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Big Show, Small(ish) Airplanes

May 19, 2016 - “It's not about engines and airplanes, it's the people.” That sounds like something EAA Founder Paul Poberezny would have said, but, in this case, it was a friend of Paul’s, a man clearly cut from the same cloth: Triple Tree Aerodrome’s Pat Hartness.

Last weekend, EAA vice presidents Sean Elliot and Rick Larsen, along with staff photographer Erin Brueggen and senior editor Hal Bryan, attended Joe Nall 2016. Known to some as “the Oshkosh of model airplanes,” Joe Nall is held at Triple Tree, a true pilot’s haven in Woodruff, South Carolina. The Aerodrome features beautiful camping facilities, gazebos, a lake for seaplane operations, a World War II-era control tower (mainly just for looks) and, at its heart, a 7,000-foot-plus grass runway, fairway smooth. Triple Tree is home to a number of events throughout the year, and caters equally to both model and full-scale aircraft.

Joe Nall was Hartness’ best friend, and the two of them started a radio-controlled fly-in in 1978. The event continued to grow, and, after Nall was killed in an airplane crash in Venezuela in 1989, Hartness named it after him. Today, the event spans a week and attracts more than 15,000 people from all over the world, and the flying runs non-stop. There are multiple flightlines and demo areas featuring RC aircraft of all shapes and sizes, from tiny electric “foamies” to giant-scale behemoths like a four-engine C-130 and a massive, 16-foot turbine-powered F-104 Starfighter. There’s a section just for helicopters, a surprisingly vibrant control-line area, and even a seaplane base.

One of the more popular spots was devoted to what’s known as “3-D” flying that often involves giant-scale Extras and Sukhois hovering and maneuvering at what seem to be impossibly slow speeds thanks to some truly impressive pilots, not to mention great thrust-to-weight ratios. The nighttime flying demos were absolutely mesmerizing, whether it was the big 3-D airplanes hovering in their own strobe-lit smoke or dozens of smaller electrics swarming like fireflies under the stars. The following morning, we were treated to a few passes by Hartness’ (full-scale) P-51 as it departed for an air show appearance.

The crossover between the worlds of model and full-scale aviation is substantial. Walking the grounds of Triple Tree during Joe Nall, you’ll see nearly as many EAA shirts and hats as you do those from AMA. Building and flying models is a clear and obvious pathway to full-scale flight, but it’s a two-way street; to many enthusiasts, the size of the aircraft really doesn’t matter. Many of the roughly 1,700 pilots who fly at Joe Nall also fly full-scale, and even more of the younger modelers plan to.

Hartness has created an oasis for anyone who loves aviation. Big airplanes, small airplanes, young, old, whatever. We’ll be doing an expanded story on Triple Tree after their full-scale fly-in in September. In the meantime, enjoy a quick look back at our visit to a truly remarkable event.

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