How do I enjoy my first contest? (Or your second or third)
So now you want to try out your skills at a contest. Good! But just remember, competition is supposed to be FUN. If you’re not having fun, then something's wrong. A competitive spirit is good, but don't let it get out of hand. Think of a contest as the proficiency test to what you have been practicing and a way to compare yourself to others at your level.
Did you get a good night's rest? Did you take the time to inspect all of your gear, plane, transmitter, batteries? Have you practiced in the last few days? Did you remember your AMA license? Did you use a Check List when you packed up the car for the trip to this contest? You can remove Fun Spoiling Tensions by spending a little time in preparation before the contest. The first thing you should do when you arrive at the contest site is to register with the Contest Director (CD). Let the CD know this is your first contest and ask about any local rules for example over fly, engine start up or if you can take a warm up flight. The CD is probably in the middle of a hundred things and probably will find someone to help you get oriented.
If the CD allows a practice flight, and if there is room on the line, then go ahead and take a short flight. Leave some time for others. Actually, it's too late to squeeze in a day of practice. You should have done that before. The purpose of the short flight is to relieve "Contest Jitters" and get oriented to a new flying site. Pay attention to the box ends and center lines and get settled into the landing approach.
If you have a friend at the contest, then you probably have agreed to "Call" for each other. If not, look around and make a friend, someone who can help you and call for you. He may need a helper too, so agree on a procedure that both of you find helpful. Talk about how each of you like your planes handled, where to set the plane down on the runway, where to stand when calling, and give him a "Calling" sheet or card for your sequence so he can use it when he calls for you. Print extra call sheets before you go because some will undoubtedly be lost during the event. When the CD calls for a pilots meeting, drop everything and get right to that meeting. Don't stand around talking to others and ignore him, or make him beg you to gather with the rest. Be quiet when he is talking as some of the things he's going to say are important for your success.
Make sure you know when your class is going to fly and make sure to have all of your equipment ready and on the starting line. When you are given the signal, you have 3 minutes to get in the air. In the meanwhile, watch the guys that are flying before you. See what mistakes they are making and teach yourself from these observations. Watch which way the wind is coming from and see what the other fellows are doing to correct for it. Watch their distance and pace and observe how they are flying similarly to you and what is different. Lots of good things to learn so make the most of it. One day at a contest is better than weeks of making the same mistakes on your own.
Now when your turn comes, ready your plane and help your helper/ caller pick it up and then walk (don't run) to the pilots box. Introduce yourself to the judges and get settled in the pilot’s station. Before your helper sets the plane down on the runway, do a surface check and gun the engine briefly to clear the carb, then motion with your head that he can set it down. When the plane is on the runway, announce to the judges that you are going to start your take off. Smoothly accelerate down the runway so that your plane breaks ground right in front of the judges. Lift off at a 10 to 15 deg. angle and maintain the heading until you clear 6 feet. Announce to the judges that the take-off is complete. Now for the next 5 or 7 minutes, it's up to you. Concentrate! Concentrate! Concentrate! Ignore all the commotion behind you. FLY the plane. CONTROL the plane. There you stand, back to the judges, naked and exposed before the watching world. Try to relax and fly the best flight you can. When you make a mistake (notice I said "when", not "if") ignore it and continue on to the next maneuver. Don't rush; just keep a rhythm going, one maneuver, then the next. When you finish the last maneuver, let out your breath, relax and announce to the judges that you'll be landing. Now, don't blow it. Make a nice smooth approach and let the plane settle down right in front of the judges, and roll out to a stop. Your helper/ caller will go pick up your plane. Thank the judges for their fine work and let them know how much you appreciate them. (it doesn't hurt to polish the apple).
Now go check your plane, fuel up, check the batteries, check the switches, etc.; then collapse in a bundle of adrenalin filled nerves, open a can of Pepsi and relax. Congratulate yourself on making it through your first flight at your first contest. It was fun, wasn't it? WELCOME to the World of PATTERN competition!