The definitive aerobatics pilot is often of a different breed than most RC pilots. While most sport pilots enjoy basic aerobatics like loops, rolls, snaps and spins, it is the true aerobatics enthusiast who pushes the flight envelope. Pilots focused on aerobatics may continuously string aerobatic maneuvers together, including more advanced maneuvers like rolling loops, rolling circles, knife-edge and 3D maneuvers. Aerobatics pilots are often asked how they do it and how long it takes to learn. The answers vary, but one common response is the substantial amount of time spent practicing aerobatics — and the quality of that practice — which means making improvements with every flight. Improvements can come in the form of perfecting a favorite maneuver, learning a new maneuver, or learning one or more elements of a new maneuver. Flying aerobatics includes elements of rote movements and real-time interactions, the latter of which require sharp mental focus. Rote movements/rote learning is no more than learning and being able to perform a repetitive process. A good example is the rolling harrier, in which the ailerons are generally held at full stick while up-elevator is blipped each time the model passes through upright, down-elevator is blipped each time it passes through inverted and the rudder is blipped (to direct the nose upward) when the airplane passes through each knife-edge position. This sequence of inputs can happen once per second or several times per second depending on the specific airplane and roll rate used.
In this typical scene at an AMA Open pattern competition, pilots keep cool and relaxed between ﬂights to avoid mental fatigue that can lead to mistakes.
Perennial FAI ﬁnalist at the U.S. Pattern Nationals, Don Szczur completes one of many practice ﬂights, this time with his longtime friend Dave Lockhart observing. The process of rote learning is valuable. Once learned, mental energy is no longer needed to decide what input to give the airplane. Instead, mental energy can be directed toward deciding exactly when and how much input should be given (real-time interactions).
In general, I am not a big fan or user of flight simulators. In my opinion, it is difficult to “tune” them to accurately mimic the control response of real model airplanes, especially for 3D maneuvers. Flight simulators are useful for learning the rote elements of maneuvers, such as down-elevator for inverted flight, and the elevator and rudder inputs for rolling harriers. Obvious additional benefits of learning rote movements on a simulator are the lack of wear or crash damage on the airplane, and the ability to practice with no consideration for weather conditions.
Prior to one of his ﬂights at the 2012 U.S. Pattern Nationals, A.C. Glenn clears his mind and gets into ﬂying mode by listening to music.
Veteran aerobatics competitor Mike Klein prepares for a ﬁnals ﬂ ight at the 2011 U.S. Pattern Nats by “pre-ﬂying” through his aerobatic sequence with a stick plane.
While not as important for rote learning, sharp mental focus is key to practicing/learning real-time interactions. Mental preparation starts simply: get a good night’s sleep, be properly fed and hydrated, and have a clear head so you can focus 100 percent on flying the airplane. Many books have been written about mental preparation and how to increase the intensity and duration of mental focus. Suffice to say that the more intense the focus, the shorter the time it can be maintained and the longer the recovery period will be. Mental fatigue can also be a challenge, and increasingly so with longer flights and practice sessions. My suggestion is to limit practice to five- to seven-minute flights, and relaxing in between flights for at least an equal length of time.
Another aspect of quality practice starts long before the flight with what is essentially a “lesson plan.” Each flight should have a specific purpose, designed to achieve a goal or goals. With a relatively simple maneuver like inverted flight, the first consideration might be how to get there. Entering inverted flight can easily be accomplished with a half loop or a half roll. Practicing either of these elements would be the starting point. Once the “perfect” half loop or half roll is being consistently performed, adding the element of down-elevator to sustain inverted flight is the next element to learn. In addition to actual flying and simulators, many of the world’s top competition pilots visualize each flight with a stick plane.
“Pre-flying” with a stick plane can be helpful in reinforcing rote movements and increasing mental focus.
A coach or instructor can also help. Th e coach need not be an accomplished aerobatics pilot, but simply a keen observer to advise what is happening or has happened. An instructor who can perform the targeted aerobatic maneuvers can describe, in detail, the inputs needed to complete the maneuvers, and point out errors made in specific control inputs, and amounts and timing of inputs. Th e instructor can also fl y the student’s airplane to determine any setup details that might be needed to make specific maneuvers possible or easier to accomplish.
Dave Lockhart was one of several pilots to use a contra-rotating propeller power system at the 2012 U.S. Pattern Nationals. You can expect to see more of these cutting-edge power delivery systems in the future.
Dave and his father, Ron, have regularly made the trek to the International Aeromodeling Center in Muncie, Indiana, where national championships for multiple classes are held annually in July and August. In the pattern event, Dave ﬂew his Wistmodels Bravo with a contra-rotating propeller power system for the preliminary schedule, switching to his single-propeller model for the ﬁnals sequence. After more development and practice ﬂights, Dave expects that the contra-rotating system will gain favor, and be adopted by many more competition pilots.
The top three pilots at the 2012 Nationals earned the right to represent the U.S. at the 2013 Pattern World Championships to be held in South Africa. Andrew Jesky will lead the team, ﬂying his original design Proteus, which he debuted at the 2012 Nats. Brett Wickizer is one of only a handful of pilots who have not adopted electric power. He is also one of the few pilots who prefer the ﬂight characteristics of biplanes. Don Szczur will make his ﬁrst trip to the World Championships as caller, coach and mechanic for his son, Joseph, who earned a spot on Team USA as the best junior pilot in the country.
After taking the top three spots at the 2012 U.S. Pattern Nationals, Andrew Jesky (center), Brett Wickizer (left) and Jason Shulman (right) will represent the United States at the 2013 FAI Pattern World Championships in South Africa. Joseph Szczur (kneeling) was 10th, and as the top junior pilot, will also compete in South Africa.
By Dave Lockhart | firstname.lastname@example.org