- Category: News
- Published on Tuesday, 18 November 2014 18:08
- Written by Mike Slack
- Hits: 2675
The NZAC National Aerobatics Championships are held each year in February / March. It is an opportunity for like minded pilots of varying levels of ability to come together to compete, not only against each other but primarily against themselves!
Competition aerobatics could be described as three dimensional dressage albeit with horses replaced by horse-power! Pilots compete in various categories from elementary (known as Primary) up to wild (or Unlimited)!! The object is to fly a sequence of manouevres as perfectly as possible in a small predefined area of sky known as an aerobatic box, whilst being judged from the ground. The box is 1000m x 1000m square with the top being 1000m above ground level. Each manouevre is scored out of 10 points, with points deducted for errors observed by the judges. This score is then multiplied by a difficulty factor to give the final score for the manouevre. Once each manouevre has been flown (and judged), the whole sequence is also marked for presentation (i.e. was the sequence well centred in the box or did the pilot cramp up in one corner). There are also penalties applied if the pilot wanders outside of the box or has to take a break to gather his/her composure or climb for more altitude. The higher the category the more marks can be lost for mistakes.
Competition manouevres are all based around lines, curves, rolls and spins. Four equal curves make a loop. Two equal curves plus a half roll makes an Immelmann. A 45 degree upline with a double snap, half opposing roll pushing to the vertical, followed by a canopy down tailslide, 4 point roll on the down line, pushing to inverted with an outside snaproll to finish makes a pretty good head ache! The more elements in a manouerve the higher the difficulty or K Factor as it is known. Believe it or not, every possible manouevre that a pilot can fly in competition is listed in a book called the Aresti Catalogue. Aresti is the name given to the aerobatic pilot's short hand that enables a sequence to be drawn on a card and marked on a judging sheet. The Aresti Catalogue also contains the K score for every manouevre. Man that must have an interesting project - NOT!! Sequences are designed around higher and higher total K as you progress up the Categories.
Pilots start in the Primary Category then progress upwards through Recreational, to Sports, to Intermediate, to Advanced, with Unlimited being the premiere class, many never even reaching these lofty heights! Obviously as the difficulty increases so does the required capability of the aircraft being flown. Your normal aeroclub aircraft may be good enough for Primary through to Sports, but once a pilot progresses higher they also need an aircraft capable of prolonged inverted (up-side-down) flight, faster and faster roll rate, and higher and higher power.
During the competitions, pilots are required to fly a number of different flights or sequences. A Known Sequence is published for each category at the start of each season. All pilots must fly the Known Sequence as published. Pilots are able to practice the Known as much as they like before the competition. For Recreational Category and above the pilots also fly a Free Sequence. The Free Sequence is designed by each individual pilot and must contain a certain number and type of manouevres, and must be of a minimum and maximum total K (difficulty). The pilots can also practice their Free Sequences as much as they like before the competition. For Sports Category and higher there is also the Unknown Sequence. Each pilot is required to submit a couple of manouevres from their category to the Contest Director. The Contest Director then designs an Unknown Sequence that is given to each pilot 24 hours before they are required to fly it. Pilots are not allowed to fly the Unknown Sequence before the fly it in front of the judges. This Unknown part of the competition usually sorts the men from the boys, and can be pretty amusing to watch as mistakes are almost guaranteed! Once all the competition flights have been flown, the points are added up and the pilot with the most points in each category is crowned Champion. We also calculate the percentages of the total points available that each pilot scores and the pilot with the highest percentage score is crowned Champion-of-Champions, a high achievement indeed. But the competitions aren't over yet! The last flights flown by the higher categories (usually Advanced and Unlimited, although others can be "invited" to participate) is the 4 Minute Freestyle.
The 4 Minute Freestyle is, as the name suggests, a Freestyle flight that lasts for exactly 4 minutes! For these flights the Aresti Catalogue is thrown out and it is up to each pilot to fly what is basically an abbreviated airshow routine. The pilots are allowed to use smoke and are charged with wowing the crowd, showing off their aircrafts and their own capabilities to the maximum. Some of the more modern monoplanes not only have some astounding roll rates, but they can also tumble through the air performing what are known as "gyroscopic" manouevres that, quite honestly defy belief! The 4 Minute Freestyle is judged by the pilot's peers... that's right, a panel of pilots is drawn from the other competitiors and mark each flight against the next until a favorite is found.
Up until 2015 the event was held in the Hawkes Bay, hosted by the Central Hawkes Bay Aeroclub at Waipukurau, and what great hosts they were. Unfortunately the price of progress for the Aerobatic Club was that where our box had been (for nearly 3 decades) was getting crowded by housing developements and the ever encroaching town. Other options were explored around the Waipukurau aerodrome but a viable location for the aerobatic box that would be clear of housing below could not be found and so the painful decision was made to look elsewhere. This task is not as easy as it sounds. The ideal location would be fairly central (pilots attend from all ends of the country), have an aerodrome with fuel onsite, accommodation nearby, good weather patterns, adjacent vacant land with friendly landowners, and a welcoming local contingent with the required office space, pilots' lounge, and available hangar space for some pretty highly loved and specialised aircraft.
The NZ Aerobatic Club has been lucky to have found Hood Aerodrome in Masterton that pretty much ticks all the boxes. We look forward to a long and prosperous association with the Wairarapa and Ruahine Aeroclub and introducing the locals to competition aerobatics
See you at the next Nationals, if not before!