Saturday, April 05, 2008

Lausanne’s Damp Squib

Uncle Sydney’s CIAM gossip - April 2008

After all the arguments about chopping 50 metres off the F3J towline length, FAI’s 2008 CIAM meeting in Lausanne rejected any change. Talk about a damp squib - more like a lead balloon - the RC -Soaring Committee spent barely two minutes on the radical proposal. No talk about the pros and cons, no discussion about “what-ifs”, the technical committee found no reasons to apply any new towline ideas to the international rules because the change had not been tried out at any proper “big” competitions and therefore was not proven. One in favour, 12 against and one abstention, that was that!

Belgium’s proposal to penalise any pilot who lands his model leaving the tail stuck in the air was given equal short shrift, three in favour, nine against and two abstentions. It was withdrawn, and as some joker pointed out, “we don’t want pilots turning up with tailless models do we!”

Best CIAM news for me is that France will host the next F3J world championships in 2010, and the likely venue is Arbois where the French have held their recent Eurotour events, a lovely location with super food and abundant fine wines! That will be a treat and super incentive for pilots to fight hard for their national team places.

F3B is to get a new name - “radio controlled multi-task gliders.” The launch line for F3B and F3J can only be moved between rounds should the wind direction change. F3K handlaunch gliders get official FAI status at last, both for seniors and juniors competing separately, with the first Eurochamps to be held in 2010, and the first world championships will follow in 2011 either in Sweden or Croatia.

Back to F3J: all of the sensible proposals for splitting the last two metres of the landing circle into 20 cm divisions worth one point each; a refly for crossed lines blocking launches and 100 point penalty for not removing lines after launch - (more headaches for timekeepers and CDs); reducing the frequency spacing between transmitters to 10 kHz below 50 MHz and 20 kHz above 50 MHz; and the new matrix rules; all were passed and are applicable from January next year.

Some gossipers might blame Uncle’s column for helping to create the furore on 100 metre lines, and to those who feel annoyed, my apologies. Discerning readers might also recall the words: “Nobody I know is sure whether the committee really wants to see the change or whether they are offering the proposal to get Jojo off their backs.”

The facts are that the proposal for shorter lines was put on the agenda by the RC-Soaring subcommittee itself, not by a national committee. An e-mail was circulated last summer asking committee members if they wanted it on, and they did, and then they chose six months later to reject it. The danger with this sequence is that it will discourage serious advance debate on agenda items proposed by the subcommittee in the future.

I am reliably informed that no CIAM meeting for many a long year has sparked such advance speculation, and if interest in the machinations of FAI in Switzerland results, then that cannot be bad. Whatever, shorter lines are certainly dead for a long time ahead! Sooner or later, the question of F3J winch launching will be back.

Short line feedback

Much of the short line feedback coming my way has been interesting. David Hobby, Arend Borst and several other high-flyers reckoned that everybody has to follow the same rules, so what does it matter. Not surprisingly, they are confident and content to leave the rules to CIAM. Several pilots became excited about the model design changes which would be sparked by the need and ability to launch faster. One was convinced that the change had been promoted by manufacturers wanting to promote the next generation of models. Of course nobody would seriously follow that line. Many pilots were far more were concerned about collision dangers and discouraging newcomers to F3J.

Peter Zweers was keen to test pilots’ skills and suggested that the number of helpers should be limited to two. If a pilot chooses to use two towmen, then he forfeits his spotter and needs to launch himself. The official timing system would need to give more information to the pilots, for example there could be a five minute signal, and beeps or 10 second announcements over the last minute of the slot.

Another novel idea I liked came from Arend Borst, not that he thinks that it would get much support. Make a 0.5 metre circle on the landing spot and the pilot stands there. To gain a 100 point landing the pilot must catch the glider by the nose - only the nose! If he loses his balance or stretches too far and steps outside the circle, then he loses 10 points for one foot out, and all his points if two feet step outside. If the glider hits the pilot other than the nose catch, then he scores zero. If he opts not to stand in the circle, then the maximum points he can earn is say 98 and down for every metre away from the circle. Should the pilot need to come in at speed, “coming in hot” as Arend puts it, and feels it is not safe to catch the nose, then he walks away and spears the glider in the circle for 98.
Who says F3J could not be a spectator sport!

