Paul covers some basics and some advanced techniques. The story will be of help to racers or racers-to-be as well as slope flyers who want to improve their plane or flying performance.
By Paul Naton (reprinted with permission)
Plane Preparation: My planes usually look ugly on race day but I can assure you they are mechanically perfect, and I know just how they will perform. The night before a race I will go over everything on the plane and look for worn parts or breakage I may have not noticed. All of the linkages are made tight and the battery and servo wires are checked thoroughly. I make sure I take some spare parts along as well as an extra charged battery. I also go over the wings to fill in dings and wet sand and clean everything. This may not help speed much but it helps you with your mental game.
Plane Tuning: This is the most important thing to work on and the thing most of beginning racing pilots neglect. Tuning should be done the week before the event and not on race day. The basic premise is to get your plane fly smoothly during banking and turning while having the CG as far back as possible. The ratio between CG position and control throws must be found for the particular design you are flying. Most of the time I find other peoples’ planes are too nose heavy or have excessive control throws. I tune my Renegade so it is CG neutral and have the controls throws minimized.
As you move the CG back, you get more speed and more agile turning. However the elevator will become increasingly sensitive as the CG goes aft. You need just enough aileron to initiate a bank and just enough elevator to bring you through the turn. Remember, smoothness wins races. If your plane is set up right it should fly itself through the turns with minimal stick input. One of the newer pilots was watching me practice laps the other day and was shocked to see that my thumb was barely moving on the stick though the plane was smoking in the turns. He thought the rule was “bank and yank”. This is not the technique. Your plane must fly fast and smooth so you can concentrate on the turn lights and race strategy. If you are fighting the plane around the course, you cannot win.
Pre-Race: It is important to warm up in the morning to get you thumb limber and to do a final tuning check. HINT: Be very careful in the practice session as most mid-airs and crashes occur during this uncontrolled period. Fly high or when no one is up. You can learn a lot about the course by just watching the other races. This will help you determine where to go for the best climb out spot, which ‘line’ is faster, which is the up-wind and down-wind turn, and how much ballast to carry. Conditions usually improve during the day and then deteriorate towards afternoon. A pilot who tunes in to the changing conditions can gain an advantage by being ballasted correctly and knowing where the best lift is on and off of the course.
Ballast: This is the black magic part of racing but if you follow some basic rules and experiment with different combinations with your plane you can almost surely make the right ballast call. There is a trade off between acceleration and energy retention. A lighter plane will turn tighter while a heavy plane will keep that first start drop energy longer. If the conditions seem to be getting better with each race and planes are really climbing out, go to the heavy side. If the lift is cycling and the conditions seem to deteriorating, go light. Being too heavy is usually worse than being too light. The best way to figure out ballast is to know your plane well and fly with different wing loadings in different conditions during your weekly practice. If some one has a similar plane to yours, ask him how it felt out there and see if they are adding or removing weight. HINT: When adding ballast, add a little nose weight as well. This is especially true for windy conditions. Weight makes the plane faster and more sensitive; nose weight will help smooth out the cliff edge turbulence and prevent tail waggle. A CG neutral plane with 1.5 lbs of ballast is a handful for even the best pilot.
Flap Mixing: This is the most frequently asked question. How much should I use? After 3 seasons of racing and testing, I tend to use none at all. Mixing amount depends on the type of plane you are flying and what the conditions are. For the Renegade I try to fly the plane without mixing. If your plane is tuned right it should be able to turn tight without the help of camber. I only use flap mixing when it is marginal conditions or when I am caught over ballasted for the lift. Flap mixing can severely hurt you when the wind is coming hard south or north and there is a down-wind turn transition. As the plane goes through the down-wind turn and goes back up wind, your ground speed is low and airspeed high; the up elevator you just used to get the nose back up is giving you camber just when you need penetration. The brakes are on!
The Race: Here are some basic things to think about during the race. Get high as you can and drop as vertically as you can into the start. Don’t come in flat or at a shallow angle. Remember the vertical acceleration formula from Physics? Hit the first turn a little long and do a nice round high speed arc coming out in the best lift zone. Don’t end up low! Stay high and fast as long as possible. Try not to win the race in the first lap. Don’t cut. Concentrate on being smooth and building speed off the turns instead of losing it. When behind, stay higher than the leader; make your move at the last lap when he is low and slow.
There is lots more to learn, but this article should help you with getting started in racing.