[Headline: F3C contest flying]
Most helicopter pilots are familiar with 3-D flying and the numerous contests in which they can compete, but did you know that there is an alternative style of flying that is highly competitive? You may have heard others talking about F3C or Precision Helicopter flying and wondered what it was all about.
I caught up with Tim DiPeri at the 2014 International Radio Controlled Helicopter Association (IRCHA) Jamboree. He served as the USA F3C team manager in 2011.
Tim has been flying helicopters since 1978 and flew in his first contest in 1982 with a modified Schluter Mini Boy. His first Nats was in 1983, so it’s no understatement that Tim knows a thing or two about contest flying.
Chris Mulcahy: What was it like to be the team manager in 2011?
Tim DiPeri: In 2011, I served as US Helicopter team manager in Italy. Looking back, it was one of the most difficult and fulfilling things I have ever been involved in. The team manager has a number of duties—most revolve around raising money to support the team. I feel very fortunate to have been able to accomplish that part of the duty.
I’m proud to say we captured a third-place team standing and had the (then) rookie F3C pilot, Nick Maxwell, as part of the team.
CM: For those who aren’t familiar with F3C, can you explain what it is?
TD: People tend to lump all Precision Helicopter flying into the F3C terminology. In fact, F3C is an international schedule of helicopter maneuvers governed and decided by the FAI, which dictates all of the model aviation international rules. The F3C schedule of maneuvers changes from time to time, (usually every two to four years), and contains a series of precision hovering, (two for the 2015 World Championship), as well as a number of precision aerobatic maneuvers with an autorotation landing maneuver.
Each of the maneuvers is described within the F3C rules and is judged by five judges on a scale from 0 to 10 with half points available. Unlike a typical 3-D competition, the maneuvers do not have a great deal of creative latitude—a 3-second roll is exactly that.
CM: Can anyone fly F3C?
TD: F3C does not contain very difficult maneuvers, so the short answer is yes. I can also say the same about golf—just put the little white ball in the hole! I often equate hovering to putting. It’s a little boring to watch, but takes incredible skill and experience to do it correctly.
If anyone is interested in F3C flying, I would urge them to start with the AMA Nats Precision classes. The maneuvers are interesting and give a newer competitor an opportunity to understand what the judges are looking for.
Finally, anyone wanting to get into competition flying should start with the basics—get the model flying as well as it can for competition flight (a bit different than normal 3-D flying).
CM: Are special equipment and helicopters required?
TD: Prior to 2014, I would say that the rotor head, when we were required to use flybars, was the most important part of the model. Today, because we are allowed to use flight control systems, there is really nothing special required.
At the 2014 US Nationals, we had all sizes and brands of models competing. The main thing I recommend is to use a radio system with pitch and throttle curves as well as the ability to reduce throw rates on cyclic and tail rotors.
CM: What are the different levels of competition?
TD: Within the FAI helicopter realm, there is F3N and F3C. F3N is 3-D-style competition maneuvers. While many of the top 3-D pilots in the US are probably capable of performing the maneuvers, they tend to not prefer this style of competition.
In the US, AMA sponsors three classes in addition to F3C and Scale. The AMA classes (Sportsman, Advanced, and Expert) are designed to prepare a pilot to make a smooth transition in skill level and maneuver complexity.
CM: Does anyone outside of the US compete in F3C?
TD: F3C, for most other countries, is the exclusive Precision Helicopter competition schedule. Some of the Europeans offer a “Club” or “Sportsman” class as well, but it’s predominately the F3C schedule.
CM: How is the US team picked?
TD: For several years now, the F3C team for the US has used the Nats as the team selection process. The top three pilots (during non-World Championship years) determine the team that represents the country at the following year’s World Championship. The RC Helicopter World Championship is held every two years.
CM: Who is on the team for 2015?
TD: Nick Maxwell, Daniel Hiatt, and Dwight Shilling—all are multitime US team members.
CM: When and where will the 2015 World Championship be held?
TD: The dates are July 2-12, in Austria.
CM: What can we do to help the team get there?
TD: In a word: money. Despite some people’s beliefs, the majority of the funding for each team member is covered by either the competitor and/or whatever the team manager can raise throughout the year. This year, longtime competition pilot Dennis Purduski was named team manager.
As the previous US team manager (in 2011), [I know] it will take roughly $30,000 to transport, feed, and house the team for the duration. The US team has a website for donations, which is listed in “Sources.”
CM: Any words of advice for someone looking to get started in F3C?
TD: The first thing I would recommend is to look at the maneuvers. The AMA competition maneuvers are on the AMA website.
The next thing is to enter a contest. Virtually all of the contests in the US attract qualified expert pilots from across the country. I hold a regional event in Nashville, Tennessee, and there are several others.
Go with an open mind. You need to fly in the event—it’s the only way to understand it. “Just watching” is not good enough. All of the best pilots offer to help anyone who is interested and we spend a good deal of time working with new competition pilots. After that, it’s all about stick time.
Thank you, Tim, for taking the time to teach us about contest flying and the US F3C team. Best of luck in 2015!
If you want to learn more about contest flying, check out the link in the “Sources” section to download the rules and sequences for the AMA classes.
USA F3C Team
AMA Competition Regulations
Music City Helicopter Championships