OK, you’re interested in flying pattern, what do you do now? The first step is not to be intimidated by the pilots and planes you see at a pattern competition. Even those guys started with modest planes and a lack of knowledge on what to do. You can start flying and competing with almost any good sport aerobatic plane. The Key is to get involved and learn a little about Precision Aerobatics, meet and make new friends, and learn what it takes to fly with precision.

Don’t worry, you won’t be asked to judge, or do things you’re not comfortable with. So, let’s talk about your first step. A little bit of research to get you comfortable. A pattern contest involves flying a set sequence of maneuvers. A list of those maneuvers can be found on the NSRCA web site, under the sequences tab at the top of the home page, . Take a look at the Club Class sequence. There are 10 basic maneuvers that most sport pilots can fly. The maneuvers are fairly easy to perform and most sport pilots have done these at some point or another in everyday flying. The difference comes in doing them in this order and polishing each one by maintaining track, positioning, centering, altitudes, with grace and smoothness, while keeping wings level at the start, stop, and during as each of the maneuvers require, we’ll get to the specifics of that as we go. Review each of the links for the sequence, the first is simply a list of the maneuvers in the order that they are to be flown. The second “Maneuver Descriptions” give a description of the maneuver, basically the definition of what that maneuver should look like and the suggested downgrades (defects) that the judges will be looking to take points off for. Each pilot starts a maneuver with a perfect score of 10, with each defect seen by the judges they deduct either a half point, full point or multiple points based on the severity of the defect. There are also mandatory zeros such a flopping a stall turn. Each maneuver has a difficulty factor that the judge’s score is multiplied by to determine your raw score for the maneuver. The third link is the “Aresti”. This is a visual drawing of the maneuver to give you a better understanding of each maneuver. You will notice that it is presented twice, once in each direction. The sequence always starts flying into the wind, so if the wind is blowing from right to left you would start the sequence flying from left to right. If the wind is blowing from left to right then you would start the sequence flying from right to left. Notice the wind direction arrow at the top of the Aresti page.

Ok, now that you have studied the sequence and suggested downgrades some, it’s time to contact someone who flies pattern to answer any questions you may have. If you know someone who flies pattern, ask them. If you don’t know anyone locally, then go to the NSRCA web page and click on the new to aerobatics link. In the menu on the left side of the page click the “search for a coach” link. Don’t be intimidated by the message requesting you to log in, it’s there for the protection of our coaches information. It is free to create an account to be able to log in. Either log in or back to the home page and create and account (there is no charge for this and you will not be asked for any credit card information). Once you have created your account and logged in, make your way back to the search for a coach page. Here you will find the names of coaches and most will have the club name that they are associated with and the city that club is in. Find one located close to you. It doesn’t have to be in your town, just find one in the general area. When you click on one, it will bring up information about the coach, and how to contact him by phone and email. Get in touch with him, and let him know you’re interested in pattern flying and have a few question. All of these coaches are a wealth of information. If there are none close to you, then contact the NSRCA District Vice President for the district you are in. He can probably answer your questions and direct you to someone in your general area.

Now back to your plane, let’s talk about set up a little. If you’re flying a 3D sport plane, you will most probably have a tremendous amount of surface throw. That isn’t needed for pattern flying, actually it can be detrimental. Most planes only need about 12 degrees of up elevator and 14 degrees of down elevator, and about 15 to 20 degrees of aileron to fly the beginning pattern sequences. This tones down the sensitivity and response of the plane, and allows you to fly it smoother and more gracefully. While flying, you want to make smooth easy corrections so that the plane doesn’t jerk each time you put in a little correction. Set the rudder throw to max as you will need lots of rudder for a stall turn, but either set your expo to make it less sensitive with small amounts of rudder input or set a low rate of about half your max travel to make it less sensitive. Your coach may be able to help guide you with this step if you need help.

So, at this point before you’re ready to start flying some of these maneuvers, you need to trim the airplane. Go out to your local flying site, and make a few trim flights. You should be able to trim your airplane to fly across the field straight and level with no control input in calm conditions, or with very little input in light winds. There are articles in various places that you can find that go to great lengths to trim a model. As you go up in classes this will become more important, but for now, you just need a plane that flies relatively straight with minimal inputs. Fly overhead, directly into the wind and watch the plane to see what it does. Does it look like it is flying straight, or does it look like it is skidding a little. Adjust the rudder trim until you remove the skidding and the plane looks to be flying straight. Each time you trim the rudder, you may have to adjust the aileron trim to keep the wings level. It may take several passes to accomplish this. Once that is done, fly straight and level, then gently pull up elevator to a vertical line, does the plane veer off to one side consistently, is it severe or manageable? If it is severe, you need to get back in touch with the coach and discuss what the plane is doing and he will help to figure out what can be done. If it is manageable then we can move on. Flying straight and level either roll or loop to inverted and fly a short ways inverted. Feel what it takes in the way of down elevator to keep the plane level. There is a lot more to getting a plane flying in trim that you will learn and pick up as you go along, but once you have completed the above, then we can start flying a few maneuvers.

Before you start up the plane, let’s talk about the flying area. Pattern flying is about presentation and positioning. From your standing point just back from the edge of the runway, notice the centerline of the runway. As a pattern flyer, one of your goals will be to fly along a line parallel to the centerline of the runway about 150 to 175 yards out past the runway center line, we call this the flight line. Now picture a line from you straight out perpendicular to the runway center line extending out to the horizon, this is the center line for centered maneuvers. That means each center maneuver should have an equal amount of the maneuver on the left and right of this line. See the picture below.

