Terry Westrop reports from the windy but hugely watchable 2006 RCM&E British Freestyle Champs
You know, high standards are all very well, but they can be the very devil to maintain! Take the recent dilemma faced by Wellingborough Model Flying Club, for example. On Sunday 3rd September, a year after hosting the superb 2005 RCM&E British Freestyle Championships, the club's members were staring at a bright but windswept sky and wondering how they could possibly top their previous performance.
Only the day before it had been blowing so hard that it was impossible to set up the control tents, and as pilots made their way to the Sunday morning briefing it was difficult to imagine the competition going ahead.
On any other weekend, of course, the members wouldn't even have considered taking their models out of their cars. On this Sunday, however, freestyle pilots were converging on the Wellingborough club from all over the UK mainland and as far afield as Jersey and Ireland to make up the record entry for the 2006 Freestyle Championships.
So there the members were – hoist by their own petard and the high expectations they'd created in their visitors. Happily, there's no shortage of enthusiasm at Wellingborough MFC, so despite the unrelentingly horizontal state of the windsock, the flying programme went ahead with only a delightfully understated reminder to pilots to 'take a little more care than usual'.
REPEATING THE PATTERN
This year's competition followed the same pattern as 2005: the first flight in both the Advanced and Unlimited classes was the fixed programme; successive flights were totally Freestyle with music optional. Even though every flight had to be completed within four minutes, I found myself wondering if the pilots would get the three flights that they've become used to over the previous six years. Again, I needn't have worried - WMFC had everything under control. Everyone had their three flights, during which we saw quite a variety of models going through their paces. Most of the aircraft were RTF types, ranging from the smallest of electric designs to the impressive 40% scale jobs.
Interestingly, this diversity meant that the Corbin-designed Capiche wasn't as strongly represented on the flightline as it has been in previous years, though it probably remains one of the most effective and economic ways to get into 3D.
Engine wise, it was evident that the new YS110 four-stroke is gaining quite a following among pilots, while the use of smoke is becoming an increasingly popular way to add to the spectacle of a 3D aerobatic sequence.
3D: 'SO VERY WATCHABLE'
And 'spectacular' is the only word for it. Many of you may remember the time when F3A was the cutting edge of aerobatic model flying, but golly, haven't things changed? 3D flying has really raised the bar, offering, as it does, a challenge for the pilot while providing the crowd with a display that's so very watchable. The flying performances were made more enjoyable still by the informative commentary provided by Luke Sheehan in conjunction with Black Box's Robert Habicher, the power behind the PA as it were. Oh, and while we're talking about sound, let's not forget Adam Bounds, who co-ordinated the musical accompaniment to the free flying programmes.
Honestly, you couldn't fault WMFC's choreography: the club had even laid on a band - Ruth Alen and the Junior Concert Band from Wellingborough Music & Performing Arts Centre - to entertain the spectators during the morning and lunch breaks. The unscheduled ingredient in this year's excitement, of course, was the weather, and the combination of high wind speeds and models with ultra-light wing loadings inevitably resulted in some structural failures. What was surprising, however, was that there were only two such incidents - a broken wing spar and a bulkhead that parted company with the fuselage.
The people with whom you really had to sympathise, though, were the judges Peter Brett, Bob Ailles, and Andy Nicholls, ably supported by Pauline Davis, who manned the laptop all day to produce error-free scoring. The wind only made the job of marking such top-flight flying even harder.
In the Unlimited Class, Steve Mallinder - who came to the Championship fresh from IMAC's scale aerobatic competitions - showed everyone that he could fly 3D as well the more conventional schedules to which he's accustomed. Mike Williams, meanwhile, demonstrated an enthusiasm and dedication that'll surely make him a winner one day. This year, though, the name on the superb RCM&E BFAC trophy is Luke Shaw's, following displays that can only be described as inspirational. Luke also won the award for best flight to music.
In the Advanced Class, the top three pilots were all relative new comers, making for some pretty close competition. In fact, at the end of it all the top five pilots were separated by just 50 points but ultimately it was Lee Waples who took the trophy. A Wellingborough club member, Lee was inspired by his participation in year's event, went away and practised, and came back this year to win the thing - albeit by a margin of just 5 points over runner-up Chris Morris.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
Despite the best efforts of the weather, then, this year's event built on the success of previous Championships, which have helped to establish 3D as the cutting edge of model flying aerobatics. In fact, it's been suggested that next year's competition could be held over two days in order to create an even larger arena to tempt pilots from around the world. 3D certainly has the following to justify such an event, so all we need is the weather!