BMAA Microlight Comps

'to promote participation in the National Championship & other Competitive Flying Events'

First Competitions PDF Print E-mail

First Competitions – What things can I get to help me?

In truth the only thing you will need to have a great weekend is yourself as Pilot and your aircraft all of which legal and current as you would to fly anywhere else in the country. However there are a couple of items you can gather together which you may find enable you to pick and choose from a greater list of which elements of any given task you wish to attempt or dismiss.

I had a go at competitions for the first time in 2010 when I drove down to Over Farm in Gloucester, all I had with me was my flexwing on a trailer, a tent in the boot and my flying gear, everything I needed for a great weekend of flying. I came away having had just that and managed to add 7 hours flying to my log book in the process, all of which over countryside I would not otherwise have flown.

Unable to make any other dates in 2010 I entered the start of 2011 season with all dates fixed in my diary from the minute they were issued; I was determined to complete more than one round. I also made a list of the items I had seen other pilots using at Over farm and I tried to get as many of those together as possible. I spent the 2011 season filling in the gaps in the items I was either unaware of or had not sourced previously.

Having flown four competitions in total and still very much a novice trying to improve my competition flying through both airmanship and the gained knowledge of the tips and tricks others employ to gain the few additional points here and there that we all strive to gain, this is my list of usefull gadgets and equipment to make early competitions a bit simpler.

As I said at the beginning none of the following items are essential, many would say un necessary for a first competition but these are merely the first things I went out to acquire after attending Over Farm knowing that I was deffinatley coming back for another go.

Most tasks involve being issued with a task map which illustrates a given route that you are to fly, this is sometimes better transferred onto a proper CAA ¼ mil chart (assuming track is straight line flight from point to point) others can not be transferred as the tracklines are to random to regenerate (curves, circles, spirals etc) all will need to be marked clearly and accurately at some point with some sort of information. For this I found most people use Staedtler Lumocolor Permanent Superfine 0.4mm Line Black Pen (can be seen on Amazon). The reason this particular pen proves so popular is the fact its permanent so no loss of marks in rain, the tip is the finest around so unlike most others the mark you make does not obliterate a huge portion of map detail you so desperately needed to read, the tip does not dry out so the pen will last more than just one task it will probably do a whole season (excludes obvious loss after being sent through prop, not found one yet which survives that, even if you could fly back to find it).

In order to get more than one task out of the shiny new pen you have now acquired, it’s a good idea to put velco around the pen body and the pen lid, then place odd bits of the opposite portion of Velcro on your map board, dashboard, A frame or just about anywhere you may want to keep this pen and know it will still be there the next time you want to make a mark whilst flying, the Velcro on the cap enables you to put that down whilst writing without fear of it going overboard. You can get inexpensive two part packs of Velcro from most hobby craft shops, stationers and art supplies. (This is the pack I got – I think).

Nail Varnish Remover
To remove the permanent marker from your charts before the next task, preferably without moisturising agents such as Allo Vera as this tends to make the map greasy and the next marks made tend to smudge more easily. Petrol is just as effective but you smell of it all weekend, You can get Acetone from most chemists which is neat nail varnish remover but does tend to evaporate pretty quickly so lid on at all times.

Note Pad & Rulers
We all have these lying somewhere around the house and most still have a Pooleys Scale Rule and Protractor from their student days. Well dust them off and bring along with you with a pen and pencil. Every task is briefed fully beforehand and you will no doubt want to make a few notes about any out landing fields we a due to visit, active runways in use, the days weather forecast and most of all what elements of the task score best and which are penalised the hardest.

Current CAA 1:250’000 chart of the region the competition is flown in, some airfields lie on the boundary of more than one map, in which case the organiser usually states well in advance off which map he / she has set the tasks and which you will require. Keep an eye on the competition calendar for each event.

Map Board
Any will do, from the standard pocket knee board to the more regularly used Track Up board, I flew my first Over competition with my usual FlyLight clear plasic pocket kneeboard that most flexwing pilots use (Other makes of kneeboard are available) which puts you on a track in a either North Up or South Up depending on how you orientate the map when putting it in the pocket. To fly a complete circle, square box or any non linear trackline it is sometimes far easier to be able to rotate the map so the track ahead of you is always pointing up. Many will argue that the track up board is great to fly along a track but a North Up board is far better to find yourself again should you become disorientated at any time, everyone has their own view, what works for one doesn’t always work for others.