Now fuel up, start up, and let’s go fly. Position your plane on the centerline of the runway downwind from where you will be standing to fly. Slowly and consistently add power (don’t use the throttle as an on off switch, be smooth), keeping the plane lined up straight with the centerline of the runway. The plane should accelerate smoothly and lift off the ground in front of you. Climb out at a shallow 10 to 20 degree angle, straight in line with the center of the runway. Once you reach a comfortable altitude make a 180 degree turn to downwind about 150 to 175 yards out (remember the parallel line to the runway center line). This is your free pass to get your plane trim set, power adjusted for cruise, take a deep breath and relax. Once you reach the downwind side of the flight line you can use any turn around maneuver to reverse direction 180 degrees and head upwind along this same flight line. The next maneuver is straight flight out. The maneuver is to be centered on the line from you straight out perpendicular to the flight line, and be about 100 yards long. So by the time you get about 50 yards from the center line, you should be wings level, holding a constant altitude, and in line with the flight line 150 yards out parallel to the runway center line. Hold the plane steady along this line at the same altitude. Do not rock the wings, but if the wind deflects the wings from level then correct it and bring the wings back to level. After reaching a point about 50 yards past the center line, then immediately start the next maneuver which is a procedure turn by turning 90 degrees away from the runway, as soon as your plane turns 90 degrees smoothly but immediately turn 270 degrees in the opposite direction so that you end up flying back down the same flight line 150 yard parallel to the runway down wind. Thru this entire turn, maintain the same altitude. As soon as you level the wings you are now on the next maneuver, straight flight back. Continue flying straight and level until the plane is about 50 yards past the center line. This completes the first sequence of three consecutive maneuvers. From an overhead view the maneuvers should look like this.

You now get to regroup, relax and turn the plane around. The next maneuver is a stall turn. On the flight line 150 yards out parallel to the runway center line fly up wind past the center (in front of you) pull to a vertical line. Make sure the plane is going straight up, not veering to either side. Fly vertical about 100 feet then start reducing power, as the plane slows, just before it stops put in full rudder and reduce the power to idle. The plane should rotate 180 degrees thru a point in the model and head straight down in a vertical line. Timing on this is critical. Hit the rudder too soon or with too much power and the plane will fly around a point outside of the model (this is a wing over, not a stall turn). Too late and the plane will not rotate but flop over (this results in a zero score). Allow the plane to fly straight down in the vertical line for about the same distance that you did going up, then smoothly pull back to horizontal, the model will now be flying down wind. Keep the model level flying straight down the flight line with wings level thru the center line (in front of you). See image below.

Flying over the top more than half a wing span and coming down on a line parallel to but offset from the up line is considered a wing over, not a stall turn and is reason for downgrades.

Falling forward or backward and failing to rotate is a flop and scores a zero. Again, you get to go off down wind, regroup, turnaround and set up for the next maneuver.

The Immelmann turn. Settle in on the flight line straight and level about 50 yards before the center line, be sure you are parallel to the runway center line. Fly past the center line (in front of you) about 50 yards then pull up and do a half loop, at the top of the half loop, as soon as the model hits level immediately roll a half roll to upright. This will put you going in the opposite direction (going down wind) at a higher altitude then when you entered the maneuver. Fly to the end of the flight area, regroup, turn around and set up for the next maneuver.

45 Degree upline. Fly upwind on the flight line straight and level, at a point about 50 yards before the center line pull a smooth 1/8 loop to a 45 degree upline. Hold that line until you reach a point about 50 yards past the center line, then push down elevator to smoothly perform a 1/8 outside loop back to level flight. Fly straight and level upwind toward the end of the flight area. Regroup, turn around and set up for the next maneuver.

Straight inverted flight. Flying straight and level, downwind along the flight line, perform a half roll to inverted. Hold inverted straight and level flight along the flight line past the center line, still flying inverted about the same distance, then perform a half roll back to right side up. The start and finish point of this maneuver should be equal distance from the center line so that the maneuver is basically centered in front of you. Fly off to the end of the flight area turn around and set up for the next maneuver.

Two inside loops. Approach the center line on the flight line straight and level. As soon as the model passes the center line in front of you, pull up through two consecutive, superimposed loops. The two loops should be round (with no flat spots). The size is not critical, they do not have to be big, nor small, but should be consistent and smooth. Make the size based on the ability of your plane. Entry and exit altitudes of each loop should be the same. Once you complete the second loop, fly straight and level for about 100 feet, then you are free to fly off toward the end of the flight area turn around and you have a free pass by the judges to set up for your landing.

Just a note to mention here, do not perform any maneuver in the free pass after takeoff or before landing as this is considered hot dogging and can be cause for down grading of the maneuver before or after the free pass.

The next maneuver is landing. Make a good square approach to the runway and set up a consistent glide path, the judges will start judging your landing when the model is about 2 meters (approximately 12’) above the runway. Keep your wings level and flight path straight down the center line of the runway. Flare and aim to land directly on the center line in front of you. For max points your model should touch down in an area about 15 feet before the center line to 15 feet past the center line on the runway, without bouncing and roll straight down the runway until it louses flying speed. Don’t make sudden turns while the model is still moving forward until it has almost come to a stop.

Practice each maneuver individually until you feel fairly comfortable doing them. At that point start practicing them in order as if you were flying in a contest. If possible get some coaching so he can point out specific things you need to work on. Print out a call sheet (the list of maneuvers) and have a friend or fellow pilot stand behind you and call out the maneuvers as you fly them, to help keep them in the proper order.

My next article will guide you through your first contest, give you information on how the contest is run, and how to be prepared so you can relax and enjoy it. Have fun practicing, and work to improve your performance each time you fly. There will be exciting times, and frustrating plateaus, but sticking with it you’ll really enjoy the enlightening moments when things click and you make noticeable improvements. Your flying will get polished and you’ll meet some great people along the journey to self improvement.