Primarily for general aviation discussion, but other aviation topics are also welcome.
#1703939
Day 4 - pre-competition Training Camp

Today was our last day of our training camp at Movska Trebova. Tomorrow we head off for the competition venue and our first practice flights in the competition box.

Our training camp has been excellent. I am pleased with the improvements in my flying and can see the improvements in my team-mate's flying too.

Today we flew the Free Unknown that we planned in the restaurant last night. It was a very good exercise all around.

We intentionally made a sequence at the more complex end of the permitted scale for Intermediate competition. We learned several lessons in terms of our approach to the Free Unknown process, to sequence design and, of course, the flying itself. I think that we all feel fairly confident now that there is nothing unexpected, in flying terms, that we are going to be hit with in the competition.

I made a silly mistake in one part of the design of the team's practice sequence, which made the last three figures very difficult to fit into the performance zone (aerobatic box) - Lesson learned!

The new 4-blade prop is on the Gen Pro and the pilots flying it were busy fine tuning their flying to the new configuration of the machine. One of the things about aerobatic flying, perhaps more than most types of flying, is how attuned the pilot becomes to their machine. Tiny differences can make a big difference and can take some time to adapt to.

My day started with a minor bit of drama. I have for years, when flying aerobatic aeroplanes adopted the practice of banging the underneath of the fuselage with my hand, as part of my pre-flight. This detects loose articles because you can hear them, or sometimes feel them, bounce inside the fuselage. I am quite disciplined in what I take into my aeroplane and so was surprised this morning to feel something bounce when I banged. I took a couple of panels off and to cut a long story short found the offending item, an inspection mirror. I can only assume that it has been in there since the last 25 hr check a few weeks ago. It must have been lodged somewhere and now worked free. Loose items are not good in aerobatic aeroplanes!

One amusing thing, the fairing that I needed to remove, just ahead of the tailplane, was mostly held with short bolts with a Phillips screw-head, but six of them, that attach to the fin, use a metric Allen bolt. I didn't have the right size key with me. Just at the moment that I needed it, the Hungarian engineers who had changed the prop on the Gen Pro walked past. I asked if they had an Allen-Key that might fit in their tool-kit, one of them reached into his jeans pocket and gave me precisely the tool that I needed :)

I have said several times how impressed we have all been with Movska Trebova. One of the nice things for this small airfield, some distance from any major town, let alone City, is that every day we have been here there have been children around. Kids belonging to pilots for sure, but also what I assume are local school kids. There have been several tours of the airfield that I have seen, but also people making use of the airfield. Most days there have been adults with bunches of kids flying gliders or looking at the aeroplanes. Quite often people have come to us and asked us about what we are doing, language barrier permitting, and asking to look at our planes.

I have no idea if the airfield is always like this, or if it is a holiday thing, or because there is a lot going on here this week, but it is nice to see young people engaged with, and enjoying the airfield.

Finally, Mazda cars has a long association with the British Aerobatic Association. This year they sponsored the team to the extent of providing us with a couple of cars for our use while we are here in CZ. Today we organsied a few photos with the cars and our aeroplanes. Juggling aeroplanes and cars was clearly amusing enough that people started taking photos of our photo session :)

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The hangar that we are using at Trebova is pretty special for aerobatic nerds. It is full of great aeroplanes.

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The plane in the centre is Martin Sonka's Extra 330 SR

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This one, I am pretty sure, is Unlimited World Champion Mikhail Mamistov's Extra.

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Playing silly games with Mazdas.

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Tony Walsh preparing to fly.

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Entertaining the local kids.
Morten, akg1486, Charles Hunt and 5 others liked this
#1704059
Maxthelion wrote:Brilliant! Kudos to yuo guys for getting the kids in the aeroplanes, there should be more of that kind of thing at UK airfields.

Agree. And it's good fun to show kids around the hangar. At our club, we have an open house twice a year but we of course welcome any visitor who happens to find the way to us.

Sometimes we get dads who really want to know something but are ashmed to show their ignorance so they either prep the kid to ask the question or say something like "my kid would like to know [insert basic question here]". I always try not to let on that I know what's going on. :lol:

(Great thread, btw. Looking forward to pictures and stories from the actualy competetion!)
Maxthelion, kanga, davef77 liked this
#1704122
flyguy wrote:Brilliant thread and thanks for sharing! I think the bravest thing you've done was to follow a Tornado mate into Europe....!

Really interesting getting behind the scenes and makes me want to maybe try and get on a team for next year's events!

