2009 US F3J Team Selection
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F3J Mass Launch
Need to stay in your launch lane, get off fast!

This is team ESL So Cal

The 2009 United States F3J R/C Soaring Team Selection

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.

We 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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T-5 seconds to Josh's Launch
This is where the "Rubber Hits the Road"!

Tom Kiesling Demonstrates World-Class Landings
Aligned with the spot, wings-level, about 2-3 ft, energy spot-on

Start to finish the landing
A good finish is a slight stick at the end to keep it from sliding

Note the concentration
Done properly, the aircraft never really goes down-hill far, energy is controlled, impact minimal.

Tom hits just in front of the nail!
Control of the aircraft is incredibly precise!

Tom has arrived!
The F3J landing task is one of the most challenging in R/C Flying. Practice, practice, practice!