Before he arrived in Hungary in early August, Derek Barry assumed the actual competition would be the most grueling aspect of the nearly weeklong Fdration Aronautique Internationale World Championships.
When he reached his hotel, he realized the stay wouldn't be a piece of cake, either.
"I assumed it would be a lot cooler in Europe," the Appling resident said. "When we landed, it was 98 degrees. It was like we were home ... We got to the hotel, and it was 95 degrees in the lobby. The receptionist had a fan blowing on him.
"On the elevator, I asked my roommate, 'You think we've got air conditioning in the room?' He said, 'I doubt it.'"
After the initial shock, Barry and his U.S. teammates refocused on the competition in the small town of Gyula, three hours from the capital, Budapest. Just to qualify for the U.S. team, they had to finish in the top three among top pilots nationwide.
In the trials, Barry finished third, just 0.4 points ahead of the fourth-place finisher on a 2,500-point scale.
The competition featured pilots directing their model airplanes through various maneuvers, such as squares, triangles and figure eights, during a flight of roughly six minutes.
Barry, 33, competes in the precision aerobatics division of the discipline called control-line, so named because pilots are tethered to their plane as it rotates in a circle around them.
Their handles are connected to two steel cables about 65 feet long that are connected to the plane, and pilots use up and down motions to complete complex maneuvers.
After four days of qualifying and two days of competition, Barry finished 13th in the world in a field of about 90 world-class pilots from 48 countries.
"I lost a motor, both props, and almost destroyed my airplane," he said. "So, just making the top 15 was a real thrill. Before I left, I would've considered myself -- and I still do -- in the top 10, easy, maybe the top five in the world."
Everything considered, though, he was pleased, especially after strong wind gusts during the competition made controlling the light planes difficult. Barry's plane is called the Dreadnought -- a reference to a type of guitar for a man who has played the instrument for about 15 years -- and weighs in at 64 ounces.
The U.S. team -- complete with Barry and Florida residents Orestes Hernandez and Bill Rich -- finished fourth.
The American team had won the competition at the last event in 2008.
Competing at the world championships was not a first for Barry; In 1996, he won the junior world championship in Sweden. He's also a four-time national champion in junior competition.
After that, "life stepped in," as Barry puts it. He got married and had two children. He started really competing again in 2002. Since then, he has remained steady among the top five in the nation in the discipline.
He now has three children -- Gavin, 11, and Sara, 10, from his previous marriage, and Layla, who will be 3 in December. He's also planning on getting married soon to fiance Melissa Claro.
Barry got his start in control-line when his father, Dale, introduced it to him. Barry's great-grandfather, Howell Brumbeloe, owned a hobby shop and competed in the discipline.
Barry picked it up at age 7 and started competing two years later. Gavin has tried the sport, competing in basic competitions, though Barry said he's not sure whether his son will take it to the level he has.
Rich was a U.S. team member for the first time this year, but he's known Barry for years. He noticed Barry's talent early.
"He's got a number of things going for him," Rich said. "I think he's a natural. ... I've known Derek for 25 years. I remember looking down the runway, watching this kid fly. I thought, 'Man, this guy's going to be good.'"
Control-line, Barry says, is a dying event. Most nowadays get their start in model airplanes with the radio control version. He hopes his discipline has a resurgence.
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