AAHS Nationals Debrief:
While I enjoy helping many on this and other forums, we as a team need to keep some things close held until Nationals. I thought I would debrief on the flight, some observations, etc. now that Nationals is done. Sorry this is such a long post. Very much train of thought.
We had selected the location for launch based on primary obstacles (rolled netting dividing quadrants, hanging netting near climbing wall). The arrangement of spectators actually took away our primary launch point. The plane, when launched, mad a half circle then headed straight for a few meters, toward the spectator section, due to high torque, before resuming the circle. This put us precariously close to the wall, overhead the spectators, for 2 passes (within a meter of the wall). We then touched a light shade, which gave a fortuitous steer toward the middle, and the wall was no longer an issue. Circling continued, with a couple more light touches. Recovery was quick, with maybe 3 feet drop.
Then the circles moved steadily toward the nets. Because of the large crowd, a thermal formed as the hot air rose above them. This drew cold air at floor level across the room, and the hot air then headed across toward the nets! At about 3:30 the plane began to descend. The letdown was a bit fast because of the downdraft from the mentioned air motion, but still very controlled. This plane LOVES cruise and letdown, and we finally touched at 5:08 (by my watch).
There was a mis-interpretation by the judges in the timing of the event window, and so they did not get to launch a second flight. Without removing their planes (though they had packed up), they POLITELY discussed the rules with the head timer, including showing the rules. Apparently they had started both the 8-minute and 3-minute clocks when the rubber was given. After realizing they had it wrong, they granted my kids a second flight.
Because the first had touched several times, the second flight was with the same rubber rating and a little less launch torque. The flight was held up a few moments for phots at the launch point, which may have relaxed the rubber a bit. The flight was relatively uneventful, with 1 touch, but the downdraft near the nets was more apparent. But, they got a good solid 4:56 to back up the 5:08.
We use our own design, based substantially off Bill Gowen’s Carbon Penny. Due to the rather long rubber options this year, we had a LONG motor stick. The surfaces were a true tandem, and tail finds were tip plates on the tail surface. The finished plane without ballast is just over 6g. the wood is hobby-store “contest grade” (Sig contest grade is 4-8 pound wood. Much of what we used was 6-7 pound). The prop was #27 in a series of 28 prop builds, indicating how much import we put on prop development. It is a balsa blade with helical pitch (team-built prop block), and is flaring. Tuning of the amount of flare, static pitch, and blade shape was critical to time growth. This prop was built last week and gained about 15 seconds on half rubber over previous props.
Anjulie Sorberro and Monet Rammaciotti got to fly. However, our team also included Josiah Rose and Brianna Ulibarri, our last-year heli team winners. These kids were very skilled and independent. They wanted to do everything with minimal oversight, and learn by doing. They even used my power tools in my shop to make a glue caddy to organize our growing set of adhesives. All four kids built LPP’s for Round Valley, and competed very well at that event. That experience was CRITICAL in their learning, as there were too many of them for me to oversee all of their flights.
1. Know your room. The air motion in the room could have caused major issues. We got lucky. Because we were early in the day, there was not a lot to observe before we flew, not super flights that demonstrated the drift. In addition, the crowd surged before we flew (and cleared out right after). Don’t know if that was happenstance, or if they cam to see us. However, it had dramatic impact on the air in the room, much more than the doors opening. If possible, observe a full session before you fly!
2. Know the rules. Because of a mistaken understanding of the rules, we almost did not get to fly a second flight. The kids MUST know the rules, and be prepared to challenge and defend any issues. I have not seen such issues at Nationals before, but very similar at State and Regions in the past. At least it did not have to go to arbitration, as I had to leave immediately.
3. Know the impact of delays on your plane. The delay for photos was almost a minute. We were not on the clock because of the aforementioned issue. However, the rubber is sitting a long time. The kids should be prepared to say “photos after the flight”.
4. Know your planes idiosyncrasies. We had observed the straight line impact on some half rubber flights Thursday. It occurs after a half of a lap, and was consistent. However, it doubled in duration on full rubber. When the launch point was moved, this was not fully considered, and almost cost us. Fortunately the girls left a good enough margin to the wall.
A few other areas that have sparked interest:
1. Half Rubber flights: On Thursday, on our final flights we were getting 2:36-2:44 under an 18.5” beam with half rubber. Using rubber from the same batch, we cut to the same linear density (g/in), and would to nearly double the turns. The 5:08 fell a little short of expectations, likely due to the air motion in the room. But close enough I feel validated. We also could not pack quite twice the winds in, when the loop length was slightly more than 2X, by a cm or so. That had me worried, but it worked out. I was concerned that the rubber Thursday night was a single exceptional piece (all of our 2:30 or greater flights were on the same piece of rubber).
2. States: At a mile high local altitude, we put on a conservative 3:33 flight in a 24’ gym. Conservative because we bumped our prop on the floor first flight, for a duration of less than a second. We had planned to bang the rafters on the second flight. Instead we cleared by about 3 feet. We made substantial progress on props and motor stick testing after States (States is in February for us). Despite only a 24’ ceiling, we did all of our testing on ½ rubber since our test site was also only 24’, giving us room to go high without risk to the plane. We routinely got 1:15-1:20 at 12’ peak altitude on half rubber. Air conditions at State were perfect, no drift or thermals.
3. Continuity of Success: I had two new team members who took the lead in flying at all three levels. Prior team members were important for bringing the new team members up, but the new members were highly motivated. It does help that “tribal knowledge” is carried by me, but detailed logs and records from prior years also help a lot The main thing is these kids were self-motivated, and could not get enough gym time. They LOVED flying. I told them at the beginning of the year that winning Nationals is our only goal, and they needed to be committed to that. They demonstrated this throughout the year, in the effort they put in to make it successful.
4. Logs are more than a requirement. As Co-ES at State, I was shocked to see we were the ONLY team with more than 10 entries in our log books (about 500 by the time Nationals arrives). These logs, about 20 columns wide for us, are CRITICAL to improving. We are ALWAYS looking through the logs to see trends for improvement! We are also discovering new fields that need to be added (date code of rubber, for example).
5. Practice how you compete. In our case, we could have done more full-rubber testing at least winding (even without flying). The feel is different when you are stretching over 200 inches!
6. Additional learning opportunities: The AMA competition experience is VERY different than SO, but was extremely valuable to teach the kids how to compete, and how to think through issues on their own. In addition, it allowed the entire team to get some flying in. Find an AMA event nearby. Most will even allow SO planes to be flown! But LPP’s were a blast!
7. Testing is critical. Not just practice. The difference is in testing you change, try new things, vector from your notes to new combinations that improve. Practice is repetitive to make sure you know what you are doing and can repeat under pressure. Both are important, but if you are not testing, your room for improvement will not go up. SO is all about prop and rubber combination. That is enough, there are LOTS of variables. In those two areas. The planes all fly well once trimmed.
8. Bonuses: Never leave a bonus on the table. Under this year's rules, it is a VERY SIMPLE MATTER to get a test flight on your backup plane just before the 3-minute window expires.
I think that is all for now. For team reasons I probably won’t expose too many more details of our planes or rubber.