What happens at a typical contest?

The BAeA runs about 17 aerobatic contests throughout the year for both powered and glider aircraft, each event a little different in format. Competitions are held over 2 to 4 days – the longer events are usually the National Championships. On day 1, following registration, pilots must attend the compulsory briefing. Safety is top of the agenda of course but the Contest Officials will also cover the location of the Contest Performance Zone, or ‘the Box’ – a nominal 1km cube of space in which the contestants will demonstrate their sequences to the judges on the ground.

There are 5 levels of difficulty;

  • Club – for aerobatic pilots new to competing
  • Sports – achievable in almost all aerobatic aircraft cleared for spinning
  • Intermediate – more demanding with inverted spins and flick rolls
  • Advanced – requiring at least a Pitts Special and a head for negative G forces
  • Unlimited – speaks for itself!

Pilots compete one at a time in the Box which has a different lower height limit for each of the above levels, ‘Club’ pilots not being permitted below 1,500ft (450m) with ‘Sports’ and ‘Intermediate’ competitors not allowed below 1,000ft (300m). Typically pilots find themselves performing between 1,500ft and 3,400ft, with plenty of margin for safe recovery above the minimum height.

There are several types of aerobatic sequences which pilots will be asked to perform;

  • The Known – published in advance for pilots to practice before the event
  • The Free Known – 5 figures published and pilots add 5 of their own choice
  • The Unknown – published on the day with no practice allowed
  • The Free Unknown – figures all chosen by the pilots and flown in any order
  • Apprentices – for Intermediate pilots. Pilots can embellish as they wish
  • Masters – as above but for Advanced pilots.
  • Freestyle – for Unlimited pilots. Precisely 4 minutes to show what man and machine can really do

Each competition is made up of a selection of the above programmes, with pilots flying only the figures nominated for that sequence and in the right order and direction. All figures are scored by an experienced group of judges, led by a Chief Judge, who is responsible for making sure that all safety rules are complied with. Normally there are between 3 and 6 judges, located in an area to the front of the Box and they mark each individual figure flown out of 10. Figures each have a difficulty factor which is multiplied by the mark, to calculate a score Once the sequence is completed the scores are all added together along with a score for how well the flight was positioned in front of the judges. Each judge’s scores are then fed into the scoring computer to help eliminate any scoring bias or errors and run through a complex statistical analysis to confirm the winner.

Whilst events are run for the pilots, many people get just as much pleasure out of helping on the judging line. Whether writing down the scores, known as ‘scribing’, judging or calling out the sequence figures, everyone on the line gets the best seat in the house. So, why not you? Simply select a competition and contact the Chief Judge in advance and volunteer your assistance. He or she will welcome your help.

Hopefully we’ll see you at a competition soon.