A Brief History
My main interest in RC is flying precision aerobatics. This has been true since I got started in the hobby nearly thirty years ago. Before that I flew controline (or U-control) and - you guessed it - I flew stunt, otherwise known as precision aerobatics! When I got my private pilot license I carried my interest in aerobatics to that area as well. I took aerobatic training at the French Connection airshow team's flight school in a CAP-10b and even competed in the Basic class in an International Aerobatic Club meet in Bartow, Florida. There is just something about making an aircraft do precise maneuvers that appeals to me. So, I thought that I would share some of my experiences with you via this web site. I'll be posting useful pattern related information, tips, and techniques from time to time, as well as short articles about various aspects of precision aerobatics or pattern flying.
While it is true that you don't have to compete in contests to enjoy pattern flying, competition nevertheless does help to improve one's ability and also pushes the limits on engineering, craftsmanship, and equipment. Much of our modern equipment can be traced back to design innovations developed for competition events. This is true of all aspects of our hobby, not just pattern flying.
I got my start in competition back in 1979, flying a Super Kaos with a Kraft 61 engine and Kraft Southeast Radio. Back then a lot of our club members flew pattern (Rick Sunderland, Gordie Meade, John Cutrer, Al Weir, to name a few.) They were planning to fly in the Kirkland Memorial contest in Fort Walton Beach and they challenged me to join them - after all they said, all you do is fly pattern maneuvers, so now is the time to show what you can do. Well, I did. And I took second in what was then called the Novice class. And that was all it took. I started going to contests on a regular basis. I built a new plane called the Deception. It had retracts, a tuned pipe, and a Super Tigre X-60 engine. I got a Kraft Signature radio. Top of the line - but no mixing and not any rate switches! And you had to take the servos apart to lubricate the pots and wipers or replace them if they were worn out. I joined the fledgling Florida Pattern Association (FPA 43). The purpose of FPA was to promote pattern flying in Florida and we had a point championship series for each class with annual trophies.
Soon I was moving up through the classes - and winning the State Championships as I went. Those were heady days - and fun, too! I became the President of the FPA - which also meant Secretary/Treasurer and Newsletter Editor. At around the same time period I also served in various posts in the Seminole RC Club - President. Vice-President, Secretary/Treasurer, and Newsletter Editor, although not all at the same time!
I moved up through the Sportsman, Advanced, Expert, and then Masters classes, eventually reaching The FAI or international level that represents the highest class in AMA sponsored competition. But times change, patterns change, and rules change. AMA pattern competition followed the international trend toward the "turnaround" flying style where one flies a center maneuver followed by a turnaround maneuver at one end of the designated aerobatic box then back to the center maneuver, then a turnaround maneuver at the other end of the box, and so on. I flew that style for a number of years and I did fly in the 1989 USA Team Selection trials in Pensacola. But around this time the Seminole RC Club had lost its main flying field and we were renting sites from year-to-year. Practicing was becoming harder and I had just become Chairman of the FSU Physics Department. All this combined to caused me to stop competing in AMA pattern in 1990.
Fast forward seventeen years to 2007. AMA pattern used to have a maximum displacement rule of .61 cubic inches (2-stroke) or 1.20 cubic inches (4-stroke). In 1996 they changed the rules to unlimited engine size, but with an 11 pound weight limit and 2meter wingspan and fuselage length limits. This meant that there was a premium on light construction and carbon fiber, kevlar, and titanium became common construction materials. Engines got bigger and more expensive. These planes perform well, but they are expensive and they are large.
But there is another group of flyers called the Senior Pattern Association. I now compete in the Senior Pattern Association events in the Expert class, having won the Sprtsman class championship in 2008. I'll have more to say about SPA competition in another article.