Guy Mertens from Belgium wrote a chatty letter covering many aspects of the sport from his earlier days flying and organising thermal contests to today. Ideal F3J rules should promote the competition as suitable for everybody, rich and poor, young and old, the home builder and buyer of ready-to-fly. He wants to see the end of “speared” or “dorked” landings - a glider should glide into a landing. He would do away with reflights with only two exceptions, when someone flies on the wrong frequency or the contest organiser is at fault.

As an Oldie, I am sympathetic to the wish to attract all pilots who enjoy thermal soaring. In the UK, up to 40 or so regular F3J pilots who travel to most league events wherever they are held, but that is usually within 200 miles of London. But in Kent, to take one county for example, Barcs thermal contests attract 50 or more competitors regularly, many of whom have the ability to win team places.

Larry Jolly and Arend Borst repeated a serious complaint which should have been addressed by a new rule this year. Launch positions for pilots in the flyoffs should be moved along three places after each flight. Far too often air conditions make it easier to latch onto kind air on one side rather than the other, and the 150 metre plus distance from one end of the flight line to the other can easily mean missing the bump. This same problem applies in the preliminaries where some matrices tend to place some pilots at the far end too often and vice versa.

Grateful thanks to all who got in touch.

Turkey’s Big Event

Turkey’s budding junior pilot Esra Koc and super host Semin Kiziltoprak who can’t wait for the Big Event this summer.

As I write there are 86 days to go before the 2008 F3J World Championships. News of who will be going, and more sadly who will miss out this year, will wait for nearer the time, plus the predictions of course. If you have WC team news and gossip, please let me know.

Before then, next week, I shall be flying to Turkey and Adapazari for the first of this year’s Eurotour contests, hoping this time that this beautiful and perfect flying field will not suffer the stormy rains which beset last October’s champions’ championship causing the event to be abandoned after three rounds. 2008 will be a world championship to remember - don’t miss it!

Long live the King!

Sandy Pimenoff, stepping down after 40 years, in typical positive mode

Lausanne saw the retirement of CIAM President Sandy Pimenoff, or as I prefer to think of him, FAI’s King of Aeromodelling. He has dominated that job for the last 40 years, and CIAM is unlikely to be the same again, although he will still make his presence felt as president of honour.

I cannot claim to know Sandy as a close personal friend, although I have known of him and his contributions to our sport for nearly 40 years. I met first at Upton for the first F3J WCs, and again in Corfu. In Lappeenranta 2002, his home country, we and the team managers chatted and skinny-dipped after a proper woodburning sauna which left everyone smelling like kippers for three days after.

My first encounter was through the writing of Ron Moulton in RCM&E in 1971 when a party of Europeans flew over to Doylestown in the US to fly in an AMA organised international F3B championship consisting of pylon racing and thermal soaring.

Sandy took with him a Graupner kit of the then new, and later to become the legendary, Cumulus, a 2.8 metre two channel soarer, with balsa covered white foam wings and a plastic fuselage, one of the first ARTF. Snag was that the model was not yet ready to fly, and although everyone was drooling over the various parts on the plane flying across the Atlantic, he still had to iron film on the wings and fit the radio, which he did in the motel.

First he had to persuade AMA to drop their home-baked rules which did not conform to FAI, then he entered the glider contest, one of 12 competitors. And he won. After the first round in which he had enjoyed a remarkable flight longer than any of the others, a big rainstorm swept across the field and that was the end of that. A legend was created.

(For those with long memories, Brits Geoff Dallimer and Dave Dyer were in the contest, Fred Militky from Graupner demonstrated and flew for 30 minutes with a twin electric motor pusher glider, and Dieter Schluter working with Kavan rocked the US hosts with a RC model Cobra helicopter.)

Sandy was born in 1937 and has flown models since 1952. Four times he was Finnish national champion in free flight power. His first encounter with FAI was as an observer in 1961, climbing rapidly to CIAM vice-president in 1965 and president in 1967. He has been jury member for more than 30 FAI championships, and has been awarded FAI diplomas and medals in 1977, 1986, 1991 and the Gold Air Medal 1996.

Anyone who has served on a model flying club committee will know what a thankless frustrating and impossible job it is. What can it be like to meet a couple of times a year with 30 to 60 delegates from all over the world, with vested interests and often absolute ignorance of most the many specialist forms of model flying, with all the different languages and an agenda so long that doesn’t allow any item more than a couple of minutes? What does it take to keep tight control and the admiration of almost all for so long?

