Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Box Is Yours

Competition aerobatics can make you a more precise and confident pilot

If you’re interested in flying competition aerobatics, the first thing you should do is go up for a flight with a trusted instructor to ensure aerobatics is right for you. From there you should hook up with your local International Aerobatic Club ( chapter to get introduced to the aerobatic community. Attend a chapter meeting where you’ll meet local competitors, and find out when and where the next local contest is.

Volunteer At A Contest

Aerobatic contests are typically 100% volunteer-run and can require up to 30-50 volunteers to run properly. Few contest directors will turn down an able-bodied and willing volunteer. Though some of the volunteer roles, like Chief Judge, require very specialized training, first timers can fill many of the required spots. In particular, volunteering on the Judge’s line as a recorder for a Grading Judge can be one of the most educational roles at a contest for a new competitor. A recorder’s job is quite simple: Write down the judge’s comments and scores when they’re announced as he or she analyzes a competitor’s performance. Volunteering as a recorder will quickly help you recognize both the obvious and subtle things that judges are looking for.

For instance, a hammerhead, also known as a stall turn, begins with a quarter loop to establish a vertical climb. At the top of the vertical line when the aircraft reaches zero airspeed, the pilot pivots 180 degrees around the yaw axis by kicking full rudder and establishes a vertical descent. The figure ends as the aircraft completes a quarter loop back to level flight. The pilot will typically use a sighting device on the wing to set a perfect up and down line, however, it takes a tremendous amount of practice to hit exactly 90 degrees on the way up or down without making noticeable adjustments to the judge’s eye. For every five degrees of variation off of the vertical, a one-point deduction (out of 10) is made for the figure. Furthermore, if the pilot kicks the rudder too early and “flies through” the turn, the deduction can be anywhere from one point to three points, depending on the severity of the delay.

As a volunteer, you’ll also get a lot of practice reading Aresti figures. Aresti figures come from the catalog, notation and scoring system developed by José Luis Aresti of Spain in 1961. Not too dissimilar to reading music, the catalogue is used to depict competition aerobatic figures in a systematic way. Each figure is assigned to one of nine families of maneuvers and given a unique catalogue number and difficulty factor (“K”). It’s common to see competitors walking through their routines by using their hands to simulate different figures. Watching a hangar full of aerobatic pilots dancing by themselves as they work through their maneuvers can be quite an entertaining spectacle!

Competition Basics

There are five categories for powered aircraft: Primary, Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced and Unlimited. Pilots new to competition should start off in Primary or Sportsman initially, and then slowly work up to the more advanced categories as they build competition experience.

A typical competition lasts a total of three days, usually conducted over a Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with a banquet on Saturday night to hand out trophies and celebrate the weekend’s activities. The first day is registration and practice. Getting practice in the competition box is very important, as the atmospheric conditions and visual references can vary significantly between contest locations. For example, the Paso Robles aerobatic box is directly on top of the Paso Robles airport, however, the crossing runways don’t line up with the x- or y-axis of the aerobatic box. Therefore, it’s relatively easy to become disoriented as to which direction you should be flying after coming out of a rolling or spinning maneuver—the natural tendency is to line up with the runway. Going the wrong direction after the completion of a figure is one of the quickest ways to score poorly during a contest.


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