Howard Rush of Bellevue, Wash., holds U.S. team member David Fitzgerald's plane while he prepares for a flight. Fitzgerald captured the 2008 individual world championship. More photos below.
(Editor's note: Flying Lines asked Paul Walker, the Pacific Northwest's respected precision aerobatics competitor and former world champion, to give us a firsthand report on the 2008 world championships, which he attended as a member of the U.S. team, finishing in sixth place. Here is is his report.)
Landres, France, hosted the 2008 Control Line World Championships from July 27 to August 3. The competition facility was on the southeastern outskirts of the small farming town of Landres. To the east, and south side of the flying site, is open treeless farmland. However, between that open farmland and the flying facility were several rows of trees. On the west side were the buildings on the outskirts of Landres. Landres is an hour drive south of Luxemburg in the Alsace plains of France. Both Paul and David had competed in the 2000 World Championships also held in Landres. Thus, they knew what was going to happen when the weather got bad!
David Fitzgerald, Orestes Hernandez, and Paul Walker comprised the senior 2008 F2B team. The junior member was Paul Ferrell. This was to be my eleventh World Championships team, and of all the teams I have been on, I consider this the best. All three team members had a legitimate chance at winning. Earlier in the year, I worked a deal with the AMA to allow us to practice at Muncie after the NATs, prior to leaving for France. During July, the AMA closes the facility to general flying due to the other events held at the nationals. As soon as control line was finished, RC aerobatics started. Because they were somewhat out of the way of the RC planes, we used the speed circles for practice. We flew Saturday through Tuesday before packing up and heading to France. The weather during those four days was typical Muncie conditions, wind, rain, heat and occasional good flying air. Throughout all that, we got a variety of conditions to practice in. David and I especially liked the bumpy air that was to prepare us for France, as we knew what was coming!
On Wednesday, we headed for Cincinnati airport for our flight to Frankfurt. David and I both had just a single plane, while Orestes had two. Orestes and Paul's planes broke down into checked luggage size, while David's broke down with a one-piece wing. That made his box longer than ours. I have used that method before with no problem. At the check in counter, they took my box without question, and Orestes only had to pay excess baggage fee for three checked items. Then David attempted to check in. Delta personnel instructed him to go elsewhere to check in his oversize bags. David went down there and attempted to check in. He was accepted, but they decided that his box was too big to take on the 767! He politely asked for the supervisor who also informed him that they would not take his box. He had taken the box to Delta in San Francisco to verify it was OK, and it was acceptable to them, in San Francisco. However, in Cincinnati, they did not care about what happened in San Francisco.
Out of options, David immediately called United (he is a pilot for United, and has certain benefits) to see if there was any way he could get to Frankfurt. By a miracle, there was a plane leaving Cincinnati for Chicago, and one hour later a plane leaving for Frankfurt, BOTH with an empty seat. He quickly booked those seats, and was off immediately.
To win a world championship, many things have to go your way. In '92, I had a disaster happen to me in a practice flight where I fell off the pilot donut, and fell over, yet still recovered the plane, that was over a chain link fence heading towards a tree. Bob Hunt saw that, and informed me that it WAS my year to win, and I did. When David got that United Air Lines connection to Frankfurt, I knew it was his year to win, as things like that just do not happen to you everyday!
Orestes and I finally arrived in Frankfurt. We collected our luggage, well, most of our luggage. My box with my plane in it was missing. We waited until the carousel stopped, and then headed for the lost baggage area. After waiting in line fifteen minutes, Orestes went on another search and found my box on a baggage cart. It simply was not there fifteen minutes prior, but mysteriously appeared. As long as it was there, all was well. We then proceeded through customs, only to have to explain why we were going to a competition, in France, through the Frankfurt airport. They stamped our passport, and we were off!
