Local shows and events provide an excellent PR opportunity for a club and make a great sideshow for many a school fete or charity fund-raiser. Alas, however, gone are the days when a few good guys could take up a bit of room on the playing field and make something up as they went along. We live in an increasingly litigious society and if ‘model flying meets Joe Public’ scenarios are to go well, then a little more thought has to go into things.
1. Consider the goals. Generally, at this level, the main reason for participating is either self-promotion, increasing the awareness of the club’s presence, or assisting to dispel the myths surrounding R/C model aircraft in the eyes of the public, this by demonstrating what our hobby is really like. Are you seeking new members from the community? Do you have a planning application pending and want to demonstrate your community contribution? Do you just like showing off or have you been asked if you can help to swell attendance at a school fete? Whatever the reason, you have to consider how you will get your message across to the spectators.
2. Make the show suit the site. Don’t just agree outright to support an event if you’ve never seen the flying site or discussed with the organisers where and how other contributors will be displaying. If possible go and fly the site before giving your commitment and consider the possibility of simply exhibiting static models if you feel it isn’t possible to safely fly there.
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3. Get clearance. Have the show sanctioned by the British Model Flying Association. Manny Williamson, the Development Officer at BMFA HQ runs a BMFA affiliated club display site assessment service. Informing the BMFA of your intent to display your models in front of the public will ensure the insurance providers are aware and have agreed to your proposals for the show. A display site assessment form is available from the BMFA and you’ll be expected to answer questions relating to the site, the model types to be flown, the number of pilots involved and whether you’re aware of other local radio users. The form also raises the issue of pilot competency.
4. To ‘B’ or not to ‘B’. The BMFA site assessment form states:
“All R/C public display pilots are required to hold a ‘B’ Certificate or equivalent. However, this may be waived in very exceptional circumstances by the British Model Flying Association should it be considered appropriate. If you cannot meet the certification requirements, please contact the BMFA for advice. If a concession is agreed, please state the arrangements made.”
This aside, the responsibility for who flies, what certification they carry, the models used and how they are flown is the responsibility of the Flying Display Director.
5. Know who is accountable. The Flying Display Director (FDD) is the person responsible for the safe conduct of the flying display. He must be suitably experienced, an active model flier and a ‘B’ Certificate holder. The FDD is responsible for general flying discipline, control of the flying programme and cancellation or modification of the programme to suit eventualities or weather conditions. He / she should take an active role in the planning of the display, the selection of models, timing, plus all briefings and communications with the event organisers. If required, the FDD may have assistance from a Flight Line Director, a Flight Line Marshal and an Emergency Services Liaison Officer. All of these individuals are named in CAP 658 Model Aircraft: A Guide to Safe Flying. It is, of course, expected that you will demonstrate best practice at your show commensurate with its content.
6. Plan your show. Keep it flowing and varied. Consider the flying style of your pilots and the model types sharing the sky. If you have any gimmicks, novelty models or toffee bombers then work them in at a suitable time. Jets are always a head turner but don’t like crowded skies, vintage aircraft pottering around in left-hand circuits generally fail to hold the crowd’s attention, 3D is impressive to uneducated eyes and helicopters provide something a little bit different when spaced at the right intervals. Above all, try to keep something in reserve, i.e. a model and a pilot who can be ready in seconds with an engine that starts first time. Use a pilot who doesn’t need to psyche himself up for most of the morning before his slot. He will be the man to turn to when a planned slot won’t start, encounters a radio problem or crashes on take-off.
7. Hold a good pilot briefing. Plan this beforehand with notes to help you otherwise you’ll doubtless forget to cover something. Enforce the rule that a pilot will not be allowed to fly if not at the briefing or until briefed. At the meeting you should run through the flying slot times (whether you are displaying all day or just for a few minutes) transmitter control (if you have enforced it), any ‘no fly’ zones, and your criteria for ‘go’ and ‘no go’ situations. Outline your emergency plan. Nominate the circuit for the day and be sure every pilot knows his responsibilities throughout the event.
8. Have an emergency plan. We all know that no matter how hard we try, things can still go wrong. You may have to draw up your emergency plan with the event organisers and need to know who or what facilities are available to you. Will paramedics be on site or is first-aid cover provided by the St John Ambulance? Is anyone on the flightline medically trained? Don’t just assume that your emergency plan is for the public’s benefit either. Many a pilot has stuck his finger in a prop when display pressures are added to the mix.
9. Entertain, educate and inform. Have a knowledgeable person talk to the public, i.e. a practiced commentator of some kind. Prepare handouts with contact information for the club and perhaps set up a computer flight simulator for people to try their own hand. Always aim to get some kind of presence in the event’s printed material, maybe even an advertisement with relevant contact numbers and a web address for people to refer to after they’ve seen the display.
10. Debrief with pilots, club members and organisers, making notes on what went well, what didn’t, and where improvements might be made. Discuss these later at a club meeting when the pilots who flew are present. Listen to their feedback and if you plan to make this sort of thing a regular occurrence then note any changes early so the salient points aren’t forgotten before next year’s event.
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