Well Sandy has done it. I do not know how. I have heard him speak in many languages. I have seen him being tough in a rowdy meeting of arguing team managers. I have listened in 2002 when he feared passionately that the US and UK would initiate military action in Iraq. He is a remarkable man and our sport owes him respect.

So, the king is dead. Long live the king - the new man is Bob Skinner from South Africa. Long live the king -- but not for 40 years again please.

CIAM get-together in 1964 with then future President second row central, with 44 years yet to go and already smiling! Spot UK legend “308” Henry J Nicholls, front third from the left. Prizes for naming the others.

Sydney Lenssen, 4 April 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Uncle Sydney previews CIAM meeting in Lausanne

Do you want to launch with 100 metre lines?
This month’s biggest F3J question is when and if we are going to get
our launch lines shortened to 100 metres. That’s the explosive issue
that 2008 CIAM plenary meeting will decide on 29 March in Lausanne.

Another decision due that day is whether the first two metres of the
landing tape will be divided into 20 cm lengths so that the landing
score can be anything from 100, 99,98 etc. down to 91 before the old
tape scores of 5 points lost for every metre resumes. That proposal is
not likely to be controversial, and the first metre of it has been used
in Holland and Germany for a couple of years under local rules. The
object of the changes is that FAI wants to see are bigger differences
between top scores, particularly in the flyoffs.

The Belgians - and others - also want to see penalties for spear
landings, and their way is to give zero landing points if the tail of
the model is not touching the ground. While sympathetic to the aim, I
don’t see this solution getting a positive vote, simply because pilots
could lose their score even if they land gently and hit an odd lump of
mud or tuft of grass.

What lies behind shorter line thinking?
F3J models and pilots have become too good in recent years. Top pilots
reckon to score 9 minutes 54 seconds plus and hit the 100 spot in all
but horrible weather. Quite a number rarely fail to achieve 14 minutes
54 seconds plus in the flyoffs, although doing it four times running in
calm or tricky air is not so easy.

So the F3-RC soaring subcommittee has proposed an amendment to Rule Towlines, where b) is set to read “The length of the towline
shall not exceed 100 metres when tested under a tension of 20 N.”

Chaired by Tomas Bartovsky, the committee reckons that flight times
will be become shorter and fewer pilots will fly out the working time.
That in turn will put greater emphasis on the skill of pilots finding
thermal lift. Instead of the all-too-common “launch and landing”
competition, the event will turn into more of a thermal hunting - or
“aerodynamic quality” - competition.

The likely result of shortening towlines for F3J is more complex than

Tomas Bartovsky, chair of CIAM’s RC Soaring Committee, at Martin’s WC’s.

The committee also notes that shorter lines would allow a smaller field
to be used, and that cannot be disputed. But I am not sure that F3J
competitions are seriously restricted because the organisers cannot
find a big enough field to cope with 150 metre lines.

There is a problem. At the start of every FAI world or european
championship, the early discussion among pilots is how close the scores
will be. Top pilots do spend plenty of effort into deciding whether to
make a two or three second launch to gain an extra point or two. It is
not unusual for all the flyoff places to be within 20 points of the
maximum possible after ten rounds - allowing for one dropped round. But
in all fairness, that is the very nature of F3J.

F3J as a class started as the simplest way to run a thermal soaring
event. In F3B, still the most difficult and demanding contest for RC
sailplanes of this model size, more and more pilots became fed up with
the increasing physical and mental effort - and money - to compete at
top level. F3B still thrives in many countries, it remains the pinnacle
of our sport in my view, but the numbers of pilots enjoying the class
are diminishing even amongst the leading nations.

The answer was F3J, a derivative of the British Association of Radio
Control Soarers Open thermal contests, and official FAI championships
started in 1997. Keep it simple, try to fly out your slots and land
reasonably accurately to gain maximum points, flying “man-on-man” to
reduce the advantages gained between slots when thermal conditions
changed. Pilots often delayed their launches, waiting for someone else
to find a thermal. When does that happen today? In fact by the first
world championships at Upton in 1998, everyone launched on the buzzer,
or even before!

Inevitably when rivalry is involved, the sport moved on quickly. Pilots
wanted to launch quickly and as high as possible. Tow using two men,
speed up the line and zoom to gain extra height, new aerofoils to allow
pilots to cross the skies at speed with minimum height loss, greater
manoeuvrability for precision landings, more reliable towlines and
pulleys. Many of today’s pilots have seen the whole period of
development for it is less than 20 years in total.