David and the Ferrells were supposed to meet us on the other side of customs as they arrived prior to us. However, when we passed through the gate, there was no one there to meet us. That was somewhat of an empty feeling. Orestes and I then proceeded to plant ourselves in the middle of the lobby in the most conspicuous place. We waited and waited for someone we knew to show. Nothing happened. I then set about on a scout mission to find the rest of our F2B team. In Frankfurt, the traffic comes in to two terminals. We ended up in terminal two, and I found that the United Air Lines flights arrived in terminal one. I took the tram to terminal one, only to find a "million" people there. In that mass of people, I could not find any of them. I headed back to terminal two. Once back there, Orestes had moved, and that caused me a bit of consternation until I found him once again. We simply decided to wait. Time then stood still, the minute hand moving like the hour hand. After who knows how long, we spotted someone running through the terminal with a "team" shirt on. We yelled at him, He stopped and turned around, and it was Paul Ferrell. Finally, we had a connection to the other group. Now, where was David?
In Chicago, David Fitzgerald ran into Dave Gardner, a flier (and current PAMPA secretary/treasurer) that lives a few miles up the road from me. He and Angela (his wife) were traveling to France to tour and stop in on the World Champs. After a brief stunned silence, they recognized each other and got together. They traded cell phone numbers, and boarded the plane. Now, once they arrived in Frankfurt, everything of Dave's came out except his very light toolbox (a box, I must add, that the late Bob Baron would be proud of because of the gross weight). He waited for the box on the arrival side of customs. The wrong carousel contained his toolbox. Now, with the box, he headed out into the morass of people. In that morass, he found the Ferrell gang and discovered that Paul F had found us. He had Dave Gardner call Orestes on his cell phone, which both were Europe compatible. Once connected, we simply had to join up. David joined Orestes and Paul, and then headed to the rental car counter to pick up our van. It was a very tight squeeze to get all our boxes and luggage into the van, but we did. Kevin, Frederica, and Paul Ferrell were in the lead car, with Orestes, Paul and David in the van, connected by short distance radios. We then headed for Mexy, France. That was where our rooms were to be for the duration of the competition. The Ferrell's GPS voice, known as Betty, soon became the director for the trip there. With only a few wrong turns, we finally found the Hotel Ibis in Mexy, and in time for a nice dinner and drink before retiring for the night. I shared a room with Orestes, and we both warned each other that we snored. However, during the entire competition, we were so exhausted that we both slept very well, and never heard the other. We woke up the next morning refreshed, and ready for action. Not bad, considering the time change involved. It was six hours for the senior team (as we practiced in Muncie) and nine hours for the Ferrell family.
In the morning, we assembled our planes. There was no rush, as we still did not have our fuel. We had a casual breakfast at the hotel restaurant. The morning food was not bad. You had your choice of many breads, baked cakes, and croissants. Then there was the cheese table, with yogurts and assorted meats. It was filling, and was ready for us every morning. We then developed the process for loading the van each morning. Paul Ferrell's plane first, followed by either David's or Paul W's, and then Orestes' plane. This arrangement was stable and did not shift around with David's racecar shifts (sorry David, wrong WC's report). It was off to the field to find out fuel. Once at the field, we found Jean-Paul Peret. He had the key to the locker with our fuel in it, and we retrieved it then. The "practice" site was also available starting at 2:00 pm. We then headed to the practice site to start our practicing. We could not use the "official" site as they were having a "Grand Prix" contest on the site. The only way to fly there was to enter that competition. Does it seem odd to you that they would schedule a competition at the very site of the World Champs just days before the WC's begin? We thought so!
The evenings at the hotel started with a discussion of where to eat. We found a local pizzeria several blocks down what looked like a residential street. The front was very unassuming, but opened up into a nice restaurant inside. We found ourselves there several nights. We also experimented with restaurants not so close to the hotel. In addition, when we just felt lazy, we ate at the hotel restaurant. I thought I ate well on this trip, I enjoyed every meal, every meal was great, and I ate what I thought was a substantial amount, and still managed to loose five pounds on the trip! The lunches at the field were not too bad either. The bottom line was that the food was better this trip than in 2000.
