of the United States of America
2nd place: Christophe Paysant-Le Roux of France
3rd place: Quique Somenzini of Argentina

Total prize purse: $183,500.

—————————————————————————
For more information on the National Model Aviation Museum, including our location, hours and admission fees visit: www.modelaircraft.org/museum

4 comments

  1. I was married in 1978 and went to Vegas to see the Championship at Bennett Field….will never forget those days…….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *