BMAA Microlight Comps

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Frank Hodgson's Flexwing Competition Flying Notes PDF Print E-mail


Flexwing Competition Flying Notes.

I have been flying microlight competitions for some years in my Quantum 912 and I thoroughly enjoy the adventure, challenge and comradeship of these events. Flying to and from the competition venue for the weekend with camping kit aboard adds the dimension of a mini expedition.

Over the years I have written myself notes as I try to learn and improve my flying performance. I hope my notes might be of interest to a flexwing pilot considering having a go or to a competition beginner trying to improve.

There is a lot more to competition flying than doing cross country trips for lunch or to fly-ins navigating by GPS choosing the smoothest times of day to fly. The cockpit work load is high, and although I have done competitions solo it is much more fun to have a crew person with you. A keen eagle-eyed and ideally light weight crew helping makes the pilot’s work load bearable.

Don’t take what I say as gospel, go and try for yourself.

Have fun flying.

Frank Hodgson


  1. Preparation and navigation kit:
    1. Be well prepared and double check everything in good time – use a check list. Required Kit includes:
      • Rotating map board large enough both dimensions for A4
      • Photo boards for pilot and crew.
      • Permanent ink fine nib pens two attached with strings to, and with pen tops taped on to, the instrument panel for the pilot’s easy access when flying to write on the map. (Keep the pens in their tops when not in use otherwise they dry out and will not write) Black and Red pens (red stands out well on charts).
      • Spare pens in an accessible pocket.
      • Crew to have pens and a thick marker pens to cross off seen photos.
      • Square protractor and graduated ruler for planning plus another set on string for use in the air (put these in the pod foot well behind the bag or handing loose – strings long enough to use them on the map board).
      • Compass with permanent ink pen fitted for planning. If you have to draw a circle to follow whilst in the air put it on a length of string.
      • Length of string and map pins for planning.
      • Cellotape, duct tape, note book, fablon, acetate sheet, pencil, rubber, scissors.
      • Planning sheets set out for choice of airspeed, and for fixed ground speed planning.
      • CX-2 flight calculator.
      • AMOD gps tracker and spare set of batteries (3xAAA). (You can hire AMODs from comp director for the day).
      • Pre-prepared clear acetate strips showing 1 minute timing marks at a range of ground speeds for use to help fly at a constant pre declared ground speed if that is required on a task.
      • Stop watches/clocks synchronized to GPS time for the crew and one on the instrument panel for the pilot.
      • Chart of competition area. Establish the outer limits of the competition area so you can cut the chart down to a smaller size so it is easier to tape onto your map board when folded.
    2. Using the issued A4 map to follow known tracks is fine and saves making transposition errors when copying the track onto a chart – fablon it if there is any risk of rain (otherwise the paper map becomes papier-mâché).
    3. Get a second of copy of the flying map and keep this clean for handing in later.
    4. Display the list of ground marker symbols on the instrument panel if markers are to be found on the track.
    5. Make sure you understand the elements of the task. Write key points to remember on your chart or on a note visible attached to the instrument panel.
    6. Fix the AMOD GPS logger with velcro on the instrument panel so you can check it is on easily. As a part of your start up drills with your crew include ‘check logger switched on’. Lots of crews forget!
    7. An iPod wired into the intercom will help keep your crew happy on endurance or soaring tasks.
  1. Navigation
    1. Spend some time orientating to the local area prior to the competition from the chart to be used for the competition.
    2. Work out turn point times exactly where these are required for a task.
    3. Mark up the flying map with wind direction and timing points in different colour from route and way point markers, make sure all the information you need is visible from a track up perspective.
    4. If the task requires plotting in the air then add some extra Northings and Eastings to the chart in black pen. Mark the N direction. These will help line up the protractor in flight.
    5. Fly the route in your mind, feature to feature prior to take off, note difficult areas and visualize flying through them on track.
    6. If the task starts mid air over a given point at which you must be over at your given start time; then work out the flying time to it. Draw circle quadrants 30 seconds, 1 minute, 1 min 30 seconds, 2 minutes out from start point. Your crew has the task to count you down as you fly in. Using a stop watch counting down to your start time. Manoeuvre to get the timing right, look out for other traffic. Practice helps a lot!
    7. If the task requires you to be overhead a point on the ground at a time after start, then calculate it fully and mark check timing points on the track (speed up if late, slow down if early over the check point). Mark run in from 3 minutes out as for a mid air start point. Your crew to keep timing for you.
