Academy of Model Aeronautics

Radio Control Pylon Racing

Turn Left — and Fly Fast!

The Sanderson Field RC Flyers (SFRCF) hosted a sanctioned Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) pylon competition on September 6 & 7, 2008. The competition was sponsored and organized by the Pylon Racers of Puget Sound (PROPS). The event was held at the SFRCF home field in Shelton, Washington.

In addition to hosting the event, some of the SFRCF club members served as course judges, timers, lap counters, and fueling station supervisor. Other members managed a food service for both pilots and course workers.

Although the actual racing began on Saturday, September 6, the pilots actually arrived on Friday for registration. During registration, all aircraft underwent a safety inspection, as outlined in the AMA's Competition Regulations.

The Race Course

On Friday, the PROPS organizers also set up the race course (Figure 1) and associated equipment. Ten laps around the course equaled 2.5 miles. Pilots flew their aircraft around the course in a counterclockwise direction. The course length was selected to result in 10-lap times between one minute (fast pace) and two minutes (slow pace for beginners). The 10-lap times for the races on Saturday and Sunday fell within this range. For the quickest aircraft, the speed around the course was between 180-200mph.

Figure 1: Pylon Race Course
Q-40 Pylon Race Course

The race course was defined by three pylons. Each pylon was 20 feet high. Pylon-1 was positioned at one end of the course near a signal board (Figure 2) containing red lights to signal when a pilot's aircraft "broke the gate." The "gate" was a line from pylon-1 to the flaggers position not less than 300 feet away. A pilot seeing his signal knew that he could make his turn at pylon-1 without "cutting." Two white lights on the board were also lit for a pilot in the event of a "cut" (a turn on the inside of a pylon). The lights were controlled by the flaggers.

Figure 2: Signal Board & Pylon 1
Pylon 1 and Signal Board

As can be seen from the figure above, there were four lane designations: lower green (lane 1), lower red (lane 2), upper green (lane 3), and upper red (lane 4). Each pilot identified his/her aircraft with a press-apply decal corresponding to an assigned lane. More on this later in the article.

The start/finish line was positioned 508 feet from Pylon #1 down the center of the course and 100 feet from a line connecting pylons #2 and #3. Pylons #2 and #3 were separated by 100 feet and formed the end of the triangular course.

Course Workers Arrive

Figure 3: Donuts
Donuts Club volunteers began arriving at the field at 8:00AM. Initially, members grouped themselves around Bob Beatty until Chuck Kentfield pointed out where the coffee and donuts were located. The volunteers, led by Stacy Myers, then moved the assembly point closer to the food supply (Figure 3).

After coffee and donuts, the crew set up the tent for the food service (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Erecting the Food Service Tent
Erecting the Food Service Tent

Pilots, Prepare Your Aircraft

Before the races began, the pilots performed last minute checks on their aircraft (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Last Minute Checks
Last Minute Checks

Before each heat, pilots fueled their aircraft (Figure 6) and applied a colored decal to the aircraft's wing.

Figure 6: Fueling the Aircraft
Fueling the Aircraft

Stacy Myers supervised the fueling station throughout the competition. This also included weighing the heat-winning aircraft to insure that they were not lighter than the AMA's minimum weight requirements (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Fueling Station Supervisor
Fueling Station Supervisor

Pilots applied a decal according to their assigned starting-lane position for a heat (Figure 9):
Figure 8: Banking for a Turn   
Banking for a Turn If you visualize an aircraft in front of you during a sharp left hand bank away from you and around a pylon, one end of the wing will be higher than the other. Aircraft in Lane 1 or 2 have a decal on the low end of the wing; aircraft in Lane 3 or 4 have a decal on the high end of the wing. Figure 8 shows a lane-4 aircraft (high red) banking for a turn.

Course judges used the decals to identify each aircraft. For example, a "Cut Judge" might have reported a cut like this, "Cut on high red."

Figure 9 shows a pilot applying a Lane-3 decal (high green). The color designations were also repeated on the signal board shown earlier (Figure 2): there were both low and high green and red colored rectangles painted on the board to designate the signal lights for each lane.