Good luck to you and all of the team! :D


For the uninitiated, Trevor was was a Nav in Tornados. He is a great guy and helped me a lot with my first transit.

Thanks for the feedback :D 8)
Dave W, G-BLEW liked this
#1704144
Training Days - Breclav - Day 1

Today we de-camped from our training base to the competition venue.

I was feeling a little excited and nervous at the prospect and, like a few of my team mates I think, woke up quite early. We planned our formation flight, paid our bills, promised our generous hosts that we would return again soon, and then set off at about 10am.

We flew, in a four-ship formation, the 60 or so nautical miles to Breclav. We made a Class "D" transit through the BRNO TMA at 4000' with a 737 flying underneath us at 3000' I would love to know what the passengers, and crew, made of us :)

The airfield, and surroundings, at Breclav are not as instantly pretty as Morovska Trebova, but it is still a very nice airfield and there are some nice looking lakes and, smaller, hills off in the distance.

Today is a practice day so the arrangements for the competition proper, are in their final stages, there is fencing everywhere to allow the public to come and watch, safely, there are tents, team tents, restaurant tents and even a couple of hangar tents.

We arrived and flew a stream landing, spreading out enough to allow each aeroplane time to land and pull off the runway before the next touched down, it worked out pretty well, except the lead aeroplane landed on the taxiway, and we all followed :-o To be fair, the taxiway used to be the runway and looked more like the runway than the runway did :) It is a big grass airfield, so it really made no real difference.

On arrival we were marshaled to park our aeroplanes in front of the restaurant tent, and so, by default we ended up taking that over for the rest of the afternoon as Team GBR's place on the field.

We then each got to fly our first flights in the competition box. For all of us, this was our first flight in a properly marked competition box. We wondered how good the box would be and worried a bit wether or not we would be able to position ourselves effectively. As it turns out a marked box is GREAT!

The box for our world championships is a 1km cube with a base height of 200m. All flying is supposed to take place inside this area. When you first see a marked box from 3000' everyone's reaction is the same "I can't possibly fit my sequence in that!". It is difficult, it is demanding and in reality it is much worse than that!

This is the Breclav box.

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This is what we were sent before the competition began. The reality is pretty similar, even to the extent of all the white markings are really there on the ground, only the lines are thinner. However, imagine yourself as a competition judge. Sitting, leaning back in a, hopefully, comfortable chair, watching idiots like me throw themselves around the sky. Now put your arms out at about 45 degrees either side of you. This is the comfortable range that you can see things. As a competition pilot I want all my flying to fit inside your arms! That means that, in reality, the box is too big. If I want to make your life as a judge easy. If I want you to be able to clearly see what I am doing. That means that the really valuable performance zone in the box is more like the yellow outline below.

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My aeroplane flies at 219 kts at Vne. That is 405 kph so at Vne it takes 8 seconds to fly from end to end of the box. You need to get your skates on if you want to keep your flying in the performance zone!

The focus of todays flights in the box were all about positioning. Learning what things we can look for when heading vertically and rolling to maintain our desired heading. I, like most of my team-mates, flew our Free Known sequences, but with the main focus on learning the geography.

Everyone else was doing the same. Some pilots we saw at Trebova, the Polish team and the Czech team, others we see now for the first time. There is some tidy flying being displayed, but I guess you would expect that at a World Championship :)

I was pleased with my flight and it went a long way to alleviating my nervousness. I hope that I can keep that focus when the competition-proper starts. My flying is pretty consistent at the moment, which is what I was hoping for.

We also joined up with Simon and Graeme who couldn't make it to Movska Trebova and so flew to Breclav via Germany. The team is now complete and we are working together as a team, which is very nice to be part of, and a great help. I know all of these chaps much better now than when we started out, even though I have been competing with them and flying with them for several years. This is a GREAT experience.

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My competitor's lanyard 8)

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Saluting the flag (Tony's shorts - a running joke in the team).

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The Czech team have also transferred today, here relaxing watching a team-mate fly.

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Team GB assembled! 8)

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Team GB taking over the restaurant tent :shock:
Dave W, kanga, deltacharlie and 1 others liked this
#1704406
Training Days - Breclav - Day 2.

The hotel where we are staying is the hotel for all of the competitors. There are regular buses, with the logo of the world championships on the side, that take officials and competitors to and from the airfield.

The planning and organisation for this event is quite impressive, this is a big event involving lots of people. There are volunteers helping everywhere, from packing and unpacking the hangars to fuelling and pushing aeroplanes around to managing practice box flights and doing the registration for all of the pilots.

