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Old 11-03-2008, 09:01 PM   #1
ErichF
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Default What is Contest Flying?

This is basically an essay on “contest flying”, also known as “FAI” style helicopter flying. The purpose of this essay is to educate people on the existence and scope of precision helicopter aerobatics. Here, you will learn what constitutes precision aerobatics, classes of maneuver schedules, how contests are run, and a general FAQ of contest flying.



What is Precision Helicopter Aerobatics?
Before the advent of the “3D” style of flying became popular in the US (and around the world), helicopter competition focused around precision maneuvering over points marked on the ground as well as centered in an aerobatic “Box”. These maneuvers consisted of basic elements, by today’s standards, basically because helicopters of the era had limited capability. In many cases, pilots competed with basic airplane radios, engines, and without gyros. As electronics and machines advanced, these maneuvers also advanced to keep up with the state of the art. Modern precision aerobatics involve accurately hovering over points of reference (cones or flags on the ground) and flying maneuvers at altitude that are both centered and wind corrected. Such maneuvers include, but are not limited to, loops, rolls, stalls, Cuban 8s, flips, tumbles, and all variations and combinations of these. Precision flying is presented with high speed, large maneuvers with high verticals and defined transitions between components. While there are no points officially awarded for smoothness and grace, such presentation is generally awarded with higher scores. Maneuvers flown with tight radiuses, jerky transitions, or appear to be rushed, generally score lower in the end.

In the US today, precision helicopter aerobatics competition consists of four classes of maneuvers, also known as “schedules”. The first three classes 1-3 are governed by the AMA Rules for Competition. The fourth is the internationally flown class, designated as F3C by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, or FAI. Maneuver schedules gradually increase in difficulty and complexity was you advance in classes. All hovering maneuvers currently flown in helicopter contests are vertical in perspective. In other words, the helicopter is never hovered away from or towards the pilot station. All maneuvers are performed on a 2D plane in front of the pilot, as if the helicopter was a brush on canvas. The hovering maneuvers are situated over the hovering central landing pad and two flags spaced 5m from both sides of the center pad. The segments of the hovering maneuvers are spaced among the central pad and the two flags on each side. Hovering segments can be diagonal, vertical, lateral, or circular. Aerobatics “upstairs” are typically centered within the aerobatic “box” directly in front of the pilot. Turn-around maneuvers are not judged, and performed at the discretion of the pilot. All take-offs and landings are judged, with the exception of the final landing in Class I. In the US, the AMA classes 1 through 3 were developed to help pilots along a path to the internationally flown FAI F3C maneuvers. These classes allow pilots of various skills the ability to fly against similarly skilled peers. As pilots gain experience and skill, they advance into higher level of competition until they reach the coveted F3C class.

AMA Class I consists of mostly tail-in hovering maneuvers, followed by simplistic, single component aerobatics. The Class I hovering maneuvers are mostly tail-in, with some side-on hovering, and 90 and 180° pirouettes, but never any nose-in segments. Pilots competent with rolls and stall turns, and hovering accuracy of about 1 meter would be comfortable with the typical maneuvers found in Class I.

AMA Class II ups the technicality of Class I, by introducing mostly side-on hovering with more 90 and 180° pirouettes. “Upstairs” aerobatics are slightly more complex, with vertical segments and more complex stall turns. Pilots competent with multiple rolls, loops, 540 stall turns, and vertical lines would be comfortable in Class II. Class II pilots should also be competent hovering over a point within half a meter.

AMA Class III is the highest of the US sportsman classes, with mostly side-on hovering, including takeoffs and landings. The hovering maneuvers typically consist of backwards travelling segments punctuated by 180 and 360° pirouettes at the stop points. Upstairs aerobatics consist of multi-component maneuvers with sustained inverted segments. Such segments may be diagonal, vertical or lateral. Multiple stall turns of 180°+ pirouettes are common. Recently, traveling flips or tumbles have been introduced to this class. Pilots in this class should be competent in all upright hovering orientations, remaining within 1 foot laterally of the point of reference. These pilots should also be competent in sustained inverted flight, rolls, and flips.

