F3CN World Championship Blog 2019

The Official competition webpage can be found here

British Team Supporter and fellow pilot Bruce Naylor has kindly offered to run a blog during his time at the World Championships. Please check back for regular updates.  

For those of us that aren’t lucky enough to be there, I would like to thank Bruce for taking the time to do this for us.

01 August 2019

As Teams begin to arrive in Ballenstedt and take a look at the practice sites, Mr Naylor was booked on a very early ferry from the UK to join them.  We should start to receive regular updates once he arrives.

I suspect he might even want to get a few practice flights himself as he has the honour of flying the calibration flight to get things underway in a few days time.

Safe travels everyone.  Good luck to everyone and in particular all our friends from the Euro Heli Series.

Most of the British F3N/F3C team pilots, helpers, partners etc travelled yesterday, but yesterday was my 54th birthday so I decided to leave a day later. While I was belting across the wilds of France, Belgium and Germany in "mostly hot, but with the occasional shower" type of weather, the British team were recovering from their journey, and finding out that the allocated practise field was, well, just that - a field. I'm no farmer but at the time of writing (I'm typing this report sitting in that exact field) it looks to me like a wheat field that's been trimmed down to 4" stalks. Four sets of 1m square rubber mats lay in a row 15 meters apart along a tractors tramline, and this is where the Brits, Koreans and USA pilots are allocated to practise. The field is situated just next to Verkehrslandeplatz Ballenstedt, near Quedlinburg, Germany - the airfield hosting the 2019 World Championships. On a map find Berlin. draw a line WSW for about 200km and that's where we are. It feels a bit like Wyoming - just mile after mile of farm land, but being Germany it's dotted with the occasional hill.

So, as I said this field is where the Brits were allocated. However this is not where the Brits are flying. Of the 4 practise sites, 3 are on or next to the competition site; the fourth is located at a local model club field. All countries are allocated one of the practise sites, shared between F3C and F3N pilots. On arrive the "field" was deemed by the team unflyable, so everyone moved to the much larger site allocated to the Austrian / Dutch teams.

The F3C team had a productive first day - no problems to fix, just pumped in rounds to get used to the wind and landscape. I arrived at the hotel around 19:00 just as they returned, so a quick shower and then a quiet evening in the hotel bar for food and a catch-up chat.

02 August 2019

Up at 07:00 to sort out the van, breakfast at 07:30 over the road at the hotel's cafe, then a leisurely drive through towns and villages towards the airfield. The airfield is a pretty cool place. Nice long hard runway, loads of surrounding grassland, sitting in a relatively flat area in between large hills. The boys set up camp once again at the nicer site and I went over to the "official" site to check out it's flyability. I'm marked down as a Calibration pilot, so needed to put in a couple of flights just to steady the nerves. Upon arrival, the Koreans were already onsite and sporting top of the range merchandise - Quest/Reference, Hirobo/BlackShark and ProDrone combinations - really nice kit. Had a chat in broken English for a while, shared a coffee then moved to the far end to have a fly. The dust and corn debris wasn't kind to my helis; the buildup of "field matter" in the main and tail gear mesh required a physical scrape-out after a couple of flights. Within the hour the heaven's opened and the British F3C pilots all met up at the competition field's restaurant for a spot of lunch. The rain prompted the organisers to open registration and model processing earlier than planned. Paul Roberts, this year's F3C Team Manager got to the head of the queue and within 1 minutes we were processed. Time for a beer.

03 August 2019

The town of Bad Suderode. Altitude:200m. Population:1801. Bars and restaurants open on a Friday night: 0. Ok, so that last one isn't strictly true, but according to Google the nearest open restaurant that wasn't part of a hotel was, in the words of Mark Christy "a bit of a walk". It ended up a bit of a walk to an adjacent village. An Irish bar was found. Nightlife: 0. Food: Pretty appalling. We need a designated driver for future culinary adventures, and steak WILL eventually feature in some future episode - we're in Germany after all.

It's early Saturday morning. I've just re-attached the vertical stab on one of my BlackSharks with some lolly sticks, and had a quick look at the weather forecast. "Showers, storms and sunshine". This region gets really odd weather no doubt due to the hilly terrain. Moody dark clouds are already gathering. Saturday is "official practise", which translates to "having a go on the contest site". Each country is allocated a block of minutes to do their worst. Team GB is up at 11:40.

