ETOC 2008, by Don Szczur
Challenge. Make that plural. Challenges. That defines the ETOC 2008. Full of Challenges.
This is a brand new event for me- personally. I met my objectives. I got through it without crashing, gave it my all, met a new set of friends, and had fun.. Now that proves that anyone can fly in it. I tempted Dave Lockhart after the competition. He took the bait. He flew through two battery packs in the open-fly and I think he is hooked. Keep your head up AC. Keep your head up pattern flyers. This event is just the beginning. Rise to the Challenge. Pluralâ€¦ Challenges.
Challenges. This event they call the ETOC is full of them. I spoke with Mr. Tom Kogel, from TNT landing gear. He is the brainchild of the event. I asked him how the event came to be. The purpose is to leverage the presence of many of the top pilots in the world who attend the annual Toledo hobby show. It affords the opportunity for a side venue to get the thumbs exercised from those pilots. Itâ€™s a great spectator draw as well. There were hundreds of spectators in the stands. The event has matured to its current format which consists of split score between a known sequence, and 2 minute freestyle the prelim Aries first night (Friday). Winner is determined by a finals for the top 10 the second night (Saturday), then a freestyle flyoff of the top 3 to determine the winner. You get invited to this event by sending a video of yourself flying some precision maneuvers and freestyle indoor, which brings me to the beginning of the story.
Last year I had the opportunity to stop by the (2007) E-Fest and watch some of the neat electric aerobatic airplanes fly. One in particular that caught my attention was Jason Nollâ€™s Vrolet. It seemed to fly slower, more controlled and smoother than most of the other planes in the air. It flew like a pattern plane. After talking to Jason some about the plane, I knew that was it.
In early January I ordered a Vrolet and quickly put it together. The plane flew very well and Joseph took some video during a club indoor fly-in late January. We added some video from some freestyle type maneuvers in the church hall a few weeks later. We mailed in a DVD to TNT Landing Gear Products and a it was not long after the deadline that the pilots were announce. Joseph was so happy when he found out about the invitation- he called me to let me know. A sense of excitement filled the air. We knew we had to get down to business- it was already coming up on March- which only would give us about 4 weeks to prepare. We quickly ordered a couple of Vrolet F3P feathers. These are milled foam versions which came in about Âľ ounce lighter than the standard kit we had.
Now I spoke to Mike McConville at the ETOC and told him how similar this event felt to preparing to the regular TOC back when that event was happening. Well, its like that in many ways- only compressed and much simpler in some respects, but the greatest similarity was challenge.
Challenge #1- learning the sequence. While waiting for the F3P Vrolets, we had a few cold but calm nights and mornings to practice the maneuvers. The challenge of these maneuvers from the general perspective is three-fold. First, there are un-conventional entries and exits. For example, maneuver 2 is a half square loop, but instead of pushing out to exit inverted, you have to push the rudder to exit in knife edge. That took quite a few tries (and a couple of cart wheels) to figure out. The easy thing to remember was just push the rudder the way to go (like if the maneuver is on the right side of the box, just push right rudder) then give a short burst of throttle while the rudder input is put in to get a tight radius (but immediately leave off the throttle so it does not come around into a knife edge loop). The second challenge in general was the snap roll. Basically itâ€™s a snap and a half from knife edge. This single maneuver took probably the whole 3 weeks to get it down to the point where the plane did not exit vertically up in a torque roll, horizontally in like a harrier roll, or worse case, contact the ground. Flying over semi-tall grass is highly recommended when learning maneuvers like this one. I finally kind of figured this out by changing the elevator direction halfway through the snap roll to keep it generally on heading. The third major challenge in the general sequence was the torque roll reversed. Iâ€™ve done a lot of torque rolls to the left, but never a precision torque roll to the left and then to the right. It just did not seem natural to do that. I got to the point that I could get through it about half the time, with little precision, of course. Challenge #1 was significant, as you would expect.
Challenge #2- a place to practice. Well, this is the first competition that Iâ€™ve ever flown where a flying site is a major challenge. I was able to work out with a local school to get in their gymnasium four days per week, for 30 minutes (just prior to school starting). This was a really unique and challenging experience because it meant getting up at 4:30 to 5 a.m., getting into the school by 6 a.m. and then cramming in as many flights in 30 minutes as possible. I found that after about three or four flights lasting a few minutes each was enough to drain all mental capacity. Iâ€™d categorize the entire sequence as one long maneuver. I found myself holding my breath most of the way through each time. The overall experience was very neat- I got to meet a lot of the school staff and introduce these type of planes to some of the teachers, who found it fascinating.