Development still continues, albeit at a slower pace. Even five years
ago when the Sharon and Pike Plus and a few others reigned supreme, few
pilots guessed that another generation of aerofoils and better use of
high tech materials would be significantly better and more likely to

What will shorter lines lead to?

First I heard of shortening competition lines was in 2002, the world
championships in Lappeenranta, Finland. The problem of tight scoring
was already apparent, but also a few pilots saw shorter lines as a way
to launch more quickly. Jo Grini was the pioneer promoter, and used 75
metre lines in one or more rounds. He persuaded CIAM to agree to
examine the merits of shorter lines, but they slept on it and nothing
happened at Red Deer in Canada, nor at Martin in 2006 except that the
matter as briefly talked over at the managers’ meeting.

Then out of the blue in June last year, CIAM’s F3-RC Soaring committee
was circulated on the line change now up for decision. Nobody I know is
sure whether the committee really wants to see the change or whether
they are offering the proposal to get Jojo off their backs.

If they pass the proposal next month, will the shorter lines be used in
Turkey this coming July? Unlikely according to Tomas; if the proposal
passes, then normally it would be published in the Sporting Code next
January and then apply. Since it is not an urgent change, likely start
is 2009. But there’s nothing to prevent the jury and the Turkish
organisers choosing the shorter line as a local rule earlier.

UK’s tentative reaction is not to support the change at this stage.
They would like to see “extensive trials”, they warn of dangerously
increased pre-launch line tensions and greater chances of models
veering off course on launch. They note that some UK flyers would
support the move but a majority would not, and suggest a more modest
reduction to say 135 metre lines.

There have been trials.

In Norway they have flown several F3J cup events last year with 100
metres to the stake, and according to Jo Grini 19 of the 20 pilots
loved it. Those flying F3B models managed to launch slightly higher
than the F3J models, but the differences between launch heights were
smaller overall, which might be seen as fairer for all.

One serious snag with lower launch heights, and this was also noted in
the Martin discussion, is that a long safety corridor with 15 or more
pilots can put some pilots at a disadvantage when the air is kinder on
one side of the field, and that happens more often than not.

The Dutch have gained valuable experience with shorter lines, and I
respect the lessons they drew as one of Europe’s leading F3J countries.
In 2006 they held a contest with 75 metre lines, not so much as a trial
of possible CIAM changes, but the club organising it was having its
75th birthday!

There was a mix of models, and some of the pilots felt they could not
apply full tension without risking the model breaking. Because it was a
fun event, many were using old lines and suffered line breaks. Line
breaks happened with new lines too. The starts were explosive in all
senses, the zoom after launch was very high, a feature which might have
been exaggerated with the model is much closer to the pilot. Pilots
typically reckoned that launches were 40-50 metres lower than normal,
and the apt description was “catapult start.”

In 2007, the Dutch had a contest using F3B winches with the return
pulley set at 150 metres. The day happened to be pretty calm and most
pilots gained slightly higher launch heights. That trial is irrelevant
I think to the current proposal.

(The Brits have allowed winch launching for three years now, and I
suspect that many if not most countries apart from Germany and Czechia
do the same for national events. In varied conditions, UK experience
found little difference in height between winch and towmen, but after
one season everyone was winch launching because at the end of the day,
we were less knackered! It also showed that some winches were much
better than others.)

Back to Holland: in 2004 several F3J enthusiasts tried putting the
turnaround stake 50 metres from the launch corridor, still using the
150 metre line. So the towmen start running 100 metres from the
corridor. The shorter towline was balanced against very high speeds on
the line and the elasticity of the full 150 metre line. Launch height
was judged to be almost the same as usual, perhaps 10 metres lower.
Launch times were at least one second faster. (Grateful thanks to Rob
Sanders, Frank van Melick, Peter Zweers and Cor de Jong for their

Could be that many other teams have tried shorter lines. We all use
short bungies for trimming out new models, and there’s nothing more
satisfying than catching a low level thermal from a hand or short
bungee launch.

If you have views or experience of 100 metre lines or shorter, then
send your information and opinion to Tomas Bartovsky
(tomas.bartovsky[at], your national committee or FAI
(ciam-rcsoaring[at] I’d like a copy too.

My reservation about shorter lines? They will encourage further
sophistication in model design and materials, they will not hinder many
pilots for long in flying out the working time, and they will
discourage newcomers to the sport from even trying to fly with the
experts. KISS - Keep It Simple S-----!

Sydney Lenssen (sydney.lenssen[at]
February 2008