The 2009 United States F3J R/C Soaring
The United States
F3J R/C Soaring team selection competition was held in Denver, Colorado over the Labor Day Weekend at a gorgeous sod farm
not far from Denver International Airport. I was fortunate enough to be able to compete in this event with
an outstanding team and I can say it was a grand adventure, to say the least.
Going back to January of this year, things were indeed looking a little sketchy. For
the last three or so team selections, which occur every other year, I have been privileged to be able to team with Tom Kiesling,
Phil Barnes and Mike Lachowski. However, in January, Mike was caught-up in F3B World Championship preparations
and said he was out, Phil was very much into DHLG (and dominating the world in the process), and Tom had recently been married
and moved away to California. Things were indeed looking a little sketchy.
Things started to change in May/June. Tom
became committed to the F3J team selection and was able to convince Phil to try flying unlimited again. Tom
also came across a very talented yet un-spoken-for pilot in San Diego (Mario Scolari). By the time of the
NATS (July), we had a strong team and we were in the game for the F3J Team Selection.
To give a quick refresher, F3J is similar to, but a big notch up from,
nominal thermal duration which we are accustomed to in the ESL. Intense wing-tip to wing-tip simultaneous
mass launches using two-man tows on highly-stretchy monofilament line are one of the differences between nominal TD.
All teams provide their own launching equipment and tow men. Nominally, with some coordination and
ads on Craig’s list, you can hire a team of tow-men for about $100 per day per tow-man. Another difference
is that you can have 2 launches for each round and the objective is to fly as long as possible within a specified working
time (10 or 15 minutes). Flyers that push the limits on both ends are rewarded with higher scores.
Quicker launches (less than 5 seconds on tow) are highly valuable, and touching down with less than two seconds to
go is key. If you launch before the window opens, you need to re-launch while losing critical working time.
If you land after the window closes, they take away all of your landing scores, plus hit you with another 30 point
penalty. Scores are normalized by combining the flight times with the landing scores and we usually have
about 10 flyers in each group. The flyer with the highest combined flight time and landing score gets a
normalized score of 1000 pts. All others are normalized by that score.
For the US F3J team selections, we fly two days of 10-minute tasks
and the third day is dedicated to 15-minute tasks. On the plus side, there are throw-out rounds.
There is one throw-out for the 10-minute rounds if we get more than 6 of them. Then, if we fly more
than 5 15-minute rounds, we get another throw-out. The landing task is 100-pt FAI tapes with the inner
two meters in 1 pt/20-cm resolution. F3J is a little lacking in that you can land inverted and completely
blow the plane apart while still measuring and counting the landing. However, the top competitors do not
do that in general and demonstrate amazing energy and flight-path control to consistently get the upper-90s (or 100s) landing
scores. Just a refresher here, but a 100 pt score means the plane stopped within 20 cm of the center pin
(7.9 inches). Scores are normalized and tenths of a second count.
One of the more questionable aspects of F3J, that needs some type of more-equitable
resolution, is the re-flight. You can get a re-flight if you are impeded during your flight.
You can be impeded in many ways. One way is to have a mid-air. Another way is
to have your launch lines crossed by another competitor’s when you are trying to launch. If you convince
the CD that you are entitled to a re-flight, you get put into a make-up group. Sometimes you can fly in another
flight group if there is room and your team can accomodate it. At this year’s F3J TS, the CD decided that
approximately 4-pilot flight groups would be composed of those who needed re-flights from several different rounds with some
pilots chosen via a lottery method. The lottery method calls pilots at random and allows them to re-fly
their flight for the given round and take the better of the two scores. This is a real get-out-of-jail-free
card if you had a bad round and get called through the lottery. While the method selected for this year's
TS is a reasonable manner to handle this, it was a little different from previous team selections that formed the re-flight
groups at the end of each round using the lottery method. Overall, F3J has lots of strategy, lots of intense
flying, and lots of logistics.
got to Denver on Thursday and had a practice day on Friday. The weather was great for Friday and we flew
our butts off. At the end of the day, the contest director (CD) processed all of the aircraft and we had
a pilots’ meeting at the field. You could enter up to 3 aircraft and each piece of the aircraft had
to get a sticker on it so it could be identified as one of the parts you entered. I brought 3 Supras (2
fiberglass Supra Pros and one Kevlar Supra) and flew about 6 flights on all of them during the practice day. Tom,
Phil, and Mario also flew all of their aircraft. Tom was flying his home-built Supras that we all are familiar
with in the ESL. While they were looking a little worn, they were still outstanding aircraft.
The collection of F3J Team Selection and World Championship processing stickers on Tom’s Supras were testament
to how great those planes can fly and how well Tom can fly them! Phil resurrected his two home-built Supras.
One of Phil’s Supras was trashed pretty hard in the 2007 F3J TS and he did a great job rebuilding it.
