This entire report is my own opinion and does not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of my teammates or any other competitors or supporters. It is also a personalised story and is not intended to be a statistical analysis of the F2B category.
The South African entourage consisted of the following.
Vaughn and Conrad assisted by Bokkie presented the team as well as Roston and Peter with beautifully engraved pens at the airport. These two worked very hard selling food and cool drinks at the club to raise the money for the pens. We all thought they were raising for them selves. Thankyou very much guys, a very special moment.
We said our goodbyes and checked in, onto Sabena Airlines for our first flight to Brussels.
Well this is fun. Our flight out of Johannesburg is already an hour behind schedule. Good start???? The team and our supporters look very smart in our yellow and black outfits. We are all tired already as it nearly midnight but hopefully we will board soon.
An uneventful flight aboard an A320 saw us arrive in Brussels an hour later than scheduled and this meant we missed our connecting flight to Luxembourg. I was whisked of by security for having a "Leatherman" pocketknife in my hand luggage and the team sat patiently in customs waiting for my return. An hour and a half later I returned with free meal vouchers and an upgrade to Business class for 5 of us. Roston in the interim had gone of to Stuttgart to see his son and borrow a car. Five and a half hours late we boarded a DH8 twin turbo prop for the very short haul to Luxembourg. I managed to wangle a ride in the cockpit for the entire flight piloted by two Dutchmen. Business class consisted of a curtain (separating the two classes) and a small biscuit and fruit juice in a glass versus a fruit juice in a cardboard container for economy class.
We arrived in Luxembourg to rain and wind on Saturday the 8th of July. Was this a prelude of the weather to come? We were met by Gabby and Eugene (two of the organiser's staff) who transported us the 50 km (30 miles) to the flying sight in Landres. Gabby turned out to be a star and helped many entrants throughout the tournament. Thankyou Gabby.
Landres was cold and wet but a pretty little town and a very attractive flying site with manicured lawns (soon to be mud baths) and fully fenced circles. We met the tireless Bruno Delor who told me he would take us down to the high school later on that evening. Gabby in the interim took us to the local supermarket were we shopped for food to last us for the next few days. Back to the club and awaited the overworked Bruno.
During our wait we met various speed and team race people such as Brian Howser of New Zealand and Rob Metkemeijer of the Netherlands as well as Ken Morrisey of Irvine fame. Interesting people and the technology and research the speed guys put into their sport is amazing.
In South Africa it gets dark at around 19h45 in summer and 17h30 in mid winter which is what we came from. We took some getting used to the idea of the sun (not that it was actually visible through the rain clouds) still up at 22h30 and as a result we were really late to bed after a long tedious journey. We all enjoyed a good nights sleep and awoke to cold and wet weather. Undaunted we walked the mile to the flying site carrying our planes and flight boxes. On arrival we headed for " le Circle Café ", the flying site clubhouse were we sat down for our prepaid breakfast. Our breakfast consisted of baguettes and butter and jam as well as a choice of either hot chocolate or coffee. Little did we know that this would be our breakfast for the next two weeks with no change. By the end of one week we would have paid good money for an English breakfast, but alas one was not to be had.
The scene at the F2B circle was one that one does not see very often, nothing happening. Every so often we would witness some brave (or perhaps mad) soul take up the challenge and actually try and fly. The conditions, to say the least, were horrific. Turbulence, wind and rain were the order of the day. We all managed one flight on the day. One good thing about the day was seeing our friend from Brasil, Bene Rodrigues, one of the real great characters of the worlds. Eventually we gave up and Gabby arranged with the local café come restaurant to open on a Sunday evening and he took us down for a welcome hot meal.
Roston still had not arrived but halfway through dinner Bruno Delor brought him down to the café. He had got lost from Stuttgart to Landres but eventually found us much to our combined relief. Once again bedtime was very late but we all hoped for a break in the weather the next day.
We were destined to be very disappointed in the weather however as it got colder and wetter as the days continued. The weather Gods however did play some rather nasty tricks as every now and then the sun would peek out, blue patches would open up and just as you warmed up enough to take off a layer of clothing the sun would vanish and the rain would come down. This weather pattern held true for almost the entire World Champs with only the last two days being good. I have subsequently been told that the area of Europe affected by this weather had had the worst July in 112 years, so I forgive you Bruno.
