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An excellent article by Bill Bloodworth, one of our top flyers and Australian team member.

A long, long time ago a highly regarded international F3A pilot told me “he, who practices most, eventually wins”. So while new planes, engines, radios and all the other trimming are nice, it’s highly unlikely they’re going to make the difference between stuck in a rut or moving through the classes.

Over the past 6 months I have done a reasonable amount of judging and watching of the various classes. I have been asked by many pilots what they have to do to get a promotion and move into the next class. On reflection almost all pilots complete the basic aspects of the manoeuvres at a reasonable level, so why aren’t we all getting promotions? Generally I find the difference between the best flyer in a class and the worst is manoeuvre positioning and secondly consistency.

Given practice is low on the priority list for most, I thought I would try and make some suggestions that will hopefully give you more bang for your practice buck.

Unfortunately there are very few people (including me) who are able to clearly identify what they are doing wrong on a consistent basis. I’m not talking about the flopped stall turn or a missed snap but the more subtle things like rising and falling into manoeuvres, moving in and out, or inconsistent base heights. Most people would dismiss these errors as minor down grades but when you consistently make one or more of these errors in each manoeuvre you have seriously impacted your chances of a promotion. For example to achieve a promotional flight in Expert you need to score over 347.76 or an average manoeuvre score of 6.5 so if you’re losing an average of 1.5 points per manoeuvre for heading and distance you only leave yourself 2 points for genuine errors like missed points, snaps or old fashion #%^@&* ups! The problem can get worse if there are high winds or bumpy conditions.

Here are my tips for improving your practice techniques for model positioning.

On a reasonably calm day complete a stall turn on centre with a full roll in the upline. As you commence the manoeuvre take special note of the distance and base line you have entered on. Again when you complete the stall make a note of the top height. Remember to have clearly identifiable straight lines before and after the roll. In most cases you’ll find that the flight distance you have selected is too close and as a result you have broken the 60 degree box height. This particular stall turn will generally be slightly taller than any other manoeuvre in the current schedules so it’s a great way of setting a base line, distance and top height that suits your model. Adjust your distance in or out until the top of the stall turn is touching the 60 degree top box. It’s a good idea to do this exercise when another pattern flyer is around to make notes of the height etc.

Manoeuvre your aircraft onto the line established with the stall turn exercise. Once on line complete straight line passes with simple Cubans or half loops. Continue doing this until you can complete 5 passes where the straight line would not receive a downgrade for changes in elevation or distance. When doing this task you will need to be careful to keep your wings level otherwise you will chase the plane up and back with rudder inputs. Almost all of us fly base lines with our inside wing down causing the aircraft to fly in an arch, this is also a common cause of loops and verticals that skew off requiring tricky rudder inputs to correct. With most F3A designs if the wings are level on the base line you should be able to see some part of the outside wing. If you can master keeping your wings level everything else will become significantly easier.

If you’re honest with yourself it will take you a few sessions to master 5 passes that would not get a downgrade from our senior judges. Repeat this task each time you fly before starting to practice schedules or manoeuvres.

If you are not on your ideal line when you are about to commence the first manoeuvre of a practice schedule, turn around and start again. If you continue with this approach each time you fly, you will soon get the hang of setting up for the first manoeuvre or you will waste a lot of fuel. Remember, the first manoeuvre in a competition flight will set the tone for the judges and yourself!

Try and practice with lines or box markers, they help you to fly a more consistent flight line. Some small road cones are a quick and easy solution if your club doesn’t like the white lines.

Tips for improving consistency

This is the area where the quote from our international pilot rings true. In the end if you want to hit point rolls and nail snaps and spins consistently you need to do some serious stick time. That said here are a couple of things that might help.

  • Try a high rate snap condition, although the plane will rotate faster and initially will be more difficult to time, you will find the break is cleaner and there will be significantly less deviation off the line.
  • With spins use a high rate elevator setting, this will allow you to raise the nose of the plane enough to achieve a clearly identifiable break entry. With low rate elevator it tends to take longer for the plane to stall leaving you exposed to the wind. Every second you sit there waiting to stall you are giving the judge time to make deductions.
  • Try to be consistent with your airspeed into the various manoeuvres. Your plane will roll or snap at very different speeds depending on the airspeed. I set imaginary markers in the box where I go to predefined throttle settings. If there are very high winds I make slight adjustments.

Finally here are a few other things that might help you move through the classes.

A way of clawing back easy points is to improve your throttle management, although there is no technical deduction for throttle management a pilot who exhibits good throttle control will always (in the real world) receive a better score. Learning to throttle smoothly is reasonably simple. Similar to above, you need to establish some predetermined throttle settings, I have 3, one for base line manoeuvres and level flight, one for 45 degree lines and one for vertical manoeuvres. When determining your level flight setting make sure you have enough airspeed so the plane is stable, there aren’t many pilots who are skilled enough to gain points from flying slow! Now you have established your throttle settings you simply need to slow your throttle transitions down in both directions, the more experienced you get the more you can slow the transition. In time your control will make your motor sound quieter and those subconscious half point deductions will disappear.

Another common issue I have noticed while judging is the amount of airspeed people wash off after vertical down lines before they start increasing the throttle. With most current F3A models fitted with electric or 4 cycle motors you actually need to start increasing the throttle before you pull the bottom radius. With my aircraft I’m increasing the throttle to around 10% before I hit the horizontal line. This allows the aircraft to carry some airspeed through the corner and maintain its stability making it easier to maintain my direction.

Practice the high K factor manoeuvres! A mistake on one of these can cost you double that of an end manoeuvre.

Trim your model, if you have a computer radio mix out any coupling, it will make rolls and knife edge easier. Make adjustments to your thrust so the plane tracks vertically, experiment with centre of gravity you will be surprised how much difference it makes. Every model I have ever flown has required some form of aileron differential - are your rolls axial??

Finally don’t try to fly too close or small. At a World Championships or CAOCC there are very few pilots flying inside 170m and even fewer who are getting high scores! A little bit of distance gives you time and a little extra speed gives your model stability and tracking!

Good luck with your practice!

“He, who practices most, eventually wins” Q Somenzini 2007 World Champion.

Last Updated on Saturday, 27 June 2009 20:15