The start of the competition is close now. We are thinking carefully about how best to use each remaining practice flight before it starts. Most of us have been flying our Free Known sequence to 1) get to know the box and 2) eliminate any final rough edges in our flying before everything starts for real on Monday.

We all, but Tony, flew twice in the box today, Tony flew twice yesterday. I flew my Free Known and am at the stage where there aren't many significant errors, but any errors that there are are fairly small, but mostly different on each flight. I think I said before, but I am fairly pleased with my flying at the moment and hope now to be able to maintain the overall consistency that I seem to be achieving in practice into the competition.

From a competition perspective the Free Known is a bit odd. On one hand, everybody should be doing fairly well on their Free Known. It is the sequence that we know ahead of time and get to practice over and over again. So we should be able to fly it fairly well. On the other hand you can't win a competition with the Free Known, it is the Unknown sequences that really separate the sheep from the goats. That is where the competition really lies, however you can certainly loose the competition with the Free Known. A poor performance in this programme of the competition will blow any chances to do well. So my aim, and I assume most other people's aim, has been to get my performance of my Free Known to be as consistent as I can. I think that I am there. The question is can I still do it when the stresses of the real competition begin.

If you didn't already know, you can tell from this series of posts, I am obsessed with competition aerobatics. One of the things that I find enthralling is how diverse it is as a human activity. This is a VERY difficult thing to do well. Even the greatest world champion of all time has never had a perfect flight.

Aerobatics is complex in a whole variety of dimensions. It is physically demanding, in an unusual way, I am certainly no athlete, but physical acclimatisation and training in dealing with the stresses of high G is a must. I must ease back into my flying after any significant break. If I flew how I am flying now, after a break of only a few weeks, I would probably be seeing stars and in danger of black-out.

It is also, perhaps surprisingly, a game of strategy. Planning your flight and dealing with the puzzle that is a competition sequence can make a big difference in your performance. When I started my primary concern was simply to be able to fly a particular figure - could I do a loop, a roll a stall turn? Later, could I pluck up the courage to try some flick-rolls. These days, that isn't the challenge. The challenge now is to fly those figures with precision and in precisely the part of the performance zone where I want them to be. Position is a huge part of the challenge.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are sat in my aeroplane with me (it would be a bit cozy because it is a single-seater :)). If we fly a loop by pulling back on the stick and holding it back (how most people begin learning loops) we are not going to make the loop round. So we will need to modify the pull. We will need to pull harder during the fast bits at the start and end (bottom) of the loop and significantly less-hard to "float" over the top to make it round. That the basic technique for a round loop and will make a nice one if there is no wind.

Now think about the judges on the ground. they are sat still, fixed to the earth (we hope). Meanwhile we are in a parcel of air drifting off in some direction or other. So as well as the basic technique of flying the figure, we must allow for the wind.

Assume that the wind is blowing straight down the box (it never is) and we fly our loop into wind, now we must adjust, because the wind over the top (the slow bit) will drift us downwind more and so make the loop look like a sausage.

Worse than that, there is always going to be some sort of sideways component to the wind. One of my friends describes the problem like this. "We are flying perfect figures, now imagine that the judges are sitting on the back of a flat-bed truck driving away from us at up to 20kts, our problem is to keep our figures in the same place from the judge's perspective.".

So, we must slide our loop (or whatever else) sideways into wind to keep it fixed in place. In reality if you watched our loop from the end instead of the side, it would look like a cork-screw. We do little cheats of subtly offsetting lines where the judges can't see our heading errors and we use opposite rudder and aileron to slide the aeroplane to keep it in the correct place. This gets quite complex, but is essential, if you hope to do well, at this level of flying.

Finally aerobatics is a kind of intellectual challenge. The art of designing an effective sequence is complex. It involves consideration of aeroplane performance, personal performance (allow yourself moments in the sequence, time to think), as well as positioning, side to side, fore and aft and up and down.

Remember the performance zone from yesterday? Well one of the other complexities is that ideally, to score best, we want to place small figures at the front and low, near the bottom of the box, close the judges, and tall figures further away and higher up. In the jargon, we talk a lot about "energy management" by which we mean the trade-off between height and speed, we can manage energy by flying well, but we can also manage energy by designing sequences well. It is very easy to design a sequence that is unflyable. I quite like the mental puzzle of sequence design and we will be doing a fair bit of that from Tuesday on.

In addition to the Free Known sequence I was also flying figures that I find challenging from an orientation perspective, so that I can really start to get the timing and sight-lines correct.