Day three dawned and although flying was dubious we did get to say hello to my very dear friend, Richard Lyle-Barlow the Canadian team manger. Richard was able to bring along his wonderful wife Pat as well as Pat's mom Anita. What a fantastic lady Pat is and we all were really honoured to meet her. I really hope that you make a few more world champs Pat. We all love you lots and we have to see you again. Richard and I swapped goodies which were unique to our respective countries and later they came back to the school hostel and enjoyed a cup of tea in our humble abode. Meanwhile other teams were arriving and later that day we went to the town of "Mercy-le-Bas" to try and put in some practice. Weather permitted very little flying by all and only Loren and Keith flew. Keith's motor would not run well and things were starting to look a little grim as for we could not fathom the problem. Keith and I both fly Retro Discoveries and mine seemed to be working okay the day before. Our thanks to Bill Draper of England for helping us find the practice circle. Why we not informed of its existence the day of our arrival is a mystery to us? Was it some secret only destined to be told at the team managers meeting? During the aforementioned team managers meeting, it was agreed by the organisers, to cut the grass at Mercy-le-Bas as it was very long indeed and many pilots had to hand launch their planes. The long grass proved to be very fortuitous for Loren. His back up plane "Terminator" has never flown very well and he could never pinpoint the problem. Due to the long grass he had to remove the wheel pants and "voila", the plane suddenly flew really well. So well in fact that he made it his first choice plane. The wheel pants were never quite straight and were causing tracking/hunting as well as hinging problems. The removal of the wheel pants eradicated all the above immediately.
The weather pattern held the same for the rest of our so-called practice days and Keith's plane seemed to get more erratic and more needle sensitive. I managed to put in very little practice but my set up did seem to work. We did however find little "hairs" in Keith's spraybar and we all agreed he must have picked up dirt somewhere and a tank flush was called for. This seemed to help initially but would only last one flight and then revert to erratic engine runs. We later discovered (too late) that the little "hairs" which kept reoccurring were in fact polymers caused by the castor oil. I honestly thought that we could rely on good quality fuel components from the French but alas this was not the case. Another lesson learnt; in future we will try and arrange our own oil components and all fuel supplied by the organisers will be thoroughly filtered before use. Thanks to Dave Fitzgerald for the advice of coffee filters but by then the damage had been done.
The weather for our official practice was much the same and we bravely soldiered on and managed to put up our flights. By this time the team and the supporters were quite despondent with the conditions and perhaps our saving grace was meeting up with the "Cox" family of Canada. Our good friend Richard Barlow could not always manage to sit with us at meal times due to his team manager commitments and as a result we ended up befriending the Cox's. Every meal time in the huge marquee put up for the purpose, saw the South African juniors, Vaughn, Conrad and Jade, share a table with the Cox children, from Canada, James, Stephen and Brenda as well as the pretty young junior speed flier from the USA, Krystal King. This group of young people from the three countries soon looked as though they had been together all their lives and they spent most of their day's together. In moments of extreme weather they could be seen playing cards or huddled under what cover they could find supporting young Krystal at the speed circle. For me, as well as for Joan and Chris Cox, this proved to be one of our most treasured moments of the entire champs. Chris, Joan and the rest of the South Africans stuck up a friendship witch very rapidly became one that will last a lifetime and I will always treasure our times together. Chris and I both agreed that one of our regrets was that we did not discover this friendship in Kiev. One day I will get to Canada and my wife and I will have a great time visiting our friends, the Lyle-Barlow's and the Cox's. To all my Canadian Friends, thank you for making France so memorable.
Undoubtedly the flying highlight of Landres 2000, for me, and hundreds of others, was Paul Walkers B17 Bomber. Paul arrived at the field on the Monday together with the rest of the USA F2B fliers clutching the most beautifully finished, near full scale, B17 bomber. This masterpiece had no less than four (yes four) engines, (OS Max FP 15's) nestled beneath four beautifully made carbon fibre cowls. The 900 square inches of wing area creates lift for this 93 ounce (2636 grams) behemoth. Paul and his crew attach heavy duty cables to each of the four engines before starting. The cables are themselves attached to an ingenious glow battery box with individual switching. A central bladder tank with feeds to all four engines complete with individual pressure regulators made up the most unique fuel system ever devised for stunt. It took Paul and his glow battery switch man, namely Howard Rush, no more than 13 seconds to start all four engines. It must be said that his preflight preparation was carefully undertaken and was by no means a quick event but this all took place outside the circle. If he felt it was needed Paul did a lightning check with a tachometer and he was ready for launch. The sound the four engines made was truly amazing and Paul's takeoffs were brilliant. After reaching level flight the crowd would breath a collective sigh and watch in awe as he maintained a dead level flying height of 5 feet. Very impressive it was, but when was he going to fly a real stunt ship so that he could actually earn some points in this competition. Paul is a very serious competitor and this 4-engined marvel was his stunt ship for the 2000 Championships. At the end of 5 level laps, Paul pulled up on the handle and promptly began to put this plane through its paces and flew the entire F2B pattern. It was a sight that none of us will ever forget and I remember Andy Sweetland of Switzerland gazing on in disbelief and uttering "Is this for real?" It certainly was and I believe if Paul had been able to fly on 80-foot lines, he may well have won the 2000 World Championships. It was incredible to see the throngs of spectators vying for space around the circle to watch this marvelous display. After every landing without exception, Paul was greeted with thunderous applause. Paul invariably waved back but generally with his left hand as the right arm grew steadily longer (from the line tension) as the Worlds progressed and he put this big beauty through its paces. This is truly the most impressive display of aeromodelling I have ever witnessed in my entire life. Well done Paul and team!
