Best in the West Jet Event – Part 1

Updated: October 26, 2012

The best remote-controlled rockets with wings from not only the West but from around the world were on display once again at Best in the West 2012. And this year’s version of the annual event did not disappoint. Pilots from as far away as China, Venezuela, Austrailia, Great Britian, Germany, the Dominican Republic, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, Arizona and from all over California converged at the ‘Willow to show off their passion and pride – their state of the art air models.

Event director Joe Castelao holds a pilot briefing on the runway prior to the showcase getting underway. Photo by Andrew Stevens

A consistent flow of RV’s and hobby trailers slowly gave way to glorified airborne toys that are valued in the hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars.  Some of the participants made their way to the destination from points around the world as early in the week as Monday.  When arrived Thursday, all but a handful of the total that were to be involved in the Saturday Showcase had already made their way to the scene.  As the event reached its penultimate on Saturday, several pilots, technicians, modelers, vendors, event staff and most importantly, fans, were all present to take in the majesty of this elite hobby.

Event Director Joe Castelao once again piloted a smooth and turbulent-free flight for all involved.  Planning and coordinating all of the licenses, permits, rentals, catering, awards, and emergency and event personel truly takes the entire year leading up to the next event to have all of your ducks in a row.  The efforts of Mr. Castelao and all around him should be commended and appreciated.  Best in the West is first class when it comes to these types of events, and this year there wasn’t even the slightest hiccup as the entire production unfolded.

Master of Ceremony Sam Wright addresses the runway, tents and fans as the showcase gets underway. Photo by Andrew Stevens

The voice of Best in the West, the golden pipes of longtime announcer Sam Wright brought the perfect amount of marvel to everyone within speaker earshot.  His descriptions were the perfect compliment to all the action taking place in the sky, as veteran or novice pilots and fans alike seemed to welcome and enjoy the colorful and informative broadcast.  I personally got to spend a lot of time taking it all in with Sam, as sitting next to him at the announcer’s booth was the ideal perspective to effectively capture the entire display.

On my initial walk around the tents I noticed that, although each model was unique in its own way, the one thing that all of these birds had in common was their internal intricacy.  Anyone can go to their local hobby shop and buy a small electric-powered jet that is essentially “plug and play” for a few hundred dollars – but these high-end puzzles of wood, fiberglass, plastic, metal, electrical wire, tubing, batteries and turbine engines have all the elaborate complexity of the human body.

Jet Cat USA technician Scot Sneed awaits the pilot to return to test his finished product on the runway. Photo by Andrew Stevens

I was fortunate enough to get a complete inside look at what a technician goes through in order to fix a number of problems and get these jewels flight-ready.  One of my best friends, Scot Sneed, is an engine and all-around hobby technician for Jet Cat USA.  Located in Paso Robles, California, Jet Cat USA is a satellite operation of the German-based turbine engine manufacturer.  Jet Cat has very few competitors, as a dominant majority of all jets of these magnitude around the world employ Jet Cat turbine engines.  Jet Cat USA in Paso Robles supplies and services all of their turbine engines in the entire Western hemisphere. 

Knowing the ins and outs of these engines that range from $2,500 to $7,500 and how they mesh with the rest of the internal system is something that isn’t gained overnight.  Watching and assisting “Dr. Sneed” with his remote-controlled patients was well worth the trip. The main thing to consider in the guts of these jets, is that if only one little thing isn’t right in the entire system of dozens if not hundreds of things, the whole arrangement isn’t going to work.  And the procedure of knowing what to look for in the entire order of each particular system is truly something incredible.  And what was most outstanding is that Sneed fixed all of the problems he was charged with at a rate of 100% on this weekend.  

Tam Nguyen spots his nine-year-old son Sean as he walks his electric-powered jet back up the runway into the pits after another successful flight. Photo by Andrew Stevens

Another wonderful thing this exciting and fulfilling hobby features is the family connection.  Based in Silicon Valley, California, the Tam Jets operation always features elite models and pilots at these types of events.  Owner Tam Nguyen is a respected veteran in RC jet circles around the world.  Tam’s son, Sean Nguyen has already become a pilot well beyond his years at only nine years old.  You heard me right.  Nine. And he probably already flies better than half of all RC jet pilots in the industry.  And to see father and son come together and share something that is both business and enjoyment for Dad and 100% fun for son is something that poetically transcends RC jet modeling.  Tam should be incredibly proud of his son Sean.  He put on a great show for everyone that was fortunate enough to be present at the event.

Most of Thursday and the early part of Friday was reserved for practice flights and testing.  The testing you ask?  The players versus the environment.  Buttonwillow in October still has more of a feeling of summer than it does fall.  Temperatures early in the event ranged from the the high 80’s to the low 90’s with a limited wind factor.  The pilots had no complaints, as these conditions are beyond ideal for jet flight.  The one and only downside?  Well, if you want to get picky, Buttonwillow presents a very dry heat.  And surprisingly enough, humidity trumps dryness as far as ideal flight conditions are concerned.  In conversations with several pilots and technicians, I learned that heavier air works extremely better than dry air when you consider turbine engine efficiency and overall performance, which is a reasonable trade in exchange for whatever slight difference there may be in fuel consumption.

A couple of early on-lookers are present for the event equivalent of batting practice, taking a preliminary view of all that was available on the runway and in the air. Photo by Andrew Stevens

Early to mid-morning Friday, a few hardcore fans came a day early to get a preview of what would be on display the next day.  For only $10 dollars fans could purchase a pit pass and walk through the pit areas to view the jets up close, as well as be able engage the pilots and technicians.  This pass was good for both Friday and Saturday, as the real enthusiasts that showed up a day early could get some value in showing up before the masses arrived and the showcase may have made everyone less accessible. 

As the sun reached its peak Friday afternoon, one of the most recognized modelers in the industry finally arrived with his hobby trailer full of projects.  Henry Nguyen rolled in with event director Joe Castelao’s A-10 Warthog, an annual show favorite.  This classic Vietnam War scale model was known for its nickname “tank buster.”  Armed with a 30 mm rotary cannon, the A-10 Warthog was primarily used as the nose of the spear in escorting squadrons on bombing missions.

Top modeler Henry Nguyen explains to event director Joe Castelao about the new additions to his A-10 Warthog. Jet Cat technician Scot Sneed looks on. Photo by Andrew Stevens

The amount of detail the A-10 boasted inside and out put all other jets at the show to shame.  How precise and accurate everything was inside the cockpit had to be what stood out most about the majestic killer.  And after being able to study most all of the birds intensely as Friday afternoon turned into evening, this particular part of the hobby as a whole seemed to be the most impressive – detail, detail, detail. Things like high-rate performances of engines and the different aerodynamic qualities of airframes definately has a certain amount of attraction for the pilot in us all, but the hobbyist in us all can’t help but appreciate the overall detail of these fine sport and scale models.  

If all the chatter, laughter and wrenching going on around the tents all day and evening Friday was any indication, the Saturday showcase was shaping up to be something special. 


Part 2 of’s coverage of the Best in the West 2012 RC Jet Event will be available to view in the coming days.  Stay tuned!

Please view the Part 1 photo gallery below.  More pictures and video to come!

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I guess these things go faster than my Eagle 50. Nine years old and already flying a RC Jet. You got to be kidding me. Good article and good photos.