[Headline: Tips for keeping your cool on competition day]
In Scale Aerobatics, there are two types of pilots. A sport aerobatic pilot is content with performing a loop, roll, and a few extreme maneuvers such as the hover and torque roll. A competition pilot, however, is interested in executing each figure of a given sequence with excellence.
Attending an International Miniature Aerobatic Club (IMAC) competition is a great experience for those who want to develop flight skills. Not only does Scale Aerobatics competition push a pilot to perfect his or her flying, it enforces structure in routine maintenance, preflight checks, proper sequence, and aircraft preparation.
Throughout this column, I will review a few preparation techniques that promote success. I’ll also explain some organizational basics to help pilots stay mentally focused and simplify the general aircraft assembly process, then explore the importance of practicing at a competition site. I’ll also discuss a few routine preflight checks to ensure that a given aircraft is as ready as its pilot. Let’s get started!
Procedures and Organizational Basics
It is important for pilots to develop a routine for their aircraft’s assembly so they can have peace of mind on competition day and focus on their upcoming flights. To stay organized, I use tackle boxes such as those offered by Plano.
A tackle box makes it easy to keep all of the nuts, bolts, and any other items required to assemble a given aircraft readily available. It also organizes spare items and tools. In a perfect scenario, each airplane would have its own organizer to guarantee that you don’t forget any mandatory items.
When the aircraft is fully assembled, double-check all servo connections, servo arm screws, bolts, etc. Spending a few extra minutes checking these components is worth the time and effort.
I attended an event in the late 1990s at which a pilot forgot to bolt in a wing panel. While assembling the aircraft, he was talking with a fellow modeler. A few minutes into the first round of the competition, the wing came loose and the model spun into the ground. This scenario could have been prevented had the pilot been methodical during the assembly process.
To keep this from happening to you, keep a checklist that covers all important steps needed to assemble the aircraft. With the added stress of a competition, you could easily overlook simple steps.
Competition Preparation Defined
If you are serious about competition, you should arrive at the contest site at least a day early. Many pilots underestimate the importance of getting in a few flights at the competition site, and more importantly, ensuring that their aircraft is ready to perform at an elevation and/or climate that is different from their home flying field.
When the airplane is flight ready, power it up and turn on the transmitter. Make sure that all servos are responding as desired, all control directions are correct, and that the equipment passes a range check.
After a basic check of the controls, test the engine. Have someone hold the aircraft. Close the choke, pin the throttle to approximately 25%, and turn on the ignition. You need an assistant so you can be ready if the engine starts.
When you flip the propeller counterclockwise, the engine should fire. At that point, decrease the throttle to the idle position, open the choke, and flip the propeller until the engine runs. After a few seconds, gradually increase throttle until maximum power is achieved.
It is important to validate that the engine fires. Occasionally, you may have a bad ignition module, switch, battery, etc. that prevents the engine from firing. Discovering that a component must be replaced minutes before flying for the judges is undesirable!
You must verify that the throttle transition from idle to maximum power is as expected. Two needles, the high-end and low-end needles, are typically found on gasoline engine carburetors. Always begin with the factory-recommended settings, but if the elevation of the competition flying site is different from where the aircraft was last flown, or if the overall temperature differs, changing the needle settings may be required.
If the rpm steadily drops at full throttle, the engine is too lean and may be overheating. To correct this, slightly richen the high-end needle until a constant rpm is obtained. Adjust the low-end needle to smooth out the transition when the throttle is increased from idle to maximum power.
If the engine stutters in midrange as the throttle is advanced, the low-end needle may be too rich. If the engine quits, the low-end needle may be too lean. Turning the needles clockwise will lean the fuel mixture, and turning the needles counterclockwise will richen it.
Although you can check the engine rpm and transition on the ground, it is beneficial to get a flight on the airframe. Throughout a given sequence, the pilot may see that the engine leans out on extended vertical uplines. It is better to find this out a day or so before the competition than during the first round of the event! Make all of the necessary engine adjustments to have confidence in the aircraft.
It is important to keep the aircraft on charge and defueled until roughly 30 minutes before you are expected to fly. Make sure that the fuel is stored in a cool area. Supplying fuel that is the right temperature is mandatory to prevent vapor lock, which will cause the engine to quit during flight.
Competing can take a toll on a pilot, but you should now know a few techniques to help you keep your cool during the heat of competition. These practices should help newcomers and experienced Aerobatics pilots ensure that their equipment is ready for competition.
Remember to learn from each experience, ask the advice of fellow skilled pilots, and enjoy this fine sport!
Until next time, fly hard!