Young Jade Rowland, the first ever South African junior F2B pilot to fly at a world event, was drawn first of the South Africans. Unfortunately his first round was in rain and wind (could we expect anything else?). Conditions were at times almost unflyable and it gave us mere mortal's heart to see some of the best fliers in the world struggling with those conditions as it proved it was not just us flying badly. Jade acquitted himself amazingly well with his Shoestring .40, powered by a Tower Hobbies .40 which had been converted to Diesel. Keith's delight at the end of Jade's flight was seen by all as he ran to the centre of the circle and picked up Jade and hugged him wildly. Keith has spent many, many hours researching Diesel powered stunt planes and firmly believes that Diesel is and can be a force to be reckoned with. The Diesel seems to be able to handle any conditions one can throw at it and is very non-critical with regards needle setting, and propellor pitch. Graham Swallow was up next. I was due to fly at 18h00 and ended up taking off and 20h07, by which time I was extremely tired, cold and wet, as was the rest of my team. Loren and Keith flew the following day and were beset with problems, Loren having a lean run due to polymers in the oil and Keith battling with the abovementioned engine problems. Jade's second round was a vast improvement on his first round with better weather conditions. My second round was disastrous and Loren was on his way to a good score, or so we felt but the judges felt differently when he encountered (in the immortal words of Billy Werwage) "double gravity" and clipped the ground at the bottom of his hourglass. Keith's final round saw a better engine run, but sticky lines and an incorrect handle setting did not make for a decent score. As a whole the seniors did not acquit themselves well, but many factors contributed to this. Apart from the adverse weather conditions and the subsequent demoralising effect it had, we all fly at 6000 feet back home and had had very little opportunity to acclimatise our brains to fly at the correct height. With Landres at only 1000 feet, more than one of the judges commented that the South Africans flew their bottoms too high. One other factor, which contributed to my low scores, was a serious lack of sleep. We had elected to stay in the high school hostel, which was clean and pleasant but had paper thin walls and echoed badly. Once the full compliment of competitors had moved in I averaged around three to four hours of sleep a night. Keith and Bokkie suffered the same fate but Loren and the other younger members of the entourage seemed to be able to sleep through most of the noise generated by the various other nations hosted in the school.
The last two days of the competition saw good weather and some very good flying. The Combat finals fought between two Ukrainians was very good but was nearly overshadowed by a demonstration match put on by Monique Wakkerman of the Netherlands and the Finnish F2D flier Laura Leino. These two girls put on a display the likes of which you will not often see. The team racing finals was also fantastic to witness and it was a great pity the Russian team was eliminated after the first pit stop. The start of the final with one-flick starts by all three teams was incredible and the frenzy in the centre circle is a sight to see.
The finals culminated in a prize giving held on the field and finally a banquet held in the town of Tucquegnieux around ten miles (fifteen kilometers) away that evening. The food at the banquet was pleasant and made a welcome change from the very average food we "enjoyed" during the week, although it must be said that I eat almost anything you can throw my way and I have the figure to prove it. The organisers, understandably perhaps, (the French had done exceptionally well on the flying field) allowed the banquet to degenerate into a French disco. As was the case with all the official public announcements the majority was in French which very few people understood and was not repeated in English, the other official language and one which most if not all the competitors understand. The disco put an effective end to the world championships for all the non-French speaking participants and we left, together with many others, to return for the last time to our hostel.
