My freedom flight got 13th at nationals with a consistent 25 seconds each flight. If you are skeptical I am from Wilmington Academy of Arts and Sciences. The FF is a solid competitor but it all hinges on your luck, experience level, and building skill.
My experience is that the JHs are not quite as good as the FFs. I think they are a bit harder to trim and are flimsy. Good for practicing building/trimming though.
I strongly disagree with the notion that doing well takes luck in this event. I fought this impression on my team several years ago. They did not like pre builds because of bad luck, something always goes wrong. We focused on engineering robust solutions and putting in many many flights. To the point that you KNOW how the plane will perform, and how to adjust. We built 15 gliders this year, and performed well over 500 logged flights. The kids learned to observe every aspect of flight, and make appropriate adjustments. They also leaked when repairs were possible, and when to go to a backup.
Build events should be a given, not guesswork. But it takes tremendous effort to get to the top.
In gliders, my kids actually deviated from testing for the last two flights, because they saw an opportunity on the first three. This paid off with 2-3 seconds improvement over any prior flight. They felt comfortable making the change because they had the experience.
I absolutely agree with this for all build events. Luck can be a factor, but build events are all about collecting data to know where to tweak your device and how you can circumvent disaster situations in competition using your data, sort of like an applied EXPD. My coach always says that without the rigorous scientific testing, build events go from science to arts & crafts. In Battery Buggy, we sure didn't have the best car design, but we spent hours upon hours on the weekends testing, logging, calibrating, and finding patterns in our runs that we could use to improve our system, and in the end we knew our buggy well enough to make very accurate runs with a margin of error of about 3 cm and get 3rd at nats. The science is really the important part of build events, otherwise you may not be utilizing your device to its fullest potential.
Just wanted to add on - although in some events, you may get lucky/unlucky, for example in Roller Coaster, you must adjust your device so that it succeeds, for instance, 90% of the time on each run. Same for ELG; if 50% of your flights get at least 30 seconds in a x foot gym, and 50% don't, then adjust it, to make sure that it works 95% of the time, rather than just 50%
I also have to agree with Umaroth: finding patterns in anything is a great way to improve how your builds function. Although yes, vehicle events rely on a tiny, tiny bit of luck, (3rd lost to 2nd by a fraction of a point, I lost to 3rd by less than 1 point), learn how your plane, car, or device functions. By doing so, at competition, you can use your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc flights to make quick, small adjustments in order to have your device performing optimally.