    8. Mark the routes from take off point to a mid air start point and from a mid air finish point to the landing point on your chart.
    9. On a known track mark the map with initial headings after turn points and note key visual features post turn. See the key post turn visual features whilst flying into the turn point - crew to keep them visual and help you re-orient to the track after the turn.
    10. Always have the two track features insight ahead.
    11. Ensure known waypoints are nailed - fly in on a feature line road/rail if target not visible, fly right through target before turning.
    12. Crew to take control after overflying the turn point if the pilot has to draw bearing etc. Crew must keep the turn point feature visual whilst you have your head down plotting or you will become lost. Fly overhead the turn point to start the next leg. Pick up key visual post turn point features from map a.s.a.p. and fly to them to get orientated after the turn.
    13. Nail all map features on track as these could be hidden gates, only wander over fields or forests if it is necessary to weave to slow.
    14. As you fly mark a short line across the track line on each feature you identify so you always know where you are on the chart. Keeping turning the chart track up. This method helps you re locate where you are on the chart quickly each time you look down at it.
    15. Whilst flying mark the flying map neatly in red, positioning markers and photos track up.
    16. Flying at 700 to 1000 feet agl is necessary to keep close to track line and get the hidden gates.       Lower is more accurate if you are confident you are seeing the next two on track features ahead all the time. If you loose confidence in your exact location and track direction climb up a bit the see further ahead to find a feature to bring you back on track.
    17. Flying slowly helps.
  1. Photo spotting
    1. Whilst you are planning, get your crew to cut up and tape the photos on to your photo boards, fablon as needed.
    2. Crew to give a name to the main feature in each photo and write the name on the photos, both sets. Crew to memorise the photo features.
    3. Use these names to communicate with each other and to help spot the photos. Whilst you are both sitting in the plane warming the engine prior to take off go through the photos with you crew vocalising the feature names of each.
    4. If the track is known look for the likely areas – e.g. does a photo include a feature on the chart, river, rail, road, village etc.
    5. When a photo is seen the crew must confirm the photo letter and ensure you can see it too.
    6. When a photo is seen mark a line or x on the track line with the photo letter against it.
    7. Your crew should note the sequence of seeing the photos 1, 2 etc. This may help later when transposing photo positions to the map you are going to hand in.
    8. Crew to cross off in thick marker pen seen photos so you only concentrate on those outstanding. If there is time pilot to do the same.
    9. Pilot’s priority is to fly and navigate on photo tasks. Crew’s priority to spot.
    10. Flying slowly helps spotting and marking accurately where the photos are on the chart.
    11. Flying at 700 to 1000 feet is a good altitude to spot photos.
    12. If the competition task includes not marking off route photos/markers, then if in doubt whether a photo or marker is on track discuss with crew as you fly over and decide then and there – it is impossible later.
    13. Also give your crew the brief to regularly scan for other air traffic (as you should do too – there is a risk of you just looking forward and the crew just at the ground) and to tell you the instant they see other traffic and to say where is it using the clock rule. If you end up with another competitor in close proximity, get vertical and lateral separation, and alter speed to increase separation. Crew to monitor the other aeroplane continually until safely separated.
    14. Double check photo/marker positions are transposed to the correct points when marking the second map to hand in - or give in if possible the flying map if neat (In my case it never is!).
  1. Precision Landings
    1. Aim at 250/200 line. If you get a 250 it is a bonus, don’t risk landing short.
    2. Practice these every landing in normal flying, just pick a point on the runway as the start of the deck. Do not panic into a poor landing if windy and thermic, keep a safe speed on; the wind will help you stop in the box.
    3. To stop short practice a drill with your crew in which he/she switches off the mags on touch down then reaches over and pulls the bar into your chest as you brake and steer.
  1. Short take off and take over a tape
    1. Tasks usually require take off within 100m. A technique is to angle the plane so the take off run gets best use of wind and runway gradient if there is any. Brakes on , go to full power holding the bar loosely, release the brakes, let the bar float neutrally as you get flying speed the bar comes back, shove it forward and you pop up, gather the plane - speed and attitude - and climb away.
    2. Practice short take off at flying weight with crew.
    3. If the task includes short take off over a tape, watch what distance other planes go from before committing yourself.
    4. Log your results with the wind speeds, surfaces and flying weight so you build a data base to refer to.