Challenge #3- flying in a confined space. This added a whole new dimension to flying. When you look at the airplanes at the ETOC you see just about every kind of mechanism imaginable to slow the airplane down. I tried several different gizmos until settling in on modified â€ścones of silenceâ€ť on the trailing edges of the wing (a Robert Youens idea) but instead of making them true cones, I made them elongated to get a little aileron area out of them. They worked ok. The main objective is to slow the plane down without slowing the roll rate down. Since aerodynamically they are quite dependent on one another, this was a big challenge. I noticed that Jason and several other pilots used â€śboost tabsâ€ť which basically were some small counter-balances in the wing TE (mid-chord, glued to the LE of the ailerons) for more effectiveness. In any case this was a big challenge. There is a rolling S which is confined to the basketball court, but the biggie was the (confined to the length of the court) 90 degree flat turn, quarter roll, 1 Â˝ snap, same direction 2 of 8 point roll, opposite 1 Â˝ rolls and pull up before impacting the gymnasium wall. Many, many pucker factors going on there. There was also a vertical -confined space challenge. Bob Sadler was smart when he designed the sequence. He put in this hammer head with 3 of 4 point roll up, and Âľ roll down. When I first started to practice inside the gym, all I could do was a simple stall turn without impacting the ground. I gradually progressed over about 2 weeks to a quarter roll, then finally Âľ roll down. Its much different than pattern- you donâ€™t do a stall turn then wait, draw a line, then do the roll then draw a line, then push out. Its like, as soon as its done the turn you are into the ailerons. The foam planes move so quickly that they draw a short line even as you put the aileron in (until it picks up a couple miles per hour airspeed then it starts to roll on the down line). I for the most part met that challenge, although the maneuver positioning and exit consistency was very challenging.
Challenge #4- Freestyle. After flying the F3P a couple of weeks (its now about a week before leaving for Toledo) I realized its time to either drop out, or suck it up and do what I can. I think of the day that Joseph got the notification of our invite. Definitely no turning back now. Joseph picked out the freestyle music- Toby Mac. Great music. After getting the freestyle Vrolet back out I noticed how different it flies. Well, I made the decision to fly the super slow and smooth F3P plane in freestyle rather than risking the freestyle Vrolet since I was no longer used to flying it. What a difference in flight speed and control response between the two. This is another big challenge. At the Vegas TOC I flew the same plane in both freestyle and sequences so its not a big jump in aircraft performance. The challenge of learning two different aircraft was significant. It requires significant preparation of free-flying to do this right. I got through it and it flowed, but is probably the biggest challenge for pattern pilots entering this event . I was really stunned and surprised at how well all the pilots flew freestyle, and perplexed how much stronger most were in freestyle. In this event freestyle is 50% of the (prelim) scores and basically picks the winner in the finals, so I much better understand this now.
Pilots. This event had a real international flavor to it. Leading off was Gernot Bruckman, from Austria. Living some 75 km from the famed Hanno Prettner, there is growing recognition that he is the force in world-wide F3P. Kuei-Chih Huang from Hong Kong also flew incredibly. Nicolas Pietu from France was there in flair, and Manual Santos from Mexico rounded out the international list of contestants with spirit! It is a real treat to meet and talk to these guys and an honor to fly with them as well as all the United States pilots. Many new friends made. Way to go RJ- so close to making the finals!
The event was filled with drama. On Andrew Jeskyâ€™s first flight, his power went out on the second maneuver and â€¦. Plop to the ground, end of flight. This was OK since we had two known sequences in the preliminaries. He came back with a solid flight scoring 997 normalized on his second known round to finish 5th in the prelims. Ryan Archer, Gernot, Mark, Jason Noll, Seth Arnold and John Glezellis all flew very clean known sequences. Johnâ€™s side force generators brushed up against the basketball backstop as he pushed out exiting on his final maneuver before landing- a close one- but he stayed in second place in the preliminaries. Gernot dominated the freestyle in the preliminaries to end in 1st place Friday night. What surprised me was how many pilots crashed during their freestyle that first nigh. I was up first and put in a very conservative flight. Iâ€™m glad I did because if I stepped it up I likely would have buried it as well. But there was one, then two, then three, thenâ€¦..six pilots impacted during their freestyle. I asked then and most indicated with their response â€śopening it all the way upâ€ť since they knew they were likely out of the finals- put it all out there and push to the limit.
Well, this event is one of the best run, interesting, and challenging events Iâ€™ve flown in over my 28 year modeling journey. Challenging, different, exciting, but most of all, fun.
I headed out today to get home and finished up on that VF3 so did not get to see the finals, but congratulations to Andrew, John and Jason for their finish in the flyoff. Looks like the (outdoor) flying season is arriving just in time, but stay tuned as I expect to see more of this indoor pattern this seasonâ€¦