Our thanks go to Bruno Delor and his charming daughter Julie and his equally charming wife Patricia who together with their various helpers and officials really did put on a good show overall. The decision to hold the champs over the week of the French Bastille Day Celebrations rests with Jean-Paul Perret and with hind sight this proved to be ill-fated, as the weather proved to be disastrous. The opening ceremony (all in French) was held outdoors and culminated in a Pyrotechnical display. The fireworks were shot up into the low lying rain clouds and the wind blew the smoke straight toward the crowd who were unable to distinguish much at all in the ever increasing gloom.
The trip back home was a nightmare with SABENA not managing to get even one plane due on time and they lost our luggage in Brussels. The managing director will be hearing from me in no uncertain terms. We had arranged to spend a day and night sightseeing in Brussels but SABENA had other ideas and this was not to be. C'est la vie as they say in the best French towns.
One of my concerns with the world championships was and is the judging of F2B. One of the problems for fliers such as myself who does not compete in the top ranks is that I tend to be inconsistent in my execution of my manouvres. I tend to fly some very good and some very bad manouvres, as was the case at Landres. My scores did not reflect this however as my points varied very little. I am not suggesting that I needed to be placed higher up in the ranking and am not bitter about my own score. I do believe however that I witnessed some rather startling results with other competitors and I believe that F2B needs to address the issue very seriously. Many of the other fliers who's scores I saw had similar results with the scores not reflecting their somewhat erratic pattern. One of the other problems I believe was that the judges deducted one and a half points for not sticking to the 5 foot level height and a further one and a half points for corners bigger than 1.5 meter radius. No one can fly a 1,5 meter corner and that means that in turbulent conditions one started at 7 points maximum and worked your way down. I don't recall seeing deductions of this harshness being a criteria in the new instruction. Peter Germann, Andy Sweetland and Roger Ladds to name a few have put an immense amount of effort into the new "Judge's Instruction". This document superceded the old judge's guide and was implemented at Landres 2000. Peter Germann correctly mentioned that it would take quite a while for the new document to take actual physical effect as the judges although conversant with the document have to "unlearn" a lifetime of judging standards and replace them with new. This is a task that may take months to take full effect. Notwithstanding the above, I still have grave concerns. I firmly believe, as does Andy Sweetland that to expect a human to sit for 12 hours a day, five days in a row and look at the same thing repeatedly and then to judge it fairly and without mistakes is an absolute impossibility. In a test in the USA a number of security guards were asked to maintain a vigil on a bank of security screens and monitor any irregularities. After a period of time not one security guard saw the deliberate and obvious "crimes" such as fires, smashing doors etc. being perpetrated. The moral is that they were unable to concentrate on the same thing for any extended length of time. Our judges will suffer the same effects. Another article I recently read talked about "micro sleeps" in which a person who is over tired or stressed falls asleep for microseconds with no recollection thereof. Imagine this happening to a judge during your square eight and you could lose or gain very valuable points because the judge missed a portion of the manouvre. In my report back to the South African Aircraft Association the Chairman, Bob Skinner who also heads up RC pattern (F3A) for the FAI, mentioned that they were experiencing a similar problem. Their solution is to half the number of flights a judge adjudicates in a day as well as to double the number of flights each competitor has. This in F2B parlance would mean 2 circles flown simultaneously and each circle judged by perhaps three judges and over four to five days and not two to two and a half. Each competitor would fly before both sets of judges. That would mean one extra judge to the cost, which over 100 competitors would be very minimal as well as each competitor getting double the number of flights. This is after all the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS we are discussing and the preparation and the cost involved for each of us for two flights only is horrendous. This may seem radical but we have to look at the future of competitive stunt very seriously, as the current situation is untenable. I am also not stating categorically that this is the only solution, merely an option. I also don't believe that it is at all necessary to "bad mouth" the judges in any way even if we don't agree with them. We must always remember that these people are volunteers who are generally doing their best and their only compensation is an air ticket and hotel for a week. I would certainly not have enjoyed judging at Landres in the conditions that prevailed and after having had to take a week or more of my annual leave (or in my case a week of non-earning -self employed). Enough said for now.
All in all a stressful and unfulfilling championships as far as my flying and the weather was concerned, but a fantastic week or more with regards renewing and making new friends. We as a team once more gained invaluable experience, which will hopefully help to make us a touch better the next time around. We learnt from our mistakes. Will I be in Sebnitz 2002? More than likely yes, if I can fulfill my promise to my wife. I would also like to thank Roston Dugmore for arranging a car for us free of charge for the duration of the competition.
Fly well and have fun my fellow control liners.