  1. Spot landings engine off
    1. Regular practice is the key.
    2. Practice with different wind conditions and at different locations.
    3. Crew task to switch off the mags as you approach over head the start of the landing box then to switch them back on once the prop has stopped. Hand throttle must be off. Crew to vocalize ‘Mags Off’, ‘Mags On’. This enables you to easily save the day with an air restart by pressing the starter button!
    4. Aim at 250/200 line.
    5. Drill your crew so on touch down he/she reaches over and pulls the bar into your chest as you brake and steer, this reduces stopping distance.
    6. Often an extra dimension is added – to touch down nearest to a full minute gps time. This is not easy. It takes 1 min 30 seconds or down to 1 minute if windy to descend around the circuit engine off. You need to estimate the time from the conditions and previous practice, and then arrive overhead the start of the box at the right time!
  1. Short Landing over a tape.
    1. Treat this task with respect as there is a risk of a hard landing.
    2. Establish a glide descent, as slow as safe, to miss the tape, flare a land using the short stop method. Try not to yank the bar in as you pass over the tape or the landing will be hard!
    3. With confidence you can drill your crew to switch off the mags as you pass above the tape – at your command only least you want to go around at the last second.
  1. Timed Circuit
    1. The task may be to complete a circuit as near as possible to 3 or 4 minutes doing both a box take off and a precision landing.
    2. I fly a square circuit to a pre-planned height turning at pre-planned times; the timings need to vary with the wind strength. Practice is essential to get anywhere near the time.
    3. Another approach is, using the Google map aerial view of the field, to work out where you need to be 30 seconds, 45 seconds before touch down. This gives you reference points to speed up or slow down as you run in on finals.
  1. Ground Speed
    1. Tasks often have an element of flying at a pre declared ground speed. The speed typically will be taken between hidden gates so to score at all you must be on track and fly over the gates.
    2. A Quantum does not have much trim speed range and both flying slow and flying fast take tolls on your strength. So flying to a ground speed around a whole track is not easy. It is possible to slow down by weaving slightly from side to side, but this also saps strength and means a bit more concentration is needed to keep on track.
    3. Fly trails around a circle to establish the best choice of air speed for you. I choose slightly less than trim speed.
    4. Practice ground speed calculations, timing marks on the map, flying to a planned ground speed.
    5. If it is rough and windy I tend to give up on ground speed to focus on getting navigation and photo points.
  1. Endurance
    1. Competitions often have a task involving limited fuel with which you must plan a route to fly say; the largest area triangle you can, or fly over as many chart way points as you can e.g. spot heights. You need to know your plane’s rate of fuel usage and calculate the flight accurately.
    2. Get a good wind forecast for planning.
    3. You must allow fuel for warm up, taxi out climb around the circuit and taxi in. Run trials to know these. If you can start the start with a warm engine it helps.
    4. Build up a data base of litres per hour usage at different engine revs through practice flights measuring fuel usage each time.
    5. Allow for fuel to get to task start and finish points away from the field if the task includes these.
    6. Note the revs you have been flying early tasks and use it as basis for selecting you litres/hour figure to use.
    7. Give yourself a good % safety margin; it is not worth the risk of zeroing the task by using some of your 5 litre reserve (BMAA comp) or having to land out when you run out (International Comp).
    8. If the task involves flying over as many way points as possible, mark the distance you plan to fly on a string, put map pins in the way points and use the string to help decide your route and which way points to aim for.
    9. If part way around the course you are behind time and therefore eating into your % safety margin, be flexible enough to cut short your flight plan – better loose a few points rather than scoring zero. If you find yourself ahead of time do not add to your flight plan as you may be facing a stronger than planned head wind at a later stage in the flight.
    10. These endurance tasks can include points for fastest and slowest legs. The planning calculations just become more difficult.
  1. Soaring with limited fuel
    1. I need to learn how to do this! Fly slowly, seek thermals to drop revs.
    2. A fuel computer and a visible 'header' or similar tank help. I have neither so dead reckoning is required if, as in BMAA National Competitions, you have to come back with 5 litres or score zero points. International Competitions are easier in that you run to empty tank, it is just essential to be up high and in gliding range of the landing field when the fuel runs out.
    3. As for endurance tasks, build up a data base of litre per hour usage flying at different engine revs. This helps estimate when to turn back to the field.

Frank Hodgson

January 2012


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