AMA members set new world record

Four AMA members have learned that an RC flight they made in 2019 has set a new world record for highest altitude remote-controlled (RC) model aircraft flight.

AMA members Paul Kaup, Jake Minker, Eric Gordon, and Nick Ross learned in August that their flight was ratified by Guinness World Records. On October 13, 2019, they used a balloon to help an RVJet Flying Wing reach an altitude of 34,800 feet—breaking the previous record of 29,527 feet. The flight took place at Spaceport America, in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

(L-R): Jake, Eric, Nick, Rachel, and Dani.


“When I found out that the record was officially accepted by Guinness, I was astounded,” Eric stated. “After so much work we put into this, it was amazing to hear it paid off and we officially had the record in our hands.” Paul notified the team that the record was ratified on August 14, 2020.

“We had a good feeling we met the specs to break the world record the day of the flight. However, we had to wait a long time for Guinness to process the data,” Jake added. Also on the team were Rachel Stark and Dani Deckert, who are not AMA members.

Nick shared some background about how the team was formed. “At our grade school, Paul had started a STEM+C program. This gave me the exposure to model aircraft and introduced me to Eric and Jake. We followed Paul through middle and high school as he taught us the foundation to everything we know in regards to building and flying model aircraft. All three of us had been flying model aircraft roughly since 6th grade.”

The trio later formed an aeronautics club at their high school, Richmond Burton Community High School in Richmond, Illinois. In May 2017, they, along with other students, traveled to Spaceport America to attempt to set the new world record for highest altitude RC flight. They called this attempt Project Blackbird. Unfortunately, the Automatic Packet Reporting System failed, and the backup telemetry recorder wrote over its own memory. Only the last 20 minutes of data were recorded. Guinness would not accept the results.

The second (and successful attempt) was called StratoJourney. After the failed attempt in 2017, Paul and the high school students began preparing for another shot at the record. They decided to use a kit-built RVJet Flying Wing and modify to be suitable for high-altitude flight. A weather balloon would carry it up to altitude.

Paul contacted the FAA and filled out the necessary paperwork to allow six teams to attempt the record. “The division of the FAA that I work with is totally supportive of what I am doing,” he said.

In addition to paperwork, Paul traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with FAA officials, wrote letters to senators, and coordinated the project with Spaceport America. He also had to file an exemption request with the FAA, write the program and course content, get the aircraft certified as an experimental UAV, and create an aviation safety checklist. After roughly two years, the flight was green-lighted by the FAA.

Numerous stress tests at low altitudes soon followed, and the day of the flight finally arrived. “The model aircraft was released by burning the rope with nichrome wire with the flip of a switch on the transmitter,” Jake explained.

Today, Jake, Nick, and Eric are freshmen in college. Eric is studying aeronautical management technology (Unmanned Aerial Systems) at Arizona State University, Nick is a freshman at the University of Dayton, where he’s studying mechanical engineering technology, and Jake is a certified flight instructor who will soon be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Online, with hopes of becoming an airline captain.

Below: Paul (front) and his son (yellow shirt) pose with the StratoJourney team.


  1. Congratulations to the entire team. Great job and a tremendous accomplishment in setting the Guinness World Record.

  2. This is clear evidence that ambitious study and hard work (combined with failure) can result in wonderful accolades. Seeing an idea come to fruition has it’s own rewards. Please continue to pursue your dreams!

    Congratulations to the team.

  3. Congratulations, it’s a significant achievement, but it should be remembered that it’s the FAI that certifies model aviation (as well as all aviation) world records, not Guinness.

  4. The previous record was held by Maynard Hill.
    His plane flew under it’s own power to over 29,000 ft.
    This was 50 years ago!!
    This record is not the same as Maynard Hill’s.
    A balloon carried the plane, did not fly under it’s own power.

    1. I would enjoy reading about this event below. Any references?

      “ The previous record was held by Maynard Hill.
      His plane flew under it’s own power to over 29,000 ft.
      This was 50 years ago!!
      This record is not the same as Maynard Hill’s.
      A balloon carried the plane, did not fly under it’s own power.”

    2. It was carried to height, detached and flown under it’s own power. Words cannot explain how difficult this is, they did an amazing job.

    3. Yes, i was the pilot and builder of an attempt here in Australia in the 90s.
      The idea was to fly all the way up using a supercharged 10cc engine and video link to navigate.
      The team didn’t complete the attempt.
      But to carry it under a balloon is a bit weak sorry…

  5. Nice going. Say, did that flying wing have a transponder that identified the vehicle location and altitude to local aircraft and airports?

    I thought we were now limited to 400′. That’s why I won’t get back into R/C aircraft or drones. There is too much government red tape now. The government or big business is after three of my major hobbies now.

    How did you get around ‘Big Brother’?

    1. All of our aircraft were certified by FAA as “experimental aircraft” by an onsite FAA inspector, after requesting prior authorization. APRS transponders and cleared airspace launched out of Spaceport America.

    1. AND….the FAA just gave the nod to Amazon to deliver stuff by drone. You can [sic] sure bet they didn’t have to claw their way to get to fly wherever they needed to to get somebody their frozen dinners.

