By: Monte Richard
In my opening article in this series of articles, “Interested in Pattern Flying?”, I wrote that 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. So let’s get started.
How a contest is run
The club class contest is a relatively new introductory class that each hosting club has the ability to organize and run in their own way. But most all of them will follow a basic format. When you arrive, I recommend that you ask for the Contest Director of the event or if they have a registration table already set up, then introduce yourself as a pilot interested in flying in the event. The Contest Director (CD) or someone at the registration table will get you signed in, add your name to the pilots list, and have you fill out the entry sheet. You will need to have your AMA membership card with you for proof that you are an AMA member. You will need to get two scoring sheets and write your name on them. If you are at a field other than your home club field, they can also tell you where you can set up, what the schedule for the event is, and any safety concerns that field may have for regular flying. Plan to arrive at the field early enough to register, set up your pit area, put your plane together and be able to get in a flight or two to get familiar with the field, and have your plane ready to fly.
Just a note here, don’t try to show up with an untested plane. Take the time ahead of an event to fly and trim your plane and fly through the maneuver sequence prior to entering a contest. A contest can be stressful enough without the added stress of trying to maiden a plane or flying maneuvers you have never flown before.
Since a club class contest is an entry level event, most all of these will start with a simple discussion of how the event will be run, how it will be judged, and a brief review of the maneuvers sequence to be flown. Then comes the pilots meeting. This is where the CD will instruct the pilots on the safety procedures to be followed during the event, discuss the flight order, and any procedures to be followed.
Safety items will be things like; 1) No running of engines in the pit area. 2) No flying behind the safety line (to prevent flying over the pit area, spectators, or vehicles).
The flight order lets you know who flies in what order. Be aware of who you follow in the order and identify them so you will know ahead of time and be ready to fly when that person lands. The CD will also announce the number of flight they intend to fly and if they will rotate the pilot order or not.
The rest of the procedures may involve where the ready box is. This is a place to position your plane when you are next up so you will be ready when the pilot before you completes his flight. At large contest this helps to keep the flow moving so there are no delays. These procedures may include instructions on clearing your plane from the runway so the next pilot can move into place and start his flight without delay.
Ok, so now they are ready to start the contest. There will be a pilot’s box or area for the pilot to stand while flying. The judges, normally two, will be seated directly behind the pilot about 15 feet or so. A pilot is allowed to have a caller standing behind him. The caller’s job is to call out each maneuver to the pilot after he completes a maneuver, therefore he should have a call sheet. A call sheet is simply the list of maneuvers in the sequence in the order they should be flown. You should print one out from the list on the NSRCA web site, or you can use an extra judging sheet as a call sheet. If you don’t have your own regular caller, one of the other pilots will happily call for you if asked. When the plane ahead of you moves into the ready box, you should be sure your plane is fueled up, or has fresh batteries installed. This is a good time to start getting your plane out to the line and bring out any starting equipment, and transmitter. When the plane ahead of you moves out of the ready box to prepare for takeoff, you should move yours into the ready box and be there, ready to go in case the plane ahead of you has any trouble and aborts his flight. Have your caller with you and together you can watch the flight. This is where the nerves begin to show up. Just relax, take a few deep breaths, you got this.
As the plane ahead of you starts its final approach to landing, you should turn on your radio, check all the functions by moving the ailerons, elevators, and rudder. I do this before every flight, this habit has save many of planes when I forgot to plug in an aileron. Once the plane ahead of you has landed, your caller can carry out your plane and set it on the runway, arm the motor and hold the plane in position until the other plane and the person retrieving it is clear of the runway and you signal your caller to release the plane. While your caller is bringing out your plane, hand your scoresheets to the two judges, then take your position in the pilot’s box, and check to see if the judges are ready for you. They may need a moment to get your scoring sheets onto their clipboard. Once the judges are ready, set yourself square with the flight line, take a deep breath, relax, and signal your caller to let your plane go.
Start your takeoff roll by adding power slowly and smoothly, smoothly accelerate the plane. The key here is not to slam the throttle wide open. Hold the plane straight along the center line of the runway. Your caller should have placed the plane so that when it has accelerated to the point it is ready to lift off, it should be right in front of you. The goal is to lift the wheels off the ground directly in front of you. Establish a shallow climb, 10 to 20 degrees, keep the plane flying straight along the runway line with the wings level. Once the plane is about 12 to 15 feet above the ground the maneuver is complete. Continue flying into the wind for a ways to give you some room and a little time to get to a comfortable altitude. Turn away from the runway towards the open flying area in front of you to downwind to pass about 150 yards in front of you parallel to the runway. Remember the flight line we discussed in the first article. This is your free pass, get your throttle set to hold your altitude, trim your plane to fly straight and level if it needs any minor adjustments. Fly past you and of to the end of the flying area downwind. Here you can do any turnaround maneuver you want to so that your plane is headed back upwind along the same path parallel to the runway about 15 yards out in front of you. From here on out you must perform a maneuver on each pass in the order they are presented in the sequence. The judges will judge each maneuver. If you perform the wrong maneuver or if you fail to perform a maneuver on each pass that maneuver you were supposed to perform will receive a zero. If this happens, don’t harp on it, it’s done, we all do it occasionally, listen to your caller for the next maneuver, make your turnaround, and concentrate on the next maneuver. Once you have completed the sequence and landed, your caller will retrieve your plane and clear the runway for the next contestant. As a contestant, always be ready when it is your turn. Each delay adds up and can cost the contest entire rounds of competition. Bring your plane back to the pit area and fuel up, replace the batteries or whatever you need to do to get it ready for the next flight. Once the score keeper enters the scores they will have your score sheets or tare sheets available for you to pick up. You will need to pick these up and have them to give to the judges when you go up for your next flight. Once a round is complete, everyone has flown, then the contest normally takes a short break to change judges, or allow the judges to take a rest room break, after which the next round will start.
Most contest try to get 6 rounds in for a two day contest or 4 for a one day contest. You will get a score for each round (flight). In a 4 round contest they will normally drop each pilot’s lowest score and the contest will be decided on each pilot’s best three scores. In a 6 round contest, each pilot gets to drop his lowest two scores. Keep your final score sheets or the tare sheets you are given at the end of the contest. You can take them home, and by looking them over determine the maneuvers you scored the lowest on and practice those maneuvers for the next event.
Enjoy your experience and the social aspect of the event. Ask questions, most any experienced fellow modelers will be happy to answer them. Don’t fret over the outcome of the contest and where you placed. Everyone started with mixed results. Some of the fliers you may be up against are first timers like you and some may be more experienced and about ready to move up to a more challenging level. The truth is that precision aerobatics takes practice and patience. Improvement comes with time and experience and lots of practice.