Most UK model aircraft flyers are “sport flyers” who do it solely for pleasure. There is however a vibrant competition scene with both individual and team competitions. There are two British and Scottish National Championships and numerous other events per year. There are also International events culminating in World Championships every four years.
The three basic disciplines within model flying are Radio Control (RC), Control Line (CL) and Free Flight (FF). Within the first two as the names imply the flyer has control of the model in flight. However FF is exactly that, once launched the model flies completely free of any external control. The use of control or not defines the type of competition available to the flyer.
RC and CL competitions fall into two categories, races and schedules. Races consist of two or more competitors simultaneously controlling their models around a circuit for a set number of laps. Sometimes refuelling is also required. Competitions are usually flown in rounds on a knock out basis until the winner is declared.
Schedule flying is again in rounds but each individual flyer has his or her timed period to control their model through a defined sequence of manoeuvres. Each manoeuvre is assessed by two or more judges and marked according to the difficulty of that manoeuvre. The flyer accrues a total of points for a round. Two or more rounds are flown and the flyer with highest total is declared as winner. This type of competition is analogous to the compulsory figures in ice skating.
CL models are controlled by the flyer through two lines attached to a handle thus the model flies in a circle around the flyer. This results in a competition unique to CL known as combat. Two flyers simultaneously control their models around the same central point. Each model tows a paper streamer and each flyer attempts to cut pieces off their opponents streamer. Each successful “cut” is awarded a point and the flyer with the greatest number of cuts wins the bout. The competition is flown in rounds on a knock out basis until the winner is declared. This type of competition is akin to fencing but with the smallness of the circle and speed of the models mid air collisions are not uncommon.
As stated before FF models have no means of external control and fly in accordance with the stability set up by the flyer before launch. As a result they are completely at the mercy of the instantaneous weather conditions along their flight path just like a golf ball. Competitions are held “against the clock” with a set number of flights taken during the day. Each flight is timed from the moment of launch until the model either touches the ground or reaches a pre-set time known as a “max”. If two or more competitors achieve maxes in all their flights a fly off is run. This is effectively a tie breaker during which the models are timed without a max time. Recovery of the model after a flight is critical as it is required for further flights. The fascination of this type of competition is that as well as the aero modelling skills the flyer has to develop meteorological and orienteering skills.