A trip to the NATS from Florida is about 19 hours of driving. Depending on the time of day, the roughest part of the trip can be going through Atlanta due to traffic. This year, we hit Atlanta a little earlier than last year so traffic was pretty much a breeze. What follows will be a few lessons learned, where we stayed, and other valuable info, in case you’re thinking about taking the trip but not sure what’s in store.
Preparing for the trip
If you’re driving, you have a bit of an advantage because you can take more supplies with you, economically. Here are a few things we packed and why:
- Cooler: having access to cold beverages and snacks is always nice. It made our stops along the way brief and on the hot days, water was never far away. We packed a gallon jug and tumblers to avoid carrying a bunch of water bottles. The tumblers with ice kept the water cool for a long time.
- Chairs: We packed three portable chairs, the umbrella kind. They’re small to carry and we had an extra in case anyone needed a seat. There isn’t always a place to sit so having the chairs was very handy – especially during the competition.
- Small Folding Table: while AMA had several tables under the tent, having our own freed up table space for other competitors and ensured I always had a place to work on my models.
- Tools & Spares: OK, I went overboard here – not on tools but spares. I could probably write an entire blog post just on the issue of having multiple brand models and having spares for each but here’s what I’m doing next year: I’m bringing models and no spares. Here’s why: there are plenty of vendors on-site with lots of spare parts. Also, there are other folks there who are very likely to have spares – everyone is very generous with what they have. But, the most important reason… well… HeliDirect is 25 minutes away. They’re well stocked for the models I fly so no worries there.
- Generator: there are various places to charge but they’re generally in high demand, especially during the competition. Having my own generator was handy but the downside was the fumes in the car overnight and sometimes during the trip.
- Jacket: Muncie in the summer is quite unpredictable – do NOT leave your jacket at home.
- Helicopter mounting system: I made my own, but no matter what you choose, secure those helicopters or you’ll arrive with a pile of parts!
- Charger: bring your own, or you’ll be sorry!
- Canopy/Tent: there’s plenty of space to fly, but most of it is out in the sun without a place to sit, charge, take a break, or hang out. Having a canopy to place your stuff under is very handy.
- Sunscreen: I didn’t pack any but I’ll list it here in case you need it.
- Sunglasses: because staring at the sun sucks
- Hat: covers my ears and the back of my neck, making flying much more comfortable
- Fuel: for the generator and for the helicopters. Actually, I brought a fuel jug and didn’t end up using it. Next year, I’ll leave the fuel jug and just bring the generator. It takes about 1.5 gallons of fuel and it’s enough for the day.
Driving to Muncie
Not gonna lie, it was a long drive. We did it in one long stretch but that’s not for everyone. There were several stops for fuel, food, restroom breaks, and to stretch. Much of it is highway but if you’re coming from the southeast, you’ll definitely be driving through some pretty small towns the last 100 to 150 miles. This means you may be out of cellular coverage so be prepared. Also, I recommend fueling up before leaving the highway and not stopping along the way – you may not be able to reconnect to the cell network and pick up GPS navigation again so don’t get lost!
Arriving/Staying in Muncie
Muncie’s a great town. There are plenty of amenities around and the people are friendly. There are a great variety of restaurants, including Chick-fil-A, a favorite of mine. The first year that we went, we stayed at the Super 8, an economy hotel that got the job done. This year, we did an AirBnB and did not regret it. Both places were within 12-15 minutes of the flying site. I won’t tell you where we stayed because I want to stay there again and don’t want it to sell out!
Driving to Muncie for the NATS eliminates the need for a rental car, gives me the ability to carry more supplies to make my experience at the AMA’s International Aeromodeling Center much more pleasant. That said, my choices are not the only options. You can fly in, stay with a friend on-site, drive and stay with a friend, rent a camper, camp out in a tent, etc. The possibilities are endless and you can accommodate almost any one of your preferences!