The AMA would like to say congratulations to Youth Ambassador and Camp AMA Instructor RJ Gritter for winning ETOC!
In early 2006, in the days when all I flew were glow-powered sport planes at my local club and hardly knew what 3D was, I was browsing the Flying Giants website and ran across the live video feed of the ETOC, the Electric Tournament of Champions. I still remember sitting there for hours, watching all the pilots fly their sequence and freestyle rounds. I was amazed and intrigued by the flying and the airplanes. This was a world I had never seen but one I knew I wanted to get into. I set a goal for myself to somehow fly in the 2007 ETOC.
I spent a lot of time that year learning about foamies. A fellow pilot gave me a couple blue-foam flat foamies that he had cut and built and I started playing with them, learning the art of things like rolling circles and hovering. I learned all about 3D and my introduction to precision flying on those airplanes. I wasn’t lucky enough to have any indoor or 3D pilots in my club, so I watched videos to find out the maneuvers I wanted to learn and then spent hours at the field figuring out how to make them happen. I spent all year enjoying improving my skills and when the time came to submit a video entry for ETOC, I built a shiny new airplane, put together my freestyle routine and submitted a video. At first, I didn’t get in, but I got a call from the organizers one day that they had a spot open up and I was invited to compete. I couldn’t believe it!
I went on to compete that year and in every ETOC since then. That contest is what has pushed me to improve my flying every year. I have also really enjoyed pushing the envelope of what is possible with indoor airplanes, between lightweight VPP airplanes, thrust-vectoring and some really exotic aerodynamic designs, the possibilities are nearly endless. Some of my best friends are those I have competed with in ETOC.
This year, I spent the week before ETOC in New York with my buddy Devin McGrath, building airplanes and practicing for the contest. After lots of unforeseen problems, we ended up not nearly as prepared for the contest as we wanted to be, but were still having fun and decided to still go compete anyway. Knowing a lack of practice on our new freestyles meant we would lose some points on precision, we decided to hold back our new freestyle routines and maneuvers until the very final round. After a hard-fought preliminary and semi-final round, Devin finished in 4th and I was competing against Gernot Bruckmann and Christoph Lausberg in the final 3. I just psyched myself up to go have fun in that last freestyle flight and, not knowing how my new freestyle would score, at least give the crowd and myself some excitement! After it was over I was very happy with how the flight went, but I knew Christoph and Gernot flew well and the results would be close.
When it was finally time for the results to be announced, they announced Christoph had placed 3rd. The next 30 seconds seemed to last forever… they announced that the top two scores were the closest they had ever been. Then they said, “In second place, from….” I barely even heard what came next, I just knew it wasn’t my hometown, and that only meant one thing. I finally won the ETOC!! All my friends were already gathered around and we celebrated for a minute before they called my name and I went to get my trophy.
It was a great honor to finally win the contest that has brought me so far in this hobby. I have to thank all my friends and sponsors; without their help and motivation, this would never have happened. After all, this hobby is all about fun, and having fun flying with great friends makes it worth all the effort.
For now, it’s back to school until final exams are over, but I’m looking forward to a summer of flying! I’ll be at Joe Nall and competing in XFC next. I look forward to seeing many of you at those events and flying with all of you who are coming to Camp AMA. I’ll be practicing for XFC then, so we’ll all be working on improving our flying together!
** Photo courtesy of Fred Midgett from Higher Plane Productions