The official practice site was on two soccer fields in the city of Mercy-la-Bas. Mercy-la-Bas is located in the middle of the French farmlands that were devoid of trees. However, surrounding the soccer fields are a grove of fifty-foot tall trees on three sides. The town and some somewhat shorter trees bordered the fourth side. Yes, the ONLY trees in the entire countryside were where we were to practice! When the wind blew, you can only guess how bad it could get there. However, there were no other options, so there we practiced. For the duration of the competition, the grass was short and quite useable.
Prior to leaving for France, the entire senior team practiced in Muncie. Our first day at the practice measured nearly the exact same altitude, barometric pressure, temperate, and humidity as what we saw in practice in Muncie. As a result, there were next to no changes needed in our planes. It was simply a matter of getting our timing back after the long flight and time change.
Due to the Grand Prix, we spent Saturday and Sunday at the practice field. Bit by bit, the practice site started getting busy with other fliers. Imagine nearly one hundred contestants using three circles to use for practice. At times, there were ten to fifteen planes in line for practice. The first week there was hot and humid. Even though there were many trees surrounding the site, there was little shade. We would stay out until we were tired, and then go rest up for more.
The Grand Prix was supposed to end Sunday. We had then planned to use the official circles for practice Sunday evening and Monday to get used to those surroundings. That did not happen, as the Grand Prix ran long, and extended through Monday. We once again, went to the practice area to practice, and when finished, went back to the official area. We carefully watched, and the second they finished, we were there to take a practice flight or two. We managed a flight on the official paved circle. It was in a "cage" with a single door for entry and exit. It is on the side of a hill that slopes, thus one side of the background sloped up, and the other side descended. It made things a bit difficult for finding bottoms. Further, there were many little trees, fence posts, and the like that were great marks for the judges, but very difficult for the pilot to see. This made the judges' job easier in that respect. The donut was somewhat fresh back in 2000. Now it appears as if little maintenance has occurred, and there is a significant amount of moss growing on it. Further, there was a significant amount of loose dirt on the circle. The good news was that the second circle was not in the same condition. No sir, not any moss. The second circle was a grass circle, with a center concrete pad that stood up six to eight inches off the grass. This created another fine opportunity for misfortune, if one were to accidentally step off the pad. This circle did not have all the small little trees around it. Nope, it had a row of fifty-foot tall trees that had filled in quite nicely next to it. When the wind blew from the direction of those trees, exciting things happened. The air would actually divide on the backside, and blow around the corners and circle back once past and re-join. The problem is that all happened in the circle where we flew. There were times when standing at the center of the circle, the wind would blow in your face while looking into the direction of the wind. One had to stand with the wind in his face, ignoring this fact, and simply do a pattern. This was very difficult to do! We each got a chance to try that out, with varying degrees of success.
Tuesday was official processing, official practice, and opening ceremonies. The processing took place in the arts center "theater" of the town of Pinnes, just south of Landres. The processing was very crowded, with all four events processing there all at the same time. It took us a while to get through as they were behind before we got there. We did get our official practice in just prior to the processing. In Vallidolid, Spain, we had official practice on each circle. However, in Landres, we got official practice in just a single circle, and that was the grass circle. How lucky it was we slipped in the previous day for practice on the paved circle! Then it was back for practice on the practice area, to the hotel to clean up and eat, then back to the opening ceremonies. Each World Champs is unique in how they handle the opening ceremonies. This is the third World Champs in France. The first time in 1990 was quite an extravaganza, held in a stadium, with performers, and many fireworks. The second time the World Championships was in France, 2000, the opening ceremonies were in a stadium and we were bussed there. Unfortunately, it occurred in a fog bank. This time the opening ceremonies were at the competition site, in particular, the combat area. There was a LARGE screen showing highlights of each countries natural wonders, along with a selection of their models. I was surprised to see my Mustang highlighted in the presentation. It was nice to see, but I showed up on the South African highlights! As usual, things progressed slowly, and the thrust of their ceremonies was for the team managers, and the local dignitaries. When they were finished, the fireworks started, and went on well into the morning.