FAI F3C is the top level of helicopter precision aerobatics competition. All F3C pilots the world over fly the same schedule of maneuvers as voted and put forth by the FAI. As expected, these maneuvers are highly complex with numerous components and technical attributes. Hovering maneuvers involve travelling pirouettes, climbing and descending pirouettes, side-ways travelling nose-in segments, and all combinations thereof. Aerobatics upstairs are equally complex, with sustained inverted segments, negative G components, tumbles, and multiple stall turns. Also, F3C pilots vying for the World Championships need to practice two schedules, which is a total of 22 maneuvers. Pilots in this class should be competent in all upright and inverted forward orientations of helicopter flight and maintain hovering accuracy over the point of reference to within 6 inches laterally and vertically.

What's in a contest?
A typical helicopter precision aerobatics contest is a two-day event with maybe a third day at the beginning slated for practice and tuning. Prior to the event, the contest director and/or volunteers sets up the hovering box as detailed in the AMA and FAI rules. This consists of the 1m central landing pad, 2m pilot station, and the two flags 5m on each side of the central pad. The judge’s stations are then setup, 15m behind the landing pad. The rules dictate 3 or 5 judges for each round. Using 5 judges allows dropping of high and low scores, but is harder to field when relying on contestants to judge in a small contest. Seated judges are desirable, but very difficult to field. It can be a rather tiring, thankless job. If you can get one, offer them free lunch and drinks, and whatever else to make them comfortable.

The first morning of the contest, the CD will pull a flight order during the pilot’s meeting. This is a random drawing of names from each class, or from the entire field of contestants. Larger contests have separate orders drawn for each class. CDs will make some allowances for judging slots and callers for pilots. From this point on, the contest essentially runs itself. The CD will be on your back to maintain readiness in order to keep the contest moving along to maximize flying. In some cases, you may be penalized points if you cause a delay in the event because you weren’t paying attention to the flight order. Typical 2 day contests have five rounds of flying, three on day one, and two on day two. The lowest round is dropped, and the final round scores are normalized. Scoring is usually done by a standardized computer scoring system, such as CD Pro by Dan Monroe. This system is automated and provides for printing of score sheets, call sheets, and flight orders. Contest standings are a button press away at any given time. While computer scoring is typical, some contests have been decided on tabulations on a memo pad.

Contest Flying FAQs

Do I have to join IRCHA or AMA to fly in a contest?
Generally, helicopter contests are sanctioned events by the AMA, flown on an AMA sanctioned club field, therefore AMA membership is required. IRCHA membership is not required in any case.

What helicopters are legal for competition?
Nearly all helicopters typically flown by the average pilot are allowed. Restricted helicopters are those powered by turbines, nitro engines greater than 15cc (.91ci), and electric power systems over 42V fully charged. Gasoline powered helicopters need to have engines at or below 25cc. Maximum weight for all types is 6Kg (13.22lbs). There is no minimum displacement or size criteria. Technically, any of the classes can be flown with a 450-size electric. Furthermore, the use of a gyro is limited only to the yaw axis, so virtual flybars or electronic stabilization systems are not allowed.

Do I have to start in Class I?
No, you may begin competing in any of the four classes you feel competent and comfortable. However, once you have officially competed in a specific class, you are bound to remain at or above that class. You can advance either voluntarily or mandatorily through points advancement. A contestant will be mandatorily advanced through all AMA classes by the accumulation of points. In each class, a contestant will receive points according to the finishing place in every contest in which he competes. Contestants finishing third or lower will receive one (1) point for each contestant they beat. The second place winner will receive two (2) points for each contestant they beat. The first place winner will receive three (3) points for every contestant they beat. No more than 40 points shall be earned from any single contest. The points received will be determined from the Contest Director’s report and recorded in the contestant’s cumulative record. Contestants will automatically advance to the next class when they have accumulated the following points: Class I and II - 90 points; Class III - 150 points. The advancement will occur at the end of that calendar year.



