Combat log: 14 February, 2015. Location: Bjæverskov, Denmark. It’s cold, damp, and windy outside. The sun is slowly returning to the frozen north. The dogs are tired, but there is no choice other than to press on with training. The first contest of the season is only two-and-a-half months away.
Some say that time flies when you’re having fun. Actually, time just flies. In November, the winter ahead may look long and filled with chances to catch up on projects around the house, to relax a bit, or maybe to catch up on some light reading with Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Then, pretty soon, it’s February and there’s a vague sense that the Combat season is around the corner (in the US this means the March Madness F2D Combat Challenge Phoenix in March).
In the blink of an eye, the first contest of the year is less than a week away and airplanes need to be prepared, tools packed, and you have to have your A game ready. When the center marshal yells “Combat!” to start your first match, will you be prepared?
The winter is a strange beast. On the one hand, when it comes to preparation, time can run out very quickly. On the other hand, when it comes to the decline of one’s own flying level, the winter is plenty long to bring about serious setbacks. The only way to stay ahead of the curve and to keep advancing is to push through the winter and keep flying as much as possible.
Growing up in Southern California, I never appreciated the concept of winter. We flew year-round, and had the luxury of taking a week off here or there if it was rainy or windy, or if perhaps a couple too many clouds filled the sky.
After I moved north and east, I learned that A) winter can be brutal, and B) not flying for a few months can easily undo a season’s worth of progress and learning. The situation is actually much worse than that. After only two weeks of not flying, if I pay close attention, I can notice a significant decline.
To avoid such a precipitous decline, the only solution is to keep flying. A little snow on the ground is no excuse. Temperatures in the low 30s? Put on an extra jacket. Winds from 10 to 15 mph? Go fly. No pain, no gain, right?
If you decide to follow such a nothing-should-stop-my training plan next winter, you’ll likely be the only one in your club crazy enough to go through with it. Even that should not present any type of barrier—just make yourself a launcher.
As shown in the accompanying photo, even a post stuck in the brush on the outside of your local flying circle can be made into a launcher (this one was set up by Ole Bjaerager, at the Amagerfælled flying site outside of downtown Copenhagen).
There’s a valid-sounding argument that one could make against subjecting oneself to the harsh conditions of winter flying. If flying skills can decline in only two weeks, then what’s the big difference with taking off two or three months?
It’s true that if you are an experienced pilot, there’s a certain baseline below which you won’t fall no matter how long you take off from flying. It’s important though, to know how long it will take to get from that baseline back to your previous top form, and then to go beyond it. I’m sure this varies from person to person, but I know that the longer I take off from flying, the longer it will take to get from that baseline back to nearly top form.
In this vein, a crucial part of training (this goes for any sport) is to learn how to understand your body and your mind, and how they work together. During college, I studied T’ai Chi as a means to improve my flying. One of its key principles is “know yourself, then know others.”
In T’ai Chi, we followed this principle by first learning individual forms to get our balance and muscles tuned up, and then performing “push hands” exercises, which amounted to some sort of low-impact sparring with partners. A key point that our teacher emphasized was that all movements should be reversible—to check if you were doing the form correctly, you should be able to stop and smoothly reverse at any moment throughout the entire exercise (mid-step, mid-kick, anything).
The reversibility rule played an extremely important role in my own T’ai Chi practice and refinement. With no teacher present, it was the only way to get feedback on how well I was controlling my body to achieve the desired motions.
In training for Combat, it’s important to develop similar sorts of indicators that can tell you how precisely you’re controlling your airplane. It’s one thing to fly around without hitting the ground. If that’s your only way of measuring your skill level, then you will probably be quite happy with your flying after a long winter off.
However, if you would try to fly an entire Stunt pattern (with a Combat airplane), you would probably find all kinds of misshapen maneuvers. The feedback is clear. The same goes for flying matches—when you’re following your opponent, are you tracking his/her streamer, or just slashing around in its vicinity? Simply being mindful of these cues during flying can make a big difference in the training’s effectiveness.
Now that the season is underway, it’s time to hammer out a schedule (if you haven’t done it already). Here are a few upcoming contests to consider:
2015 Northwest Regionals: John Thompson wrote, “The Northwest Control Line Regionals returns for its 44th running on Memorial Day weekend of 2015. As you may know, the contest was suspended for 2014 because of the loss of the site in Eugene, Oregon. The 2015 Regionals will be in Roseburg, Oregon, and it will be the same major modeling competition as it was in the first 43 years.” For more information, see the Flying Lines website, at the link in “Sources.”
2015 Swedish and Danish World Cups: If you act quickly, there may still be time to make it to the last two stages of this year’s Dreilanderpokal. The Swedish leg will take place in Karlskoga, Sweden, May 16-17, followed by the Limfjords Competition May 23-24 in Aalborg, Denmark. More information can be found at the links at the end of this article.
AMA Nats: For the last several years, Chris Gay did an amazing job organizing the Nats and helping to return it to its rightful place as one of the premiere contests of the season. Now Chris will be taking a well-deserved break, but I encourage everyone to attend and to keep supporting the event.
That’s all for now. See you in the circle.