28 Dec 2023

Seven world champion titles: Meet the exceptional RC heli pilot, Hiroki Ito

34-year-old Hiroki Ito is well-known in the Remote Control Helicopter world for his intense focus and skill. Since 2005, this Japanese pilot, who lives in Shizuoka Prefecture, has clocked up seven world champion titles in the aeromodelling class of F3C aerobatic helicopters. In 2023 he was awarded a CIAM Legends medal for his outstanding achievements. This medal recognises world champions who have won the title at least three times.

Seven Champion Titles

Ito won his first championship in 2005 at the age of 16, in Spain. He then won again in Poland in 2007, USA in 2009, Italy in 2011, missing out in 2013 but back on the top step of the podium in Autria in 2015. In Germany in 2019 he was back on form, and this year (2023) in Muncie, Indiana he took his seventh champion title. (The 2021 championships were cancelled due to Covid).

    Hiroki Ito Japan F3C
    Hiroki Ito (centre) in 2023 at Muncie, Indiana, USA for the FAI F3CN World Championships for Model Helicopters

    Interview with Hiroki Ito

    How did it feel to become a seven times World Champion? Do you still feel nervous before a competition?
    I was very happy that I could be the world champion again. I was working hard for the practice and preparation for this competition, I feel it was worth it. I don't feel nervous in a bad sense. However, I am motivated and have a lot of thoughts and feelings for each round.

    Tell us about your training schedule, how much time do you dedicate to training in the run up to a world championship?
    Normally, I practice on weekends. If I have time, I will be at a flying field around from noon to evening.

    How did you get into aeromodelling?  
    My father did remote control cars then he also started RC Helicopters. I took almost the same path as he did: I started with RC cars then moved to RC Helicopters.

    When did you start competing and when did you become part of Team Japan?
    In 2000, aged 11, I joined the helicopter preliminary competition for the nationals. In Japan, you need to qualify for the preliminary competitions in each region. So 2000 was the first year I competed in the Japan nationals. In 2005, I joined F3C world championships for team Japan for the first time.

    F3CN USA 2023 team Japan
    Ito (wearing a cap and sunglasses) at the Opening Ceremony for the 2023 FAI F3CN World Championships for Model Helicopters, Muncie, Indiana, USA

    Do you fly any other categories for fun? Might we one day see you compete in F3N?
    Let’s wait and see. I always keep an eye on FAI competitions. I would like to try it if I have a chance. Of course, the path to being good is not easy!

    Have you noted any young talent in the F3 category in Japan, and are you involved in promoting the sport to a younger generation?
    I think it's true that there aren't many opportunities like that. But training someone is one of the things that I would like to work on if I have the opportunity.

    Would you like to see the World Championships return to Asia or Japan after over 20 years?
    I don't think that is especially important, no. Thinking about the transportation costs and most of the potential participants are in Europe, I feel there is an idea that, naturally, the world championships are held in Europe.

    Do you have any opinion on the F3C schedule, are you satisfied? Would you like to see any changes?
    With the new rules, the difficulty level doesn't have to be changed. But I'm looking forward to major changes to the content.

    Finally, has helicopter modelling or aeronautics become part of your professional career?
    Absolutely yes. It has had a great influence on my life and has given me vitality both personally and professionally.

    (Thanks to Yasu Sawamura of the Japanese team for translating Ito's responses.)

    Ito's performance at the FAI F3C Worlds 2023 - video by Bill Ann

    About Aerobatic Helicopter Championships

    Skilled pilots must perform complex hovering and aerobatic manoeuvres. High precision is vital as the competitions take place outdoors, in any weather conditions.

    F3C model helicopters have a weight limit of 6.5 kg, a maximum rotor disc area of 250dm2 and are powered by internal combustion engines without any displacement restrictions or electric motors with a maximum battery voltage of 51 Volts.

    There are usually four preliminary rounds followed by two semi finals and two finals. Judging is based on four basic criteria: precision, smoothness/gracefulness, positioning and display/size of manoeuvres.

    Images via Judith Schreiner from Miniature Aircraft