Since I'm here in the "Official Supporter" role, I'm pretty much free to wander about and annoy people. Yesterday I had a good chat with Team USA's manager, and "Pimp my ride - Hire Car special" host Gordie Meade. Nice bloke - knows a thing or 2 about math; we had a deep debate regarding the mythical flat components in arcs - both hovering and aero-centric. Guess you had to be there. Teams Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, and China were out in force near the British camp so they were easy prey to my inquisitive eye. I really must take more photos.

Before I forget, apologies. My writing style probably appears a bit haphazard. I've not written for a while and it's taking me time to get back into the groove. A bit like my aerobatics. Ian Emery is hosting this rant on the EHS website, so I'll try and expand the narrative to be more EHS-centric. No promises mind. Anyhow, back to Saturday.

Hit the field at 08:00 to watch to first F3C teams "official practice". The sun is low and to the right of the flight line, the wind is gentle, but blowing mostly in your face. The flags of around 17 nations rattle gently against their flag poles. Each team, sorted alphabetically, get 10 minutes per pilot allocated in a block, so first up were the Austrians with 3 F3C pilots, hence 08:00 thru 08:30. Next came the Belgium's also with 3 pilots, so 08:30 thru 09:00 etc. Slowly the sun rose, and the wind picked up. China then Chinese Taipei, Denmark then Germany, Great Britain then Italy took to the sky. Just past 12:00 a hush descended on the competition field as 3 vehicles entered the parking lot. The Japanese had arrived. Hiroki Ito, the 4 times World F3C champion, who came 2nd in 2017 against the Swiss powerhouse Ennio Grabber by less than 0.5% flew first and was pretty breathtaking. I managed to live stream a chunk of his flight via Facebook. There's no doubt this guy still has it. As Hiroki flew the wind picked up and the first drops of rain were felt. It held off for a while longer, but eventually the heavens opened and off to lunch we went. Up to this point everyone was relaxed - no model issues from anyone I spoke to, which is quite rare to be honest. Everyone is looking forward to Sunday - Round 1. 52 F3C pilots on one flight line  - it all kicks off at 08:00 tomorrow.

04 August 2019

Well again strictly not true. Everything kicks off with a calibration round at 07:40. Some poor soul who is not a national team member has to put their head above the parapit and fly first in front of the 5 international judges. These then confer for 10 or so minutes, ripping the flight to pieces one manoeuvre at a time to understand why one judge gave it a 8 while another a paltry 4. So who would travel to a World Championships event with their competition setup just to fly once? What dumb-ass would agree to get up early on a Sunday, miss breakfast, drive 20km and put themselves through a competition flight cycle for no reward other than the knowledge that he or she was there to wake up judges who, presumably, had also recently forgone their morning croissant and so probably not in the best of moods. If you hadn't guess by now, the privilege this year falls squarely on my shoulders. It's 04:30 Sunday morning as I type these words, and to be honest I'm bricking it.

Last evenings opening ceremony took place on the F3C competition flight line, possibly because it's a large space, probably because there was a large hanger nearby that could hold everyone if the heavens opened, but more than likely because it gave a good view of the runway where a smoke spewing Pitts aero display occurred to conclude the proceedings. Congratulations to the organisers for holding a respectful, but brief event. The sun was poking through the clouds and bearing down on the gathering of dignitaries, organisers, judges, pilots, helpers and one sweaty calibration pilot who somehow ended up at the front holding the "Great Britain" placard.

Calibration went like a dream. Such calm conditions. I lifted to the hover. My helicopter found it's grove. I was relaxed. Manoeuvre after manoeuvre were performed. Crisp stops, rolls, bunts. I stood there spellbound watching my flight unfold. Finally I climbed for the auto. Tracking in from the left I pulled up in a beautiful half crescent, cut the motor, completed the loop and banked right. Down she sailed and found the centre circle with the last of the energy recovered from the rotor blades. I stood there in shock. I'd just flown the best flight possible and I performed it at the Worlds. The judges, suitably shocked, conferred at length. A small fight broke out. Riot police arrived. Tear gas was released. I woke up.

Weather this morning is mostly calm with some high cloud obscuring the sun hanging low to the right. I flew calibration to my usual substandard level of incompetence, and so started round 1.

