Last Thursday morning, I got up bright and early and headed south for the Florida International Jet Rally in Lake Wales, FL. The goal was to get more stick time on my jet and to earn my turbine waiver—that magic piece of paper that allows you to fly model turbine aircraft safely and legally.

I snapped lots of pictures at the jet rally and posted a few of them below. The F-18 in row 2, column 1 weighs 55 pounds (the maximum allowed in the U.S.) and is powered by a turbine that produces 33 pounds of thrust. It flies very scale—that is, slow compared to sport jets—and sounds amazing when it flies by. The jet in row 2, column 3 is a BVM ElectraJet piloted by Bob Violett. A nasty crosswind rocked the plane just before it rotated, and if you look closely, you can see the missile under the right wing being torn off. There’s one picture of my jet in this bunch: row 1, column 3. I titled this picture “Hanging with the Big Dogs” because my jet is lounging in the shade next to two of BVM’s biggest and finest: an Ultra Bandit and Bob’s award-winning F-100. (Hope my jet doesn’t develop an attitiude!) The final picture shows me and the two BVM guys who did my check flights: Dustin (left) and Tom (right).

Jet Row BVM RowHanging with the Big DogsMIG

F-18DV8RElectraJetDustin, Jeff, and Tom

I planned to do my check flights Friday and Saturday, but a strong crosswind both days grounded all but the bravest pilots. I did get in a few flights, but Dustin did the take-offs and landings.

The wind finally laid down Saturday evening and we woke up the following day to a bright, clear, nearly windless morning. Dustin took me up on the buddy box and allowed me to do an end-to-end flight (take-off, flight, and landing). I absolutely stuck the landing; it was one of the best I’ve ever made with any aircraft. One of the veteran jet pilots approached me in the lunch tent later and said “I saw that landing you made; terrific job.” It was all I could do to get my big head out of the lunch tent.

The second flight of the day was another end-to-ender on the buddy box, this time with Dustin and Tom observing my every move. This was the official check flight, and I’m not afraid to admit that I was a little nervous with two of the best pilots in the business scrutinizing me and a small crowd of spectators watching. The flight went well and the landing was OK, although I bounced a little bit because I was so intent on working the rudder to counter a mild crosswind that had blown up that I was a little late pulling back on the elevator for the final flare.

My third and final flight of the day was my first solo flight. Dustin stood next to me, but the pucker factor was still pretty high knowing that there was no buddy box to save me if something went wrong. I managed the flight OK, and while the landing was functional, there was nothing pretty about it. I came in a little hot and when I started the flare, the jet gained altitude and I ended up landing long after milking it back down to the runway.

The good news is that Dustin and Tom signed my turbine waiver application. Now I send the paperwork off to the AMA and get a turbine waiver in return. It feels good to be official!

Almost as exciting as earning my turbine waiver was the fact that my jet came home in one piece. Some jets weren’t so lucky. The most spectacular crash of the weekend came when three jets were screaming down the runway on a flyby and one of the pilots got a little spooked and decided to pull out. He veered to the right and hit a palm tree at full throttle. The jet disintegrated, but fortunately there was no fire. The jet rally was extremely well organized, and there was a fire crew on hand ready to go into action the moment any jet went down.

This was a weekend that I’ll never forget!