This weekend happened to be my second competition of the year, up at my ‘home’ airfield of Sleap in Shropshire (officially I will be based there, but I’ve had the aeroplane down south all year so far and as such this was in fact only my second visit to the airfield). Lots of people came to watch the proceedings, with the Advanced and Beginners flying before us, and despite the weather slowing things down considerably everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
Now, last time I wrote about my competition flying I was talking about my aim to not zero a figure at my first competition, and failing. This time I had another simple aim – not to end up on the wrong runway heading in the box. Guess what? I failed that one too! By some miracle this time I didn’t actually zero any of the figures though, I just scored really badly on a few…
Picture the scene – you’ve been sat around the entire day waiting to fly, watching everyone else battle a really strong on-judge wind, gradually getting more and more ‘off the boil’ as the day has progressed. It gets to your turn to fly, you are still running through the sequence in your head as you taxi out, finally ready, and then you end up sat, engine running, waiting for a very long time behind the guy in front who has seemingly not quite worked out the point at which he should have launched (don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming him in any way, but all of these little irritations do add up). Your mind now just isn’t quite where it should be and you can’t quite work out why.
You finally take off, on a runway that runs diagonally through your competition box and is not the runway against which you will need to be aligning yourself. You then fly up, through and round the back of the box, constantly trying to work out what the wind is doing to you and where you need to be in order to make everything work. Somehow your mind still isn’t 100% where you need it to be. You wobble your way round the box and begin your first flight through, on axis, with two half rolls in front of the judges that allow you to make sure that your straps are all done up properly (if they’re loose you’ll soon know it while you’re upside down and hanging in them) and that your engine systems are all operating as they should whilst inverted, and also give you a feel for what the wind is really doing to you. Once upright and back outside the box you know it’s on and you know what you’ve got to do, and yet, even now there’s something just a touch lacking in your focus.
It begins. You’re sort of where you want to be and you dive for speed, remembering your final “I’m starting” wing-rock a little late. Pulling up into the first few figures everything feels ok until you get to the only manoeuvre where you have a decision to make, and in fact because of the wind there really is no decision – your 180 degree turn HAS to be to the right or you’ll end up out the front of the box and everything will be a mess. “Turn right, turn right, turn right” is your mantra, and yet, in a moment of self-doubt, glancing at the judging position and suddenly not being sure you’re heading the right way, your brain instinctively shuts down and somehow, by some sub-conscious reflex, you feel your arm pull the stick to the left…
The next few moments go by in slow-motion, your brain kicking in to yet again lead you astray (they do say that in the air you lose the vast majority of your IQ points, and that during a competition sequence you’re basically reduced to the state of some kind of genius root vegetable…). You convince yourself that you’re still just about in the box (you’re not) and that the rest of it will still work out ok. The next two figures surprisingly do work with no major dramas, but after your biggest mistake of not taking a break after that incorrect turn, somehow something else goes wrong and in your half loop with a roll off the top and you end up lost, unsure of your heading and finally grasping onto the only runway you can see. You finish the final two figures, look down and notice the runway numbers, suddenly feeling an overwhelming sense of devastation and humiliation. You’ve just failed to meet your most basic of aims and have gone off axis during your sequence.
I did not enjoy my Known Sequence, and you can probably imagine that once I’d finally managed to bounce the aeroplane back down to the parking area (tarmac landings are still remarkably foreign to me) I wasn’t a happy bunny. Even now I’m kicking myself over the bizarre stupidity of the whole thing – turning the wrong way, and worse still, not taking a ‘free break’ and salvaging the sequence. Still, at least I’ve learned a few major lessons from the whole thing.
Being placed 9th out of 10 after the Known, I no longer felt any real pressure for my unknown sequence, and funnily enough when I got to fly the next day, things just worked and I came away with a good score.
Life is full of mistakes, and competition flying is one of those pressure cookers where decision making becomes intensely difficult. I suppose with more experience I’ll start developing my own coping mechanisms. Who knows, one day I may fly a competition without making any basic critical errors!
Competition report will be found here.