How should I practice?
Before you can start any lessons, you must be assured that your plane is properly balanced and trimmed. Elsewhere in this web site is a trimming chart. Copy it, study it and make sure your plane passes all the recommended tests. If your plane is not properly trimmed, no amount of practice will help, other than causing difficulties and frustration. The next thing you need to learn, so that you will be successful in the following tests, is the proper way to turn around and keep yourself on a constant track. The best maneuver for practice is the 1/2 Reverse Cuban Eight. Done properly, this maneuver will bring you back on the same line every time, and help eliminate the "hunting around" to get on course. Fly past yourself straight and level. When you are about 50 to 100 yards past your center point, smoothly pull up until your plane is climbing at a 45 deg. angle. Hold that line for 10 to 30 feet, then roll to inverted while maintaining that 45 deg. climb. After you're inverted, hold the same line as you had before the roll for the same distance, then pull up so that the plane will smoothly finish a 5/8ths inside loop to straight and level flight in the opposite direction of your entry. Your altitude should be the same, and your direction will be exactly 180 deg opposite. Now practice this maneuver until you can repeat it correctly every time. You need to practice this lesson both ways. This allows you to stay in the "Box" or maneuvering area all the time. The Half Reverse Cuban 8's will be performed at a 60 deg. mark on either side of the pilot's station.
Perhaps the most important thing to practice when you start out in Pattern Competition is straight and level flight. Even though most experienced sport fliers believe nothing is easier than straight and level flight, when you begin to carefully analyze your flying skills and fly in front of critical observers, you quickly find that you must be flying perfectly straight and level so that you can be properly set up for each maneuver. This is the most important item to learn in the beginning.
Let's begin with a test. The next time you are at the field, try to fly your plane exactly on a line which is parallel to the pilot’s flight line. Keep the plane between 50 to 100 yards in front of yourself. Small planes will need to be flown closer than large planes. Keep the plane at a constant altitude during each pass in front of the pilot’s station. Now, look at your wing tips. Does it appear that one wing is lower than the other? You want to know for sure? OK, just make a straight and level flight pass you with the wings level as you can make them and after the plane has passed you, by 50 to 100 yards, smoothly pull up into a 1/4 of a loop until the plane is vertical. Now hold it straight up without any rudder correction. Are the wings level? No? Then you were not level when you flew the level flight past you. If the wings are level as the plane goes up, then you have learned how your wing tips should look as the plane flies level in front of you. Pay attention to the outside wing panel. If you can’t see it you are flying with your inside wing low. Practice this until you can pass this exercise repeatedly.
Next, have a friend go out to one end of your flight path and make several passes up and down the line so that the friend can see the airplane flying toward him and away from him at an altitude of about 100 ft. He will probably tell you that you were not holding the line of the plane at a constant distance and parallel from the pilot’s line and runway. That means you are flying the plane, either in or out from the line and it will complicate all your maneuvers, until you fix it. Work out some hand signals with the observer so you can tell which way you are drifting in our out. Work at it until you learn how to hold your plane at a constant altitude, and on a constant line, exactly parallel to the flight line both ways repeatedly, with the wings level at all times. If you're flying in a cross wind, you'll need to compensate for any wind drift with the rudder. It is always good to practice this maneuver in a cross wind. If you use the 1/2 Reverse Cuban 8 for a turnaround maneuver, your wings should be level throughout the entire flight. (Good practice routine)
Now than you have learned how to keep your planes straight and level at a constant distance from the flight line, you are now ready to start individual maneuver practice. For these practice sessions, remember, some maneuvers are completed in the center and some are done on the ends, so the next thing for the student is to stick up some markers on a line in front of the pilot, at about 150 yards out. Then place a marker at the same distance out only 60 deg on either side of the center line. Now this works great for a contest, but at your practice field, you may not be able to place these markers. In that case, find some land marks in the distance and use them to center your maneuvers. Also, use some landmarks or trees to mark the 60 deg lines which are considered the ends of your box. You do not want to perform the turnaround maneuvers past the 60 deg marks.
Now you know what to do, let's get busy and start having fun. We'll be looking forward to seeing you on the contest circuit.