BMAA Microlight Comps

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

Mick Broom's Spot Photos and be a Navigator PDF Print E-mail


“How to” article - Spot Photos and be a Navigator

These are notes for the navigator which, in itself, is a bit of a mislabel as, depending on the job split between the crew, you will spend most of the time completely lost with no idea where you are for the entire task.

What follows is how we do it (that’s me, Mick Broom (navigator) and him, Dave Broom (pilot)) rather than how to do it, so others might want to add to this and share their experiences and results.

Historically this part of the task was to confirm your position as you took a photo but that part has been replaced by the data loggers. These can be hired from the organiser and in the UK you will come across two types. The earlier one was the ‘MLR’ GPS model SP24XC a small hand held unit from France which had the facility to turn off all useful navigation aids and just record the course flown. This has been superseded by the ‘AMOD’ which is a simple GPS Taiwan photo tracker – model AGL3080 with a lot faster download and is the one you can hire from the BMAA. The only input needed is to remember to switch it on and make sure it’s working by looking at the flashing indicator. Remember if you wish to use your own GPS during the event to declare that on entry and you may well finish up with the AMOD as well to make it easier for the organiser to score your track. This together with the official track can be viewed later giving you an idea of your navigation skills.

Points in the process of spotting photos
1. Organiser briefing
2. Photo Sheet
3. Photo spotting

  1. Knowing the organiser, event and terrain helps the regulars in judging the style of the tasks and type of photo’s to expect with the degree of difficulty. There is no short cut to this other than experience and while the organiser is creating tasks from within a set of common rules they all have a different style. Don’t be put off by this advantage as it is common for world champs to completely miss a key photo or for both of you to know there is a photo in the field below and neither of you see it. During the briefing together with the weather, safety, task and landing instructions there will be plenty of time to quiz the organiser and others on the photos , track and other things you are not sure about. If you need to go over it again or you understand the task but don’t know the best way to sort it just ask someone as this is what the event is all about and why we are all there. Over the years with a high level of competition at international events this has led to some interesting tricks of the trade which simplify complicated tasks both for the event and in general flying after which you will not find in any book.
  2. You are given the photo sheet with the task sheet in the pre task briefing so first read and understand the task sheet, listen to the questions and answers and note the instructions, any navigation or out landing information for later. You will have decided with your pilot who does what and so be very clear on the parts you are responsible for.
    1. Now to look at the photos, what is it? Look for the clues usually found on the edge of the picture then come up with a short headline description for the view. Write this near the picture. This is now what the picture is called so ‘shed in corner of grass field’ is your reference with the pilot until it is spotted then its picture number X to be marked on the map.
    2. Now look at the components in the picture and try and match them to a position on the track. If it has a canal passing under a railway then you should be able to find the site or possible sites before you get in the plane. This can be marked on the map to remind you both to have a good look at these points. This is a lot easier than looking along the entire track for the site and so reduces the workload. You should also note if there are any area’s where there should be no photos from the briefing and mark that as well.
  3. So to the actual job of spotting, why do we need to do it? Well some would say to keep the navigator from falling asleep but it does give another aspect of the event which can be scored. How you do it depends on the job split and plane but basically for any success you need to be on track and know where the track is going. If you are really good at this it does give you a problem in that the photo spends a longer time directly under the aircraft so you have less time to see them. This can be compensated for by gentle weaving in a fixed-wing, but in general it is a lot easier to spot from a flex-wing as you can slide out the side to extend your field of vision. At this stage don’t be surprised if with all the other things going on like fly the plane, navigate and so on the pilot is still spotting more photos than you just remember he has a better view especially in a flex wing but even in a fixed wing they do tend to sideslip to give themselves a better view and some photo’s lend themselves to being spotted at a distance because you are looking at the pattern not the detail. Others can only be spotted looking down as they can be hidden behind that big barn or in that back yard and in some cases looking back along the track.

    Another organiser trick is to place the photo next to a turn point or when you would be busy sorting out the general navigation, leaving the photo till the very end of the leg is common. I don’t know how some organiser can sleep with their conscience but it all adds to the fun. Don’t forget to look off to the side of the track in case the pilot is a little lost, also the organiser could be in the same boat when he took the photo.

    Both pilot and nav need to be able to reference a sheet of the photo’s to double check the details as you often get a group of features like ponds, which all look very similar but you don’t want to mark the wrong one so need agreement in the plane that both think it’s the correct one before committing the mark to the chart. The pilot may need some assistance in the exact position of the photo before its marked down.

    Nothing to do with photo’s but other useful jobs may include time keeping with countdown to target for timed legs, it should always include a general sweep of the area to locate other planes and this sweep should be part of a pattern which you use to do the spotting.

    You can change the intensity of the sweeps to suit the area, if you were looking for some trees and there is no forest to see you can relax a bit but continue to look for other planes.

    And remember you can get your own back on the pilot when he screws up the box landing after getting flack for not getting all the photo’s so enjoy.

This is an experience the single seat entries might find a challenge but always remember you only need to take on the parts of the task you are comfortable with so concentrate on the navigation first and if you come across a photo you can just note it as an aid to your navigation until you are ready for more of a challenge.

Have fun
Fly safe
Mick Broom


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