Do I have to have a Caller/Spotter?
While flying, you are required to have a spotter caller to help you with the schedule and to help avoid mid-airs. The Caller is usually responsible for calling out the name of each maneuver, and the maneuvers start and end to the judges; however the ultimate responsibility remains the pilot’s. If you don’t have a regular caller, don’t worry. Ask someone from your class or another class to call for you, just bring a calling sheet with you so that they can call the correct maneuvers for you.



When it’s my turn to fly… what do I do?
You always want to be prepared prior to your flight time. When your class or slot is called, make sure your helicopter is fueled and ready to go, and move your aircraft down to the start circle (usually 20m behind and to the side of the central pad).
Depending on the event, you may be asked to start your engine as soon as the pilot before you finishes his/her flight to help minimize time between flights (this is the CDs discretion and is covered in the pilots meeting). Once told to start your engine, you officially have five minutes to hover trim your model in the start circle. If you are in Class I, you will do this in the central pad. Once you leave the start circle, your time allotment for your class begins. For Class I, your time starts when you call the beginning of the first maneuver. This is rarely enforced at a local level, but at National events it is strictly enforced.
When ready, with your model sitting in the center of the landing pad spooled up, have your caller announce the first maneuver and “beginning now” and begin flying your schedule. When you have completed the schedule, have your spotter call “flight complete.” After finishing, shut down your helicopter. Ask the judges for feedback on your flight if they have time or wait till the round is done. They are there to help you! They will let you know what you did well, and what you need to work on for the next flight. After completing your flight, go refuel your model and get it ready for the next round.



Will I be asked to Judge?
You may be asked to judge at an event. If you feel that you are not qualified to judge, do not be afraid to decline, and let them know that you are new to helicopter competition, and don’t feel qualified at this point. If the judge’s panel consists of five members, feel free to try your hand at judging. You will learn just as much watching others with a critical eye, as you do flying yourself. With a panel of 5, there is no pressure for a new pilot/judge to be accurate, as the lowest and highest scores are dropped for each maneuver.

Is there are landing fee to attend a helicopter contest?
In most cases, yes, there are landing fees that can vary from $10 to $50. These fees are there to pay for the awards given out at the event, as well as to provide a donation to the hosting club so that there is an incentive for them to host our events. Contact the CD of the event to find out what the landing fee is for that specific event.

Next time, I will discuss some good choices for an entry-level contest helicopter, and a bit on setup.

Cheers,
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Old 11-03-2008, 09:09 PM   #2
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dang long post man, good info
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Old 11-03-2008, 11:03 PM   #3
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thanks for the info!!! contest flying has always been more attractive to me than 3D.. guess it's the whole precision part of it..
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Old 11-03-2008, 11:15 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mysticmead View Post
thanks for the info!!! contest flying has always been more attractive to me than 3D.. guess it's the whole precision part of it..
true but good 3d is also precision flying.
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Old 11-03-2008, 11:20 PM   #5
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Thanks for the thoughts, gentlemen.

I don't want this to turn into a 3D vs FAI thread, though

If anyone has any questions about contest flying or precision aerobatics in general, please shoot me a PM or post it here.

Thanks,
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Old 11-04-2008, 05:33 AM   #6
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I've noticed that the maneuvers for F3C have added more and more 3D, do you see this trend continuing?
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Old 11-04-2008, 07:13 AM   #7
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There are current discussions going on about the next cycle of F3C manuevers. You will see a few 3D manuevers being introduced, but only to a point. For a helicopter to perform most of the hovering and aerbatics well, it becomes difficult for the same machine to do complex 3D manuevers.

