Remote-Controlled Jets the Stars of Four-Day Lakeland Festival

Remote-controlled jets will be zipping all over this week, leaving spectators in awe as they zoom by at speeds of more than 150 miles per hour.

“It’s happened every year I’ve been involved in the hobby. People are just amazed, (saying) ‘I had no clue this stuff existed,'” said John Burdin, event manager for Florida Jets.

The Florida Jets remote-controlled model aircraft event flies into Paradise Field at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport from Wednesday through Saturday.

This is Florida Jets’ 15th year, its 10th in Lakeland, and you never know what to expect. This event will feature 140 pilots from around the world and 300 remote-controlled jets, making it the world’s largest gathering of professional, certified, radio-controlled pilots.

These remote-controlled jets are between 8 feet and 10 feet in length, with entry-level jets costing between $3,000 and $5,000. There will be some jets costing upward of $30,000 in attendance.

“I don’t know until they show up,” Frank Tiano, creator of Florida Jets said. “A lot of guys keep it a secret and unveil it at Florida Jets. It’s become the place to bring your new secret project and unveil it.”

More than 3,000 people are expected to attend.

“It’s the first event of the year for everybody, so they’re really excited to come down and do a little flying,” said Pablo Fernandez, 38, of Fort Lauderdale.

Fernandez has been attending Florida Jets since its first year and seen it grow tremendously over the years, especially seeing a rise in attendance of international pilots and enthusiasts.

Fernandez, who has been active in the hobby for 32 years, will bring five remote-controlled jets to this year’s event.

Florida Jets is a “Jet Together” event, meaning this isn’t a competition. Many pilots will be coming as far as China, Russia, England, France and Germany to take part in one of the largest gatherings of their hobby’s biggest enthusiasts. There will be several “best of” awards given out to pilots in different categories.

Tiano also operates the Top Gun International Invitational Tournament, a radio-controlled airplane competition held April 30 to May 4 in Lakeland.

There will be several things for kids to do and see. One aspect of the event kids ages 8 and younger can look forward to is the Candy Bomber, a jet that dumps 5 pounds of candy near the runway for kids to run up and grab.

“I would say it’s very similar to Sun ‘n’ Fun,” Burdin said. “Full scale as well as model aviation enthusiasts show up because there is a cross between the two. People really don’t know much about the hobby other than, ‘My dad flew model airplanes’ and ‘I remember doing this as a kid.'”

[ Matt Reinstetle can be reached at ]

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