Tomorrow is the last chance to practice. My plan at the moment is to work solely on technique for my final practice. I will pick a handful of figures that allow me to exercise some of the trickier combinations of things.

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Competition transport (there are some mini-buses, but I didn't get a picture :oops: )

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Team tents (though we continued to annexe the restaurant tent today)

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Graeme preparing to fly.

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Flags of competing nations

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Top class aerobatic machines, oh and some Extras :lol:

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My lovely CAP 231 EX
mmcp42, Dave W, Charles Hunt liked this
#1704475
Category Creep and the Aeroplanes.

There were some comments about the use of carbon-winged monoplanes at this level of competition. It is true that there is a danger of category-creep in our sport. It is easy, if you have lots of money, to buy a world class machine and run off to compete in your nearest beginners (Club) competition. However, it doesn't mean that you will win.

The judging criteria are quite strict and very specific and the judges are pretty good at applying them. It *is* a subjective sport but FPS (see earlier post) and the discipline around judging go some way to limit the subjectivity. This means that a good pilot in a low performance aeroplane can easily beat a worse pilot in a high-performance aeroplane in the lower categories.

The aeroplanes that you are seeing in my pictures are high-performance, some of them world-class performance, aerobatic machines. However this is not representative of the machines that you will see competing in domestic Intermediate competitions.

Last year nearly every intermediate competition was won by my friend Jez Burgoin who flew beautifully in a reasonably tired (sorry Jez) Pitts S2A. I also did fairly well at Intermediate flying my Pitts, before I bought the CAP. Only a few years further back Paul Elvidge (this years runner up at the Advanced Nationals) was winning at Intermediate in a Slingsby Firefly (T67).

At the world championships the rules for entry permit entries from people who fly at a higher level, domestically, as long as they haven't competed Internationally at a higher level. This is only my guess, but my guess is that to be selected to represent your country for this event you need to be at the top end of Intermediate (obviously) and so are probably thinking of your next step up into Advanced competition, or, like me, you are at the bottom end of Advanced having just made that step.

Flying at Advanced level is now a game that is starting to eliminate some of the lower performing machines. If you are an exceptionally good pilot, you may be able to win at Advanced in a good Pitts, but it will be difficult. So at Advanced, even in domestic competitions, these days it is the territory of the carbon-winged monoplanes.

I bought my CAP for precisely this reason. I was competing, reasonably successfully in my Pitts S2A at Intermediate and began flying Advanced sequences and training for the next step. I could fly my Pitts around an Advanced sequence, but it was difficult to manage the energy for many sequences.

So the British team are flying the following aircraft:

CAP 231 EX (me)
CAP 232 (Graeme)
Extra 200 (Tony)
Gen Pro (Adrian)
Edge 360 (Simon)
Extra 330SC (Trevor)

Most of these, probably with the exception of the Extra 200 and maybe the Edge 360, are machines that, in the right hands, could win at any level in competition.

Mine is the lowest performing of the 300hp machines in this list, and Renauld Ecalle won the European Unlimited championships in the same model 10 years ago. Renaud was though probably one of the best ever at this game.

The Extra 200 and the Edge have 4 cylinder, Lycoming AEIO 360, engines. The rest have 6 cylinder engines, AEIO 540s and AEIO 580s.

At the very top levels of competition you need the extra grunt of 300+ hp.

Modern top-end machines are the flying equivalent of formula one cars (though with considerably less money going into their development). They are extremely light, extremely strong and have lots of power. The Gen Pro has a 330 hp engine, weighs around 500 (ish) Kg and is stressed to +12/-12G.

My aeroplane is from a slightly earlier generation but will climb on a 45 degree line all day and, from Vne or close, will easily climb to the top of the box at 3000' and still have speed left to fly off the top (as long as it isn't 38 degrees outside :))

So category creep is a problem in aerobatics, like all motor sports, but certainly at the entry levels you can still win with more modest hardware. There was a chap who won a local Club competition in a Cessna Aerobat a couple of years ago.

Because of the increase in performance, availability (albeit at a price) and sophistication of modern dedicated aerobatic machines, category creep also tends to happen at the level of sequences.

This is a more insidious problem in some ways. It would be the death of our sport if we made possession of an Extra 330SC a pre-requisite to win at Club level. So the rules of the game name specific aircraft, and specific capabilities, at each class. You should (must) be able to fly any Sports sequence without the need for an inverted fuel system, for example.