  6. Not to take anything from the team, but does qualify as an FAA or FAI record? I don’t believe the balloon flight beats Maynard Hill’s record…

  7. I am so proud you folks have accomplished this! In the spirit of Walt Goode, you flew above the horizon to the awe of the spectators and did something no one had done before! Bravo!

  8. I don’t see the significance of this “record”, and wonder why it’s even recognized at all. It was carried aloft by a balloon to the altitude, not by it’s own means, and then the path back was a glide back to earth, more or less. This new “record” is like comparing apples and oranges, and I would say, and argue, that Maynard Hill still holds the altitude record.

  9. Congratulations to the entire teem. I am glad that a groop of young students,as your selves, have such a passion for aviatoin. keep up the good work.

  10. That’s a record with a big asterisk. Lifted up and released at altitude is not a match for Maynard’s record. Sorry, Maynard Hill was the MAN!

  11. In my opinion, Hill is still the record holder. That electric power has the advantage of constant propulsion until it depletes to shut-off and glide down to landing. However the electric downside is that the fueled engine becomes lighter as the fuel is used while the battery weight is still carried. Records that I recall required takeoff and landing from known ground locations and no part of the plane to be dropped off. Let’s see these guys follow the old rules.
    They are a good team.

  12. I find it hard to believe that it would be considered a record of any kind. The model was carried aloft by a balloon, not under it’s own power, to a high altitude. It was then released, gliding back to earth, probably using a little power to reach a predetermined touch down spot. I will say, and argue the point, that Maynard Hill’s flight was an honest flight up to altitude and back without assistance. This should be recognized as the record, not the most recent claim!

  13. I get it they were kids and yes they accomplished an amazing thing but a world record no.
    Maynard Hill’s aircraft started under its own power on the ground and flew up to an altitude of 26,919ft with an internal combustion engine in 1970.
    To me this sound as if these kids had their aircraft carried up to 34,800ft then released and flew back to the ground. No mention of type of propulsion, (I’m guessing electric) which falls under a different category. Electric power record 14,892ft set by Gian Aghem in 1995.

    I am sorry I do not see this as a record for a “GAIN IN ALTITUDE” flight if the aircraft did not reach said altitude under it’s own power.

  14. Great accomplishment by interested and motivated students. Hats off to the adult mentors and supporters so long as this was done in accordance with current regulations and with the knowledge of and acquiescence of the “Federal Air Police” who otherwise spend their days looking for a hapless model airplane enthusiast who might stray above the sacred floor of 400 feet.
    Guinness Record it may be, but an accomplishment worthy of FAI Recognition it isn’t. In any event it’s better young folks are doing this in stead of a lot of other mindless stuff we hear about daily.

  15. A new world record for an aircraft hoisted by a balloon. A fine accomplishment that can be beat with a bigger balloon. Comparing this to Maynard Hill’s record is comparing apples to oranges, too many differences. In my opinion, Hill’s record still stands. This is like a high jumper who gets to stand on a raised platform to jump over the bar…

  16. They seem to have set a record for proving that their R/C Tx and Rx combination has worked well enough to guide the model back from Point A (34,800 ft) to Point B, (the earth) without damage. They may also have set the record by proving the reliability of the GPS system which also worked well enough to return the model to their predetermined spot at the field.
    However, I will give them the record for remaining good friends after all they went through having to work with the officials at the Guinness offices.

  17. I understand that this was a great event but unfortunately I don’t agree that it was a reason to be considered as a word record for RC airplane. A RC airplane takes off from the ground, flies and land, not to be carried by a balloon,glide and land. Same consideration I have against Wright Brothers first flight against the Brazilian Aviator and Inventor Santos Dumond.
    Wright Brothers used a downhill system to have their airplane to gains speed for take off, Santos Dumond fired the engines, got some speed, took off, flew and then landed.

  18. Did you retrieve the balloon? or just litter? Giving us another bad mark. What happened to fly within line of site?

  19. I believe that the Guinness organization AND the AMA should be ashamed of touting
    this accomplishment as a “record” of RC altitude flight. Yes, an “accomplishment”,
    no doubt, and congratulations are in order, but this glider in free fall after being
    released from a balloon is *not RC controlled flight*. If Maynard Hill was still
    alive, he’s be having a fit!! Kids, *fly* your aircraft to 34,000 feet, bring it
    down, and *then* claim a “record”, like Maynard Hill did in the *1960’s*. He flew
    an RC engine powered airplane to just under 27,000 feet, and in my mind, *that*
    record still stands!

      1. In my attempt, you had to fly and ‘view’ the aircraft all the up and back then land within 50 metres of the takeoff point.
        A telescope and high power transmitter, video link, data logger, radar confirmation plus A/C specs of <5kg, 10cc to be a ‘model aircraft’ by Guinnis requirements. Ratified by two moderators from guinnis at the attempt… we where going to do it at Woomera Rocket range South Australia.
        I built the plane (the Stratocruise) a mate married an OS supercharger to an Enya 10cc engine. Things like batteries freezing at altitude and getting telemetry and video back over 15 kilometres was a challenge but transmitters where made and circuits built… there was no Ebay for plug and play tech back then, we had to invent it.
        Political problems inside the team killed the attempt before it could be made but the A/C was test flown…
        This was in the late 90s

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