Many modelers get into the RC hobby with dreams of flying a replica of their favorite full-scale airplane. Whether you want a blazing red Fokker triplane, a shiny P-51 Mustang, or even a F-16 powered by a real jet engine, there are models to scratch that itch. For some, the need for scale accuracy goes deeper…much, much deeper. These detail-oriented hobbyists spend countless hours making their model appear as close as possible to the real thing. No nuance is too small to replicate. They also gather for competitions where their creations are judged by how realistic they appear on the ground and in flight.
Something for Everyone
Many scale competitions in the US are governed by the U.S. Scale Masters Association (USSMA). The event rules are specifically tailored to include modelers with varying skill levels, budgets, and interests. If you love to build, but you're not the best pilot, you can partner with an ace flyer to compete in one of the team categories. Or maybe you just want to test the competitive waters. There are novice classes that allow you to compete with off-the-shelf factory-built models.
Expert class scale competition modelers build and pilot their own flying replicas.
The top tier of scale competition is the expert class. These modelers build and pilot their own flying creations. They must be equally skilled in both areas to be a serious contender.
At any given event, you are likely to find a mix of military and civilian models spanning all eras of aviation. The USSMA rulebook states that competitors can use "any scale model of a heavier-than-air, man-carrying, fixed-wing aircraft that was actually built and flown". Other than blimps, helicopters, and drones, it's essentially wide open.
USSMA holds regional events all over the US. Participants who score well enough at a regional are invited to attend the annual U.S. Scale Masters Championships…a Super Bowl of scale modeling. The winner of the expert class at this national event is named "Grand Champion". To gain some insight into the realm of RC scale events, I spoke with the current US Scale Masters Grand Champion, Chris Wolfe.