However, if you are an aerobatic nerd like me, and am interested in the history it is sometimes enlightening and surprising to look back on sequences from past years. It is not quite true, but nearly true, that unlimited competition sequences from the 1970s and 80s look more like Intermediate sequences now. The other amazing thing from a modern aero pilot's perspective, is how many figures were often flown in those days. I have seen sequences with 30 or more figures in them. Most sequences we fly these days have 10 or 14 figures.

When people like Neil Williams were winning British competitions in Stampes some of his sequences would have 5 or 6 figures lined up in one pass across the box!!! These days, when designing a sequence, I try to ideally have two figures one at either end, and maybe, if pushed, put a 3rd figure in the middle for each pass across the box :)

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Maxthelion, Clive liked this
#1704488
It is not quite true, but nearly true, that unlimited competition sequences from the 1970s and 80s look more like Intermediate sequences now.


This is what is driving the category creep. Pilots with money will inevitably buy better hardware in order to make their sequences less taxing to fly so they can score better for the same amount of skill. This leads to the sequence designers making the sequences harder so that a typical winning score at Sports or Intermediate is normally not more than 80%.

There seems to be three camps in this argument;
1. Those like me who want this to be addressed so that in ten years time you'll still be able to win at Intermediate in a Firefly with enough skill and application.
2. Those who want to see what happens next before making any changes.
3. Those who are perfectly comfortable with the arms race in equipment and, specifically, perfectly comfortable with the idea that at Intermediate and higher, those that can't afford a carbon monoplane should leave the sport or abandon any hope of regular wins.

Unlimited should always be the pinnacle of the sport, both in terms of pilots and machinery, but unless the category creep lower down is managed or the playing field is levelled by accounting for the relative performance differences in the machinery, participation will dwindle to a wealthy few.
youngman1 liked this
#1704825
Training Days - Breclav - Day 3 (Final Practice Day).

Today is the last practice day. Competition proper starts tomorrow!

Today is also the day of the opening ceremony and gala dinner and first official briefing. We will also begin the Free Unknown process tonight, ready for Tuesday. We will do figure selection tonight, and must submit our sequences by 10am tomorrow morning.

The weather today was very different to the previous days of practice. A front was passing through and it was significantly windier than on previous days. This made the sliding and skidding, that I was talking about an earlier post, to keep in-place in the box, even more essential to a good performance.

I, and the rest of the team, practiced for the last time before the competition begins tomorrow. I think that everyone was just a little more tense than on previous days. One of the nice things though about the preparations is that we have a bunch of in-jokes and banter that helps de-stress a bit. I started the day thinking about wether I would be able to calm my nerves before flying and ended, by the time that I was flying, feeling completely calm and in control. I hope for the same tomorrow.

We have agreed a team uniform that we will wear for the organised events. It is not very formal, but we will look like a team.

The opening ceremony was good, with traditional music, speeches from local politicians and the event was formally opened by CIVA president, our own Nick Buckenham.

We then had a briefing explaining the organisation of the competition. We also drew lots for the flying order. Each pilot picked a can of beer from the table, and the number was written on the bottom. A big cheer went up around everyone when Tony Walsh picked number 1. People generally don't like flying first. The advantage though is that you have less time to work up your nerves :)

I picked number 12. The team was fairly spread with three early on, me near the middle and two at the end of the flying order.

After a nice dinner, we started the Free Unknown planning process for the Programme 2, Free Unknown that we will fly on Tuesday.

As soon as we had picked the figures, the British team de-camped to the hotel and started drawing sequences. We also got some help from some of our advisors and coaches back home (all legal).

So here we are, all this time, money and effort gets us to here, to the next, and most important, step in our adventure.

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Flying is controlled by flags. Red to wait and warm up engine, white to line up, white in direction of runway to take-off. No radio is used, except once airborne to clear us into the box.

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Drawing lots to establish flying order for Programme 1 (Free Known)

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I drew number 12, pretty good.

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A fair bit windier today.


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Dignitaries at the opening ceremony.

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International Aerobatics org (CIVA) Chairman Nick Buckenham officially opening the competition.

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Proud Team members at the opening ceremony

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John Royce, team manager, with our slots.

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Free Unknown figures from which we must create a sequence to fly on Tuesday.
Dave W, Charles Hunt liked this
#1704840
Dave, thanks so much for taking the time to keep this diary - especially when you've possibly, maybe, perhaps got other things on your mind. :D

I am finding your posts absolutely fascinating and a real insight into a competitive system that's been a mystery to me for years.

GOOD LUCK from tomorrow - and good luck too to all your teammates. :thumleft: