A little over a year ago I joined the Flying Aces Club for twenty-five bucks. What is the Flying Aces Club? The Flying Aces website sums it up best:
The FLYING ACES CLUB is a society of individuals with a common interest that at times borders on a passion. It is our intent to preserve and promote the traditional building and flying of free flight stick and tissue model aircraft. Although competitive at times, the sharing of innovations, assistance and camaraderie is second nature to all that believe in the unique spirit of the FLYING ACES CLUB.
As someone new to the hobby, joining the Flying Aces was exciting, and intimidating. Exciting because I was part of something I found interesting – intimidated because I wasn’t very good at making my models take flight. The newsletters are well put together and include model plans. The lingo, on the other hand, confused me quite at bit – and sometimes still does. I didn’t know anything about airplanes let alone the terminology that specifically applies to rubber powered free flight model aircraft.
I am providing the following information to other folks interested in joining in on the fun. I’ll update the information requiring correction and I’ll add new information to the post as it comes to mind. This isn’t “official” information, so it may not be completely correct, but is true to the best of my knowledge. This is what I’ve learned through my personal experience and I’m providing the information as a basic introduction.
Before You Attend A FAC Contest
You’ve successfully built a few flying models, checked the FAC calendar and found a contest you are able to attend. Now what?
1. AMA Membership
If you’re considering competing in any contest event you must have a valid AMA membership. Membership is $75/year and includes a monthly magazine. It’s my opinion the magazine is worthless if your only interest is rubber powered models. However, your AMA membership provides insurance if your model damages a person or property. It’s a good idea to have an AMA membership whenever and wherever you’re flying because of the insurance.
If you’re bringing a scale model with you, regardless if it’s from scratch or a kit, you’re going to need to bring a copy of the plan, a 3-view of the aircraft design and photographs of the actual aircraft your model represents. Models that aren’t scale representations of actual aircraft may require a compliance check to make sure it qualifies for the category it will be competing in. Bring the plan!
As a “new guy” in hobby I had trouble determining what categories my planes qualified for. My first contest was the 2018 NATS in Geneseo, NY. This is probably the biggest contest every year for the club. To say I was overwhelmed when I pulled up to the contest, alone, with no clue of what to expect is an understatement. I found there was nothing to fear. Everyone is friendly, helpful and excited to see someone new. If you need assistance, just ask and don’t be afraid to offer assistance to anyone if you’re inclined.
3. Models, Tools & Supplies
I wasn’t sure what to bring with me to my first contest. So I brought everything I had, and I mean everything. My models were stored in boxes to prevent damage. I brought all my tools, glues, various sizes of balsa, tissue, rubber, wire – you get the point. I was happy I did! Every pilot seems to do the same. It’s no fun when a model breaks and you’re unable to improvise a repair on the spot. The good news is vendors including Easy Built Models and Volare sell everything free flight related at the larger contests: NATS, NON-NATS, Outdoor Champs, etc.
A pen and paper is handy to have to jot down information and to log flight times. Speaking of flight times, you’re going to need a stopwatch. Generally speaking, wearing a stopwatch around your neck signals other pilots that you’re available to time another pilot’s flight. Also, the stopwatch tends to be the fashion accessory of choice among pilots. You don’t need anything fancy, I paid five bucks for mine. You may get away with using the stopwatch on your phone at smaller contests such as those at Pinkham field, but not so much at larger contests.
Don’t forget the camera!
Leave the radio at home. I realized on my second day at the NATS that nobody was listening to music, or anything else that made noise. For how many pilots that attend the contests the events are surprisingly quiet. The quiet is wonderful! During contests every pilot is in their own headspace evaluating everything from the wind, weather, trim of their model, choosing which rubber and propeller to use, considering which models they’ll fly and when, did they take their meds, and a myriad of other things.
It’s quite relaxing to take a moment to listen to nothing but the quiet whirring of propellers in the sky and the occasional CRACK of a rubber band breaking while being wound.
4. Shelter & Comforts
At every multi-day contest each pilot brings a tent canopy, chairs and a some sort of table to serve as a workbench. Bring food, drinks, clothes for changes in weather (sometimes it gets windy) and anything else you’ll need for a day outdoors. You don’t want to have to jump in the vehicle on a supply run and miss all the action!