Figure 9: Applying a Lane-3, High-Green Decal
Applying Lane-3 Decal

The Racing Begins

After a short meeting, the course workers occupied their work stations. These included stations for pylon 1-3 cut judges, fueling station, flaggers, and timers/lap counters. For safety, all stations were positioned at least 300 feet away from the race course and both pilots and course workers wore hard hats.

At the same time, the pilots, with their aircraft and callers, were driven to the starting line(Figure 10).

Figure 10: Driving to the Starting Line  
Driving to the Starting Line

When the pilots were positioned at the start/finish line, a 60-second timer was started (Figure 11). Pilots had one minute to start their engines and prepare for takeoff.

Figure 11: 60-Second Timer
60-Second Timer

Pilots were prepared for takeoff when their engines were started and they were facing pylon #1 with both hands on the radio transmitter. Pilots not prepared for takeoff before the timer ran out were disqualified for the heat. As soon as all pilots were in position and ready to control their aircraft, the starter gave the signal to launch, and the heat began (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Almost Ready to Launch
Almost Ready to Launch

During the race, the pilot's partner, the caller, was of critical assistance to the pilot. In addition to launching the aircraft, and because the pilot's attention was so focused on controlling his/her aircraft, the caller determined when the pilot should commence a turn around a pylon and called this out to the pilot. Pilot and caller teams typically have long-time associations, and are often family members.

Cut judges were assigned to each pylon in order to insure that the aircraft turned outside the pylons instead of "cutting" inside a pylon during a turn (Figure 12). One "cut" required an extra lap around the course for a pilot's aircraft; two "cuts" disqualified the pilot's aircraft from the heat.

Figure 12: Pylon 3 Cut Judges Bob Treinen and Chuck Kentfield
Pylon 3 Cut Judges

Lunch Time

Each day, volunteers from SFRCF provided a great meal service (Figure 13).

Figure 13: The Cook at Work
The Cook at Work

After lunch, there was plenty of time to look at the aircraft and meet the pilots (Figure 14):

Figure 14: Looking at the Aircraft and Meeting the Pilots
Lunch Time Visits

Prizes & Awards

After the last race, both pilots and course workers returned from the field (Figure 15).

Figure 15: Returning from the field
Lunch Time Visits

Everyone collected near the fueling station for the prize drawing and the awards ceremony (Figure 16-20). Prizes for the course workers were donated by RC Hobbies of Olympia and Covington, WA.

Figure 16: Waiting for Prizes and Awards
Waiting for Prizes and Awards

Figure 17: Thanks to SFRCF and Prizes
Thanks and Prizes

Figure 18: The Drawing and Taking Home the Prizes
Taking Home the Prizes

Figure 19: Pilot Awards
Pilot Awards

The awards ceremony ended the day for the SFRCF volunteers, except for those removing the tent and equipment used for the food service(Figure 20).

Figure 20: Packing Up
Packing Up

By the end of Monday, the PROPS organizers had removed the race equipment and cleaned the field, except for some traces of crashed aircraft (Figure 21).

Figure 21: Crashed Landing Gear
Crashed Landing Gear

Thanks to All SFRCF Volunteers

Here is a list of the club volunteers who worked the various stations and ran the meal service on Saturday and/or Sunday:

Dave Fisher, Stacy Myers, Jody Diaz, Burt Daggett, Sharon Diaz, Cameron Diaz, Bob Beatty, Royce Tivel, Bob Treinen, Chuck Kentfield, Bob Mason, Georgene Mason, Eric Oberg, Bill Asmus, John Tupper, Jan Tupper, Gordon Osberg, Bob Andrew, Bonnie Beatty.

Appreciation for the job these volunteers did throughout the event was universally expressed by all participants. Thanks also to any volunteer whose name is missing from the list.

Special thanks to Terri Oberg for allowing the use of many of her images for this article. They really help tell the story.

Thanks to All of the PROPS Organizers an Volunteers

Thanks to all of the PROPS organizers for bringing the pylon event to Shelton. The organizers included Eric Ide - PROPS President, Tom Strom Sr. - Contest Director, and Dan Nalley - Equipment Coordinator. Many other non-SFRCF volunteers worked the course, especially at the flaggers station.Thanks are due to them as well.


 I hope you enjoyed this article,
Royce Tivel

Royce Tivel

 Royce Tivel

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