"Saved by the Russians" is not a phrase I typically use in conversation, but I believe now is as good a time as any. Yesterday I was "saved by the Russians". And when I say "saved" I mean they stopped me from wetting myself. About 10 minutes before Scott Mayo flew his first World Championships round as a Junior, I realised that my bladder was bursting. Unfortunately the toilet block - a structure built into the airport's restaurant was sufficient distance away to make the decision of whether to go now, or wait until after the flight. I decided to wait. Scott flew. Scott landed, and I was in pain. And my car was blocked in. So with teeth gritted I strode in the direction of the distant restaurant. I didn't rate my chances of getting there accident-free when out of the blue ... well I'm pretty sure you can guess the rest.

This morning is wet. On and off, but currently on. Although heavily overcast it must be in the mid 20's. We're surrounded mostly by hills varying I guess 1 to 10 km away; some with significant peaks. Weather forecast is therefore along the lines of "Expect wind, rain, long bright spells with modest to high UV. Possible calm periods. Chances of snow". The competition has settled down and is now ticking along nicely. Cars appear. People appear. Models are removed and prepared. A pilot fly's. The car is loaded back up and the people depart. The only constants today are the organisers, judges and me. Everyone else seems to be transient. Today I've been trying to get photos of all the EHS competitors who are here flying for their countries, and failing badly. I mean I'm failing to get the shots, not that pilots are failing their countries ... oh well. In the afternoon the wind picked up big-time. The cross wind component was measured around 4-5m/s - the limit I think is some calculation like 8m/s for 20 seconds, but don't quote me on that. It's at that level where if you looked out of a window and saw the trees bending this much, flying would not be your highest priority. Some pilots coped better than others. Sure made interesting viewing. I managed to get a few more videos live streamed today. Very poor wifi and low cell data bandwidth didn't help, but I have the HD footage.

I've some work to do out here for the next couple of days; I might get to the field for a few hours each day, but no promises for any updates from me until the fly off's that should start Friday. All the pilots, team managers, judges and organisers I spoke too today seen in good spirits. 2 more rounds of preliminary competition to go to resolve the team placing, then Friday starts the fly off rounds for the individual placing's. Best of British luck to you all. Catch you later.

05 August 2019

Until now the F3N and F3C rounds have been taking place on flightlines either ends of the airfield. For the flyoff we've merged the two at the F3C site and running the disciplines interleaved. This really is good. All the teams/judges/supporters are in one place, and we're seeing the best pilots in both categories compete for the title of World Champion. There is a carnival atmosphere here, helped in no small part by the F3N flights to music - can we have music with F3C please?. The German team have been applauding their pilots at the end of each flight with a range of inflatable tubes that have a distinct sound when bashed together. I thought we could do better, so myself and Scott Mayo headed off into town to find a suitable noise source. We ended up with a pair of heavy duty oven pans and a couple of inch diameter dowel rods designed for children's gardening spades. Suitably armed, we set up the seating along the flightline to await the first round. Friday was windy, Saturday was really windy. Had it been gusty then the competition would have been stopped for sure, but this wind is very consistent and laminar, so it was not dangerous, just uncomfortable for the pilots. Both F3N and F3C coped really well. We had a couple of incidents in autos in both classes, but nothing serious. Man of the F Schedule really was Ito - he hovered better in what felt like a force 10 wind than I can in calm conditions. Unreal. Oh, and a special mention of Thomas Rettenbacher from Austria - he flew the only flybar helicopter in the comp, and had a battle and a half in the final F schedule round. Battling gale force conditions he hung on and complete the hovering to rapturous applause. The thing was knife-edge at times just trying to stay still.

After the closing ceremony we headed into the local town to attend the banquet. A delicious "all you can eat" buffet was laid on in a classic town hall just about large enough to hold everyone. With the prospect of a long journey home, I left around 9 after many handshakes and hugs with numerous F3C family members to get a good night's sleep.   

Standard of flying at this event has been nothing short of breathtaking. All the teams fielded high calibre pilots, and the rumour mill says Italy might be in a position to host a European Championships in 2020, which would be fantastic. Congratulations to the hosts, organisers, helpers, and all the teams who participated - you made this event one to remember.