The Snake, it turns out, will NOT be flown but it’s kind of cool to do. Here are the tasks that will be flown for the July 25, 2008 World Air Games Qualifier.

I felt like a kid getting away with something—pulling off the road, making sure no one was paying attention, sneaking out to set up the “snake” course in an unused development field near my house. Nobody will mess with my sticks, though, for the same reason I came out bloody. That vegetation is nasty. What looked soft and small from above, turned thick and thorny up close. There’s still wood in my leg.

Yesterday I finally got to practice the course. Quite enlightening, I must say.

The 9 sticks (I only have room for 7) are lined up north/south which put them quartering across the 5 to 7 mph wind out of the south/southwest. I was flying the Miniplane under a 22 m²  Spice.

One unfortunate observation: this is basically a straight through course. Although you have to do small turns, it will favor a fast wing. Maneuvering is minimal except for that one critical turn around the last stick. And that’s a critical turn: doing it wrong can mess up your time for the entire second half.

1. This is what it looks like as I enter. I’m hampered a bit by the power lines that are just behind me in this picture. They force me to enter in a bank but I’m still able to be on speedbar.
2. On downwind leg getting ready to enter the course. “X” marks the first stick which is kicked and starts the time.
3. I’d like to be able to push the speedbar with one foot and use the other foot for kicking. That way you’d need less turning since you could stick your foot out.

The first time through, I flew it like the diagram, turning just before the last stick. But that turn to downwind went way too long and then each subsequent downwind turn required a steep bank and time sucking distance. A different strategy would obviously be necessary in this wind. The risk meter was high on the downwind portion, too, given the rough surface I’d be dealing with after an engine failure.

This course is basically straight course with very minor turns, especially on the upwind leg. It became apparent that you have to work at making the downwind leg straight, too, but that’s not as easy since the poles are effectively closer together given the higher groundspeed.

I entered the course with speedbar depressed and kicked the first stick, heading slightly right to go around stick 2. I then eased back left to kick stick 3 and so on. You can keep both feet on the speedbar but I found it easier to use one foot on the speedbar and the other for kicking.

Caution: Speedbar use increases the collapse risk on most wings and aggravates the result. You’ll be low, possibly flying through your own wake and in a vulnerable state with speedbar deployed. If you’re not comfortable with that elevated risk, skip the speedbar—use just trimmers instead. Also, Some reflex wings recommend against using brakes with the speedbar deployed or only want the speedbar deployed with the trimmers set fast. Consult your manual.

On the downwind portion, it’s important not to let any significant turn develop. You must be looking ahead at the next stick as you’re kicking one. This is where the difficulty comes in and, with any significant wind, it may be best not to use speedbar on the return leg.

Almost Calm

2008 July 1

Man this is fun!

This morning I launched from the back yard for what I hoped would be a calm air go around the Snake task. Running down the taxiway at breakleg speed made it clear this wasn’t going to be calm–I obviously had a tailwind.

Although there was wind, it was still very light. That let me run the course almost like it was calm. The big difference being that I could start the last turn immediately but still get back around to nearly paralleling the course.

I used speedbar while heading upwind only, coming off it just as I got banked up for the turn around. My best results, in these runs, was not getting on the speedbar at all for the downwind portion. It was too much although I can see where, with practice, you could shave off a couple seconds by doing so at some risk of missing a stick or having to do too much turning. I kept two feet in the speedbar but, with the light speedbar pressure of my wing, I’d love to have a speedbar stirrup that works well with only one foot.

In no wind, or less than about 4 mph, you’ll definitely be able to consistently crank into the last turn immediately after kicking the last stick. I did here and was able to still get parallel. It was good to have weight shift.

My practice course has only has 7 sticks due to space limits but that, it turns out, is far from ideal. The last turn will be different and slightly easier since rounding stick 8 (a pylon) will put you in the proper position, especially with no wind.

Not all my runs went well. One would have yielded no points and another wouldn’t have had a prayer of being competitive. No big deal, it’s still a blast figuring things out and putting the machine through its paces. I’m still awaiting my carbon fiber prop but seem to have enough power to do what I want in spite of this wood prop being 10% less powerful. And for those who say clutched machines aren’t responsive, I say poppycock! A properly running clutch machine, and this one is purring, spins up just as fast as anything I’ve flown.

I’m gonna see if I can’t figure out a way to get two more sticks out there. That will be telling.

The reason I share this is because I think if more people gave competition a try, they’d enjoy it. Especially this style. Plus, I’d like to see our pilots do as well as they can. Even if I don’t wind up qualifying, I’ll bet some of our pilots do. Unfortunately, Eric Dufour is apparently not competing in this one but that gives others a chance! Stan Kasica, who beat me in 2007 *is* competing. Also David Sigier from Canada may be coming and he’ll do very well. And there there are many pilots who have become highly accomplished but haven’t gotten to really flex their newfound abilities (guys, I’ve seen you fly!) I’d personally love to see them give this a shot.

Remember, this task is no longer part of the program. Rather Here are the tasks that will be flown for the July 25, 2008 World Air Games Qualifier. The Snake will NOT be flown.