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Beaver Takes 2nd at NATS!

I've been flying R/C since jr. high, which is back when you might still have heard an occasional disco song on the radio. In all that time I've never entered a contest of any kind. I have organized several events - some of them quite large - but I've never actually competed. I've always wanted to get into scale competition, but have never taken the plunge. I guess hanging out with people like Ron Gilman in the early 90s and David Ribbe & Peter Goldsmith in the 2000s and seeing how well they fly was kind of a de-motivator. They're such awesome pilots, how could I ever compete with the likes of them? All three have won Top Gun!

I recently took stock and realized that I'm not getting any younger. If I am to get into scale competition, I need to start soon so I can start building experience. Learn how to present the aircraft in the sky. Be smooth on the sticks. Learn from other competitors and have some fun. So, in a moment of weakness and with zero fear, I signed up for the 2021 AM RC Fixed Wing Scale NATS, with the intent of flying Beaver prototype #1, my trusty electric-powered bird.

I practiced every weekend for about a month before the event. I tried three different versions of the maneuvers. I worked on smooth inputs, especially on aileron, and I flew at three different flying sites trying to find one that was similar to AMA Site #4 at the National Flying Site. One of those days I tried to fly at site 4 itself, but unfortunately there was a large free-flight contest there that day, so I had to settle for Site #3, which is paved. Site #4 is grass, which is much better for ground handling of the Beaver than pavement. Counting the practice day at the NATS on Wednesday I got 25 flights in, in preparation for the contest. During all that time, I wore out the tail wheel and had to replace it (that plus about 200 flights that preceded it). And I had to add a pilot figure to the cockpit. A "Ken" doll did the trick, although I had to amputate his legs at the knees to get him to fit!

Contest time finally came. Static judging was in the morning for all the classes that required static judging. I was entered in Fun Scale, Novice, which is a class specifically for people entering their first contest. In Fun Scale there is no static judging per se, but you do get 5 points for showing the flight judges a photograph proving you're flying a model of a real aircraft. I connected with flying buddies Chuck Hamilton, Jim Gibboney, and Ronnie Coleman who were also in the contest, so we could all support each other. Chuck and Jim both had entered two classes, so they were quite busy on the flight line. With the flight order at each of the flight stations, it was anybody's guess if any of us would be available to call for the others when their time came to fly. Fortunately, Jim & Chuck finished just in time before it was my turn to fly, so I had Chuck calling for me, helping me stay calm.

As I was taxiing out, my thumbs started shaking. "Hooo, boy," I thought. "This will be interesting!" The shaking lasted through the takeoff, the first circuit, and one or two maneuvers before I calmed down! During that time I held the transmitter in a somewhat weird way to help reduce the impact of the shaking. After takeoff, my first maneuver was the figure-8, which is probably the hardest maneuver to perfect. You need to place the figure-8 properly, keep both sides circular, the same size, fly at the same altitude, and be sure to cross-over in the same point in the sky. With my thumbs shaking, I wasn't sure doing the figure-8 first was such a smart choice!

After the figure-8 was the mandatory fly past, which I followed with a slow-speed inspection pass to show off the effectiveness of the flaps. After that was a touch-and-go, followed by a chandelle turn, descending 360°-degree turn, and then landing.

Twice during my flight I had to wave-off or do a go-around to avoid traffic. That actually helped the nerves because it made me stop and think a little, rather than just flying the routine. Then my battery timer went off before I had finished all the maneuvers! Fortunately I keep a good amount of reserve energy left after the timer, which is set for 7 minutes. By the time I landed, 9 minutes had elapsed. It's a good thing I was using a fresh battery!

That first flight, my first ever competition flight, I scored 95.5, which is an excellent score. It put me into 2nd place behind Jim mentioned above, who is solid as a rock. I was thrilled!

The weather forecast was looking horrible for the next two days, so we all agreed to press forward and do another flight round that evening in case we couldn't get any more rounds in on Friday or Saturday. It's a good thing we did, because that was it, the only two rounds of the contest. For the second flight there was just a little more wind, and the air around the field was a little more bumpy. My sophomore effort didn't pan out as well, scoring only 87 points and dropping me to 3rd behind Jim and Ronnie. Oh well, it was still a great experience. But that wasn't the end of the story.

With the weather fully in place, I had returned home from the contest, thinking I had finished 3rd out of six competitors in my class, which included both Jim and Ronnie who were 1st & 2nd, respectively. However, I had missed reading section 13 of the rule book, which states that if only two rounds are flown, that the lower score is dropped and the higher score remains as the flight score. As a result, on Monday after the contest, I learned that I ended up taking 2nd place! Woo Hoo!

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