These days most young pilots cut their teeth on simulators or ready-to-fly electric helis. Even fewer young pilots know anything about what really makes model helis tick or the challenging evolution that lead to what they are today. JC Zankl is a well respected pilot who is originally from Muncie, Indiana, home of the AMA headquarters. JC is a “Gen-Y’er” who, thanks to his father, was introduced to the RC hobby at a very early age and at a time when model helicopters had just started to evolve beyond crude, home grown contraptions. JC grew up surrounded by the model aircraft that would define what the modern model helicopter is today. GMPs, Schluters, Kavans and Kalts; all brands that are now considered antiques have been his main fleet since he was a child. JC’s interest in these models and their respective footnotes in the hobby’s history have earned him a kind of respect usually relegated to elders in the hobby. Due to his extensive hands-on experience, diverse collection of models and brand memorabilia, he is even considered to be the family historian for the Gorham family of GMP fame.
JC has developed into a formidable pilot and has been sponsored by several premium model brands over the years. Now he works for Empire RC at their Arizona facility and primarily represents the Gaui line of model aircraft. He attends several large events across the USA and is very active online assisting hobbyists. Given the diversity of his experience and his friendly attitude, I thought I’d interview him so we could learn a little bit more about his infatuation with old models and what makes him tick…tock.
RADIO CONTROL HELI PILOT:
Can you tell me about how you became involved in the RC hobby?
JC: I have to give the credit to my father. He was involved in the hobby and I followed in his footsteps. My first heli came on Christmas Morning 1988 (JC was three years old) in the form of a GMP Cricket.
RCHP: When you were first learning to fly, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced in your progression to becoming a professional pilot?
JC: When I started, there were no gyro’s or simulators, so it was all hands-on training.
RCHP: In your opinion, when did model helicopters transition from limited aerobatic machines to 3D?
JC: I personally would say around 1999-2000 when Thunder Tiger came out with the inexpensive Raptor 30. I think the Raptor 30 was a pivotal model in the 3D progression of helicopters.
RCHP: What is your favorite vintage model heli to fly and why?
JC: Boy that’s a tough one. I love my GMP Cricket, Legend and Schluter Heli-Star. I fly the Cricket as vintage as it gets, with no gyro. It’s fun to crank that thing up at a fun fly and watch the people flock to you. It’s an attention getter. The Legend is flybarless with no flybarless stabilization and my Schluter Heli-Star is one of the most stable heli’s that I’ve flown. It’s a tank and flies super smooth.
RCHP: Can you explain to us what it is like to fly your favorite vintage heli and then fly the next flight with a modern model?
JC: Flying my vintage heli’s are more for relaxation for me. It’s fun to just get out there and cruise and not do anything radical. Then go to modern heli like my GAUI NX4 or X7 and just beat the living heck out of it. Basically it’s like driving an antique Volkswagen versus a modern Porsche.
RCHP: Who or what influences have affected your approach to the hobby and your flying style?
JC: Robert Gorham was my influence in the hobby. I love the way he would interact with the people in the hobby. I love the ‘big air’ flying style; fast and smooth.
RCHP: How did you become a team rep and then full-time employee in the hobby industry?
JC: I was a team pilot for Empire Hobby/GAUI when a job position came available at the shop. They asked if I was interested and the rest, as they say, is history.
RCHP: Do you have any hobby-related short or long term goals to share?
JC: Both short term and long term. I’d like to get back into competing in both FAI and 3D competitions again.
RCHP: What advice do you have for people who might be interested in the hobby?
JC: Get a simulator! The best thing for newbies is to practice on the sim.
RCHP: If you could start over, would you do anything differently, maybe bought X instead of Y?
JC: No the road has been a fun road and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
RCHP: Now that your hobby has turned into a full time job, how do you go about balancing work with your personal life?
JC: There really isn’t a balance. When I get home I still tinker.
RCHP: Considering your hands-on experience with models of the past, what do you foresee as the next evolutionary incarnation of the models and/or the hobby?
JC: I see the flybarless units getting better with the new FAI (2013) rules allowing the use of flybarless units. This will force flybarless manufacturers to fine tune for the precision flying.
RCHP: What’s your favorite color and why?
JC: I see white better than anything else in the sky.
RCHP: I know you’re a big fan of warbirds, and even though they’re planks (gasp!), do you have a favorite?
JC: Oh Yes! The Corsair is my favorite fighter, and the B-17 is my
bomber. DR1 is the coolest WWI plane of all time!
RCHP: What’s your favorite food or dish?
JC: I love me some chicken wings from Buffalo Wild Wings!
RCHP: Do you have a favorite band?
JC: Good question! I listen to everything! So it’s a tossup between Metallica and Avenged Sevenfold.
RCHP: What or who keeps you motivated day to day?
JC: My girlfriend, Kristen. Without her support it would be difficult. Jack Burnside, for believing in me and my dad because we still do this as father and son. And I can’t forget Robert Gorham for the inspiration and mentoring!
I’d like to thank JC for his time and for sharing his experiences with our readers. It’s hard to find young people in the hobby who have a true appreciation for how the hobby itself and the products it revolves around came to be. Fortunately, JC is out there showing off what the classic models can do and follows it up with flights of the latest and greatest modern machines. It really puts things in perspective on how far we’ve come in such a short time. Thanks JC!