Essentially you'll see the addition of flips and tumbles to the aerobatic manuevers, either in backwards or inverted flight, but that's about it.

Cheers,
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Old 11-04-2008, 07:31 AM   #8
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Vewy vewy interwesting.

If only I had the precision and eyesight needed. Heck, I can barely tell which way you are pointed when you go up for some of your altitude maneuvers.
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Old 11-04-2008, 07:39 AM   #9
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Hahah...That's what they make glasses for :glasses2:

It's easier to maintain orientation on a bird you're actually flying, too. Typically, Class I manuevers aren't flown as high as my Class III maneuvers are. I have to make a bunch of vertical lines, some with rolls, so they gotta be tall to be safe on the way down.

Of course, a good paint job helps, too.

Erich

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Vewy vewy interwesting.

If only I had the precision and eyesight needed. Heck, I can barely tell which way you are pointed when you go up for some of your altitude maneuvers.
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Old 11-04-2008, 07:45 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ErichF View Post
Hahah...That's what they make glasses for :glasses2:
Unfortunately glasses won't magically make me more dexterous.
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Old 11-04-2008, 07:46 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by saltyzoo View Post
Vewy vewy interwesting.

If only I had the precision and eyesight needed. Heck, I can barely tell which way you are pointed when you go up for some of your altitude maneuvers.
You should give it a shot, you might find that your vision is adequate, you never know until you try. Practicing for precision work is/can be fun, but it is also very intense. Take breaks, relax a little, have fun. Good eye practice, regardless of age, is to focus on something far, intermediate and near for about 5-10 seconds a piece. Don't get target fixation, but just practice focusing/defocusing. If you work on computers all day, this is a must. If you can 3D, you can fly AMA classes at a bare minimum. Of course, this depends on what your definition of 3D is. 3D for me is more than loops and rolls. Piro moves and the like are on my "3D" list. Trust me, if you can do a hurricane, you can do this. Practicing the AMA classes improved my flying a lot and continues to help me with orientation training and control inputs.
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Old 11-04-2008, 07:51 AM   #12
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Very interesting read Erich........ but as per my usual response BOOoooOOooo
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Old 11-04-2008, 08:09 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by saltyzoo View Post
Unfortunately glasses won't magically make me more dexterous.
Hey, you're flying a Trex 500 around in backwards inverted circuits. Are you kidding me?
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Old 11-04-2008, 08:15 AM   #14
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Lol perhaps, but you do remember my perfectly crisp rolls, right? ROTFL
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Old 11-04-2008, 09:45 AM   #15
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Also dont forget that many of the FAI ships are flown in a full body. And this makes them MUCH easier to see and keep orientation. This is a BIG reason why I plan on flying the AMA classes this year.
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Old 11-04-2008, 11:33 AM   #16
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Thanks for the wright up, keep them coming! Not sure if I will ever officially compete, but this flying style and challenege does intrest me. I like the presicion and the difficulty, and hovering at a high quality level at all apects and angles is a true skill, and the collective management I've seen some of these competitors display on a windy day is amazing.

Looking forward to hearing/reading more. Maybe to go with it you could post a video with commetary, I've seen a couple of these on youtube, and they are informative.
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Old 11-04-2008, 11:40 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thrasymedes View Post

Looking forward to hearing/reading more. Maybe to go with it you could post a video with commetary, I've seen a couple of these on youtube, and they are informative.
For a video with commentary check this out. Its Scott Gray's 2006 NATS flight
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Old 11-04-2008, 12:31 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joco View Post
For a video with commentary check this out. Its Scott Gray's 2006 NATS flight
very nice... we need more vids like these.. might get more people interested...
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Old 11-04-2008, 12:43 PM   #19
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These are videos of Baron Johnson, also an IMAC Unlimited competitor, flying AMA Class I in his first Nats...



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Old 11-04-2008, 05:10 PM   #20
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Any links to what the required / optional maneuvers are and how they are judged?
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