As a home made affair, you will quickly notice that no two track up boards are the same and in fact there are some real works of engineering genius behind some of them, how ever they all tend to derive from one simple design principle which is very quick, cheap and easy to make. All you want is a semi rigid knee board big enough to accept your rotating board at one side (just bigger than A4) and room left next to it for another A4 piece of paper which will have your pictures on. A simple nut and bolt, plastic registration plate bolt, split pin or anything you can find to create the centre pivot point on your board will be fine and some bungie cord and hooks or Velcro strap fastened either side to secure the whole thing to your legs. I have seen EstateAgent For Sale signs used as a base material, I managed to get hold of some 2mm fluted polythene sheet which I cut two pieces 90 degrees apart and taped together making a 4mm rigid light weight board. Once done it also makes a perfect place to put a few strips of Velcro for pen storage.

My map board ended up as Mark II being approximately 500mm wide x 350mm high with the rotating part 320mm x 240mm. Mark I was actually an old A3 Nobo White board I found in my shed, worked fine but weighed a ton, was a touch unwieldy walking about the field and my back seat navigator suffered bruised knees every time I tugged at the board to see or change radio frequency. It lasted one competition before better materials were found for Mark II.

Scissors & Securing tape
Your going to be taping maps, photos and other information to your board several times a day, changing everything for each task. Sellotape is fine but can be difficult to peel off a number of times, 2" masking tape is better being water proof and intended for peeling off after use. This is when you find out if your board you just made is big enough, can you tape on A4 sheets or maps without covering too much information.

It is sometimes helpfull to be able to cut down the photos into smaller strips and tape them on separately especially if the there is more than one sheet of photos. Draughtsman’s Tape is good for this as masking tape hides too much off the picture

Minute Rule & Stop Watch
A number of tasks will include an element of either declared ground speed or timed gates both of which require you mark your track in intervals of known minutes for a given ground speed. To be honest this is probably wandering way past a first weekend at competing and more about your third, fourth or even second season. this was definitely the case for me however some fall into things more naturally than others so I have included it here.

I was told to look at my planes comfortable flying speed range and then select a ground speed either side of that to give greater options on the day of competition. My Blade will sit at 60mph all day long but to increase that I have to continually pull on the bar, I can trim easily to 55mph and still decrease that further if required. So I decided to make time rules around the 55mph + or - a few mph. I then calculated the distance traveled in a minute at each of those ground speeds and from that worked out what that would measure in millimetres on a standard 1:250k chart. Using Autocad is was able to draw a series of graded lines which fit an A4 sheet of paper and printed it out. I am now able to declare a ground speed I know I can maintain and mark in minutes my progress over the track flying at that speed. All I have to do then is time my journey and adjust my airspeed accordingly for arriving at a mark ahead or behind time.

I have attached a PDFof the sheet I made, the speeds may not suit your aircraft but it's a start as I appreciate not everyone has Autocad, although there is no reason why this can not be made manually and marked on a plastic rule.

Miles per Minute Conversion Chart
Minutes per Statute Mile at 50mph
Minutes per Statute Mile at 55mph
Minutes per Statute Mile at 60mph

Don’t forget though, it is often a good idea to drop elements of a task which can end up distracting you from other elements which you would otherwise have a good chance of making up some good points. If the navigation and or pictures are difficult I still often drop the timed elements or ground speeds in order that I can really concentrate on staying on track to pick up accuracy gates, after all if you are not staying on track then your times are going to be difficult to keep to anyway. Don’t take on to much early on, you can add elements back in as you settle into things and find your feet.

In Summary
This makes quite an extensive kit list to get you going for your first few competitions, and is based on what I have managed to glean from various people so far. None of the above is my own work just tips collated over the first four competitions I did. This really is to give anyone wishing to get involved a head start, I know after I did Over farm the first time I came away with a list of things I was going to get before coming back again.

If you turn up with everything, Brilliant; if you turn up with not one item, equally brilliant as everyone there is generally happy to assist and lend stuff where ever they can. Having your own just means you’re not waiting for someone else to finish marking their own map before you can borrow a pen and start marking your own.

I hope this proves helpful and would welcome any additional items to list that you would have found to be handy on your first competition had you known before to take it. Let me know and good luck.

Tim Burrow


Web Master - John Waite, Publicity/Press - Dave Broom, BMAA/FAI Representative - Rob Grimwood,
Events Calender - Mary Russell, Colibri Awards - Chris Draper, Rules/Regulations - Richard Rawes,
British Team Leader - Rob Grimwood, Event Organisers - as calender