Mario was flying an Explorer and had two different tip panels for it. Mario also had an F3B plane
to enter in case the wind got crazy. This year, we decided to spend extra on the tow people and have our
tow-team there for the entire day Friday. That helped us a lot and gave us all day to practice actual F3J
launches which improved our launching technique as well as dial-in the aircraft setups. What we were looking
for was an aggressive climb without any excessive tip-stall by adjusting the tow-hook while making sure we could throw straight
with 60+ lbs of tension on the aircraft.
Saturday was the first day of the competition and we were at the field at 6:30am. The pilot’s
meeting was at 7:15 and we drew for lane assignments. There is a significant tactical advantage to flying
from the end lanes to avoid air traffic during launch and landing. I was elected to be the team manager
and I had the hot-hand and drew one of the outside lanes. However, when we started to setup, we noticed
we had no room to run during launch due to mud. We had to talk to the CD and he made us quickly move to
the end lane on the other side. Several competitors, including Daryl Perkins, Rich Bernowski, and Jeff
and John Walters, helped us move our gear (ie 12 aircraft, coolers, chairs, tool boxes, etc.) from end of the line to the
other (about 100 yards) which helped us a lot since the CD was really leaning on us to get flying.
The competition started and things were going well.
Tom was racking-up grannies (ie 1,000 pt rounds) for the first two rounds, I was in the game, and Phil and Mario were
also doing well. However, in the 5th round, Tom had a short flight. Tom
also had a very low-altitude mid-air in the 7th round. Mario had a flight where he was too high
to hit the landing on final approach due to a strong thermal. He decided to try to circle one more time
to lose altitude, but time ran out and he missed the landing. I finished the day with a couple of grannies
and had 5 other strong scores to go with it and I was in the game.
Sunday’s conditions were cloudy and the lift was very light for most of the day.
Tom got a re-flight for his mid-air, but the line broke immediately after launch. F3J is a team
sport much more so than nominal thermal duration. We were not on our F3J-game as a team at this point and
Tom continued to “go for it” vs taking a re-launch since he already had a short flight/throw-out.
Given the low numbers of pilots in the re-flight group (4) and the tough conditions, the better decision would have
been to re-launch immediately since the winning time was only 7+ minutes. Tom ended up with a very short
flight and essentially ended his team selection there. At the end of the day on Sunday, I was in 4th
and less than a point behind Cody Remington, Rich Bernowski was second, and Daryl Perkins was in first and we were in a very
tight race. My Black and Yellow Supra Pro was indeed rocking the event in my opinion! Mario
and Phil had some good flights but had given up some flight time and landing scores and were really hurting having more rounds
that needed to be thrown-out than could be thrown-out.
On Monday, the conditions looked great and we started flying at about 8am. Thermals were very
light and the 15-minute rounds were very challenging. In the first round, we had the match-up we wanted
and Tom was dueling with Cody Remington. The hope was that Tom could take out Cody and help me get into
the top 3. An outstanding down-wind brawl broke out and we were one thermal hit away from burying Cody.
However, the conditions went flat and both pilots squeaked in for excellent landings. I was doing
well and found some solid lift in the early round. In the second round however, I had the save of my life
in competition. At about 10 ft (not kidding here) and 3 minutes in to a 15 minute flight, I found a thermal
and rode it out. I was in 3rd place for a couple of rounds, but had some mediocre 96/97 pt landings
and could not hold on down the stretch. In the 17th round, I ended up with an 11 minute flight,
which was a good throw-out, but I needed to throw-out a 96 pt landing on round 15 (hard to believe). Tom
got his groove going and was putting on a demonstration of how to blast his group with extremely short launches.
He finished the contest with several 1 to 2 second launches, finding very low lift very far away and sky-ing his plane
out at Kiesling distances (i.e., 1 mile out). Cody Remington was able to get on a roll
and rack-up a string of grannies. He passed Rich and Daryl and ended up 1st.
When it was all over we flew a total of 18 rounds (13 10-minute
and 5 15-minute). In the end, I was in 4th place about 16 points off the leader and missed 3rd
place by 6 points out of about 16,000 and I’m very encouraged for the 2011 team selection. Tom ended
up in 13th place with 6 grannies, which was the second most of all, and tied with Daryl. Phil
was in 21st place with a couple of grannies but had trouble working very light lift and missed some time.
Mario was doing very well too and ended up in 9th place.
Overall, this was a grand adventure and I am very grateful to have been able to participate in this
event. The Supra Pro was a great aircraft and the best on the field in my opinion. Working
with Tom, Phil, and Mario truly was great experience. Hooking-up the Supra for launch and having Tom ready
to throw it for me, time, call lift and spot the competition was outstanding. Flying and practicing with
Phil was very enjoyable and we need to thank Frank Thompson, Skip Schow, Tony Cassada, Neal Huffman and Geryl Taylor, for
helping us with a practice session in August. I must have put up 30 flights that day and it really helped.
I also need to thank Luis Bustamante, Steve Lucky and Neal Huffman for teaming with me for F3J at the NATS in July.
If you are interested in trying F3J, the NATS is a good way to get a taste of this style of competition.
It is run every other year at the Nats on the same year as the F3J Team Selection.
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