At The FAC Contest
Contest day has arrived, you pack up your vehicle and hit the road (if your drive is less than two hours you’re one of the few lucky ones). Here’s a few things I’ve learned from my scant experience so far.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the pros show up before sunrise. If the contest states its start time as 10 AM that means official timing starts at 10 AM. A smart pilot shows up early, sets up their home base and starts to test fly the models they intend to fly.
Vehicles will be lined up along the field, parked side by side. It’s not hard to find a spot, simply find a place to park. When you park it’s nice to greet your neighbors and introduce yourself. If you’re there super early and you see pilots setting up flags, tables, etc offer a helping hand.
Once you’ve parked your car and made new friends you’ll need to seek out HQ (headquarters). HQ isn’t hard to miss, there’s usually flags (including one with a Flying Aces Club logo) and folding tables. Introduce yourself, explain that you’re new to the club and ask how to register.
Don’t be offended if you’re told to return later, the CD (Contest Director) has many responsibilities, especially on the morning of the first day. My experience has shown that the CD will introduce a new pilot to a helpful veteran. While you mingle it’s a good idea to ask about official contest protocol:
- Is self timing allowed? Generally speaking, you need to ask another pilot to time your flights. Smaller contests often permit pilots to time their own flights. This is a good time to remember the spirit of the FAC is camaraderie and socializing with other pilots that love the sport. Fun is the purpose of the contest, not setting the world on fire with record breaking times. There is no reason to embellish your times, doing so only hurts yourself.
- What is the schedule for the day? The flier for the contest will usually describe what events are on schedule for the day. Group events and mass launches are at specific times (which often change). Non-group event categories such as Embryo, FAC Peanut, etc can be timed anytime throughout the contest day. Remember to get your times turned into HQ before the deadline for the day.
At the big contests you’ll obtain a time sheet to log your flight times. I have a little plastic folder to hold the time sheet, my model documentation and a pen to log my flight times. I receive many envious glances and compliments on how organized I am with my nerdy plastic folder.
If you don’t understand something, it’s best to be honest and ask for clarification. My head was spinning at my first contest (still does). I was asked questions littered with foreign terminology. If I didn’t understand I’d say, “I don’t know what that is.” To my surprise I found many pilots with cloudy (no pun intended) understandings of some of the terminology. More often than not when I’ve expressed confusion the pilot was more than excited to take the time to share their knowledge.
Fly and Have Fun
Sounds easy. It is once you get the hang of it. You can fly whatever model you want, whenever you want (registration and AMA membership is still required). There are exceptions to this rule depending on the contest. Generally it’s not wise to fly unqualified models on the field during Group or Mass Launch events. This is because extraneous models complicate tracking and timing flights during group events.
Competing is NOT required
I’ll admit I’m still confused about what categories models qualify for. The large contests I’ve attended had no categories for motor stick models (models with a only a stick as a fuselage, such as the Peck ROG and Sky Bunny). Even though competing with motor stick models is not possible, you CAN still fly them.
Leave the drones, R/C models or anything with a motor at home. You may get away with flying these on the field, but the noise doesn’t garner much approval.
If you’re interested in the hobby, just go to a contest and mingle. Competing is not required. FAC pilots are a great group of dedicated people. Just about everyone is ready to share their tips and experience. My sister visited me at the NATS. She had an amazing time just sitting in a folding chair and taking in the sights and sounds (or lack thereof). There is so much to learn by simply watching pilots prep their planes for a flight that cannot be learned through watching videos or reading.
My personal goal for 2018 was to get an official time on the record books (flights need to be twenty seconds to qualify). Not only did I achieve this goal but I earned Third Place at the Outdoor Champs and Second Place at the Barron Field Races! I can honestly say that it’s not about winning or placing. The moment I attended my first contest I felt like home. Flying Aces Club contests are a retreat from the distractions life throws at me.
Hobbies like this are fading away, and this baffles me! There aren’t many places where people sharing a similar passion can meet in a friendly environment. Watching these models fly is a retreat that brings out everyone’s inner child. There are several multi-generation families that make an outing of the event. It’s a great time!
If you have any questions I haven’t covered here I’d be happy to answer them to the best of my ability. I look forward to hearing from you.