[headline: NMPRA Electric Formula 1 Racing]
[subhead: Getting started in Pylon Racing may be easier than you think]
[Author: Tim Lampe]
[Photos by Santiago Panzardi and the author]
[No additional callouts or sidebars]
The forecast was grim and the prospect of driving four hours to cope with 20 mph wind and a 60% chance of rain for my second EF1 race wasn’t appealing—I’m supposed to be doing this for fun! Then again, I’ve also been around long enough to know that when you stick with the plan in the face of a little adversity you just might be rewarded.
I loaded my van, got a good night’s sleep, and headed for Cincinnati early the next morning. When the racing was over I’d endured the winds, made some new friends, improved my flying, and experienced plenty of great racing with a middle-of-the-pack finish. And the weather turned out great for the second day of racing on Sunday!
In the last four or five years, my RC flying has centered primarily around small, fast, electric-powered airplanes such as the Great Planes Rifle and similar, more exotic F5D racers. I love working on these composite jewels and flying hot laps around the field—not to mention that they’re easy to carry in and out of the house!
As much fun as that is, you can fly circuits all by yourself only for so long, so the next step was to go racing and AMA Electric Formula 1 (EF1) was the ticket! A while ago I had the opportunity to fly a Great Planes Proud Bird EF1 racer, and to tell you the truth, it wasn’t that fast (compared to my composite racers). However, out there on a pylon course with four aircraft carving it up at the same time, suddenly everything speeds up!
So now, I’ve experienced my first season of racing and am looking forward to the next! I had so much fun and met so many helpful people I thought I’d spread the word to encourage anyone else who may be considering Pylon Racing.
It’s easy to pilot an airplane around a pylon course and anybody with average flying skill can do it. There are no real orientation challenges, because you’re always flying around yourself, seeing the airplane from generally the same perspective. That means you can jump right in and learn as you go, but being competitive isn’t so easy.
The challenge is flying the course tight, smoothly, and consistently to put in clean laps. After the first couple of races, my improvement was encouraging, but it’ll be a while before any of the fast fliers are worried about me!
It’s said that EF1 is a beginner class, but not exactly. The class is regulated and the airplanes are only as fast as any speedy sport model, so it’s definitely the place to begin. However, EF1 is not limited only to beginners, so you may find yourself going up against the best, which is part of the fun. You get to fly with the best, and everybody I’ve met has been exceptionally friendly and encouraging.
How do you get started? It’s simple. First you’ll need an EF1-legal airplane and motor from the National Miniature Pylon Racing Association (NMPRA) approved list. You’ll also need an ESC, battery, and servos that meet EF1 specifications.
The list and specifications can be found in the “EF1: List of Recommended and Approved Components” thread and in the “Electric Formula Rules (EF1) Proposed Rules” thread in the Electric Pylon Racing forum on the NMPRA website. You’ll find that everything required is common and readily available. The only propeller allowed is the APC 8 x 8 thin electric.
When perusing the list of EF1-legal aircraft, you may wonder what one is the fastest. If there is a fastest airplane or motor, I don’t know what it is and there doesn’t seem to be a consensus. No single model seemed to dominate any of the races I’ve been to.
Scratch-built kits may have an edge because they can be built lighter than an ARF, but that’s about the extent of any edge I know. I’m not willing to invest the time and effort to scratch-build a model that will be subjected to the rigors of racing.
For the most part, results come down to how well you fly, which is contingent on practice, preparation, and repetition. My first time out around the course, I swear the other airplanes were faster than mine, but watching from the pits I could see the fastest fliers were simply better pilots!
Once you have your airplane, take it out to your flying field and practice some laps, and if it can be done safely and your flying site permits, try flying around an imaginary pylon course. You don’t have to be perfect. Just get in those laps to develop a feel.
Visit the NMPRA website for a race schedule with contact names. Check with the CD to see if the pylons will be set up the day before and get there early and fly some laps.
I’ve found it exceptionally easy to buddy up with a veteran and have him show you the ropes and call laps for you. A caller will launch your airplane at the start, announce “turn!” when you’ve cleared Pylon 1, count laps, and guide you around traffic for landing.
How It Works
EF1 races are 10 laps in duration and are usually flown around a three-pylon course. The length of the course can vary at the discretion of the CD, depending on what other classes may be running that day.
Pilots and callers stand within the course near the base of Pylons 1 and 2. A system of lights is used to signal launch and when each airplane has cleared the Pylon 1. Airplanes are launched at full throttle from a still start on the ground and become airborne within just a few feet.
To avoid collisions, the start is staggered with the second two airplanes launched half a second after the first two. After the caller releases the airplane, he rushes back to his pilot to count laps and call turn!
Cutting a pylon negates that lap resulting in a mandatory makeup lap. A second cut results in disqualification from that heat. Even the best pilots have an occasional cut or two because they fly the course so tightly!
Between four and six heats are usually run in a day. At the conclusion of the heat, the caller helps the pilot guide the airplane down to a safe landing by pointing out any other aircraft still airborne or other obstacles.
What to Bring
In addition to your NMPRA-approved aircraft and AMA card, you should bring whatever spares you can reasonably imagine—a couple of spare propellers for certain and maybe even a spinner. I also recommend at least two and preferably four batteries and your charger.
A helmet is also mandatory when on the course, and the styles vary. Construction-type helmets seem to be popular, but baseball helmets and bicycle helmets seem to be common, too. I use a batter’s helmet with a visor. Of course, your trusty flight box with tools is also a must. You could also toss in a few scraps of covering, balsa, and CA for minor repairs.
Beyond that, your level of preparedness is up to you. The farther you travel, the more serious you are, and the higher the stakes, the more prepared you’ll want to be. I even have a spare airplane that has been flight-tested, trimmed, and ready to go! A pop-up sun shelter and a lawn chair will also keep you comfortable. Think of it as a miniature camping trip.
What’s so fun about Pylon Racing? It’s easy to get started because you don’t have to reach a certain level of skill to start—moderately skilled pilots can jump right in. Once hooked, the challenge will be flying well and doing it consistently.
What still amazes me is how small are the differences that set the best pilots apart, yet the effort required to close those seemingly small gaps. Learning the fine points and honing your skills are challenges I enjoy—and oh yea, spinning around with three or four airplanes in the air simultaneously is also a blast![dingbat]