Wednesday was the start of "official" flying. The entire field was divided into four groups. These groups were then assigned flight orders for each day. The entire USA team was in one group. This made our logistics much easier as we all flew within a few hours of each other. Every country was assigned a group in a similar fashion to ours. We remained in those groups for the entire four days of qualifying. Each group was to fly twice in each qualifying circle. It was arranged so that each group flew a morning session on one circle, and an afternoon session on the same circle in a subsequent round. On Wednesday, the USA was to fly in the afternoon on the paved circle. Two days later, we would fly in the morning on the same circle. The same process occurred on the grass circle. Pilots qualifying score were then the sum of the best flight on the paved circle plus the best flight on the grass circle. The draw in each group was supposed to be random; however, somehow I drew the first flight of the USA in every round. The actual probability of that is very low.
Wednesday morning we headed for the practice circle prior to doing our official flights. The practice field was crowded, even early. I took my flight, and everything seemed to work well. David, Orestes, and Paul F also put in practice flights. We headed over to the official circles for our first flights. Checking the weather conditions, nothing significant had changed from any of the other days, or the morning practice. The existing conditions translated to an approximate 2000-foot density altitude. Thus, there was no cause a change to any flight setting. I was first, after the engine started I thought it was running slow, checked the tack, and it disagreed. I listened for a few more seconds and then leaned it slightly. I went to the handle and took off prior to the one-minute limit. Once the plane was in the air, the engine sounded a touch rich, but was still flying the correct speed. Things went well until the overhead. On the second outside loop, it "beeped" lean. Considering it never does this, I knew trouble was ahead. I brought it up carefully into the clover, and started with a soft inside loop. Just as I was to input the down for the outside loop, it quit with no sputter, just a clean stop. In practice, it had been giving me ten laps past the clover exit every time. The time spent before takeoff was not worth ten laps. The early shutoff ruined my score for that qualifying flight. David, Orestes, and Paul F followed and all made themselves proud. They flew well, and for quite some time, David and Orestes had the top two scores of the contest! This turned out to be quite unfortunate for me as this was the best air of the entire contest. Any making up I had to do was going to be in much poorer air. At the end of the round, I was in 40th place. This was not where I wanted to be! Again, David and Orestes were at the top!
Feeling a bit down, and being thirsty, I headed for the refreshment stand for something cold to drink. What really looked good was their cold beer. I gave in to my desires and had a few cold beers, (plural). My attitude improved immensely after those two beers. We ate lunch after the rest of the team was finished with their flights. During lunch, David "suggested" that we head to the practice circle to figure out why my plane did what it did. Great thought I said! Oops, I just had a couple of beers. Nonetheless, we headed to the practice circles and did a few flights to make sure there was not a real problem. It was very windy and bumpy there, but it ran just fine, and got the requisite ten laps after the clover. Go figure!
Thursday was our time on the grass circle, and I was the fourth flight of the day. I followed three fliers that might be at the top of our Intermediate class, or at the bottom of Advanced. In the wind that was already blowing, they barely kept from crashing. It was then my turn, and I put up what I thought was a respectable flight. However, the judges being tight in the morning would not give me much of a score for that flight. With the same fuel load as the previous under-run, this flight ran 6:58, and that was just two seconds short of an overrun. I still cannot explain why the first flight ran so short, while all the others were fine! It was going to make future flights dicey on exactly what fuel load to put in! As the round progressed, the judges loosened up and started giving scores. Once again, David, Orestes, and Paul F did very well, and were still near the top position. After the round finished, I had moved up to 29th place. These two scores had to be my throw away flights, without doubt. However, the weather kept getting worse and worse, making it harder. Being this far down in the standings made the days go very slow for me. Every thought about what might happen pounded in my head, and time surely went very slow. Every shift of wind and every new cloud looked bad, and made me feel even worse. No matter how bad I felt, there was ONLY one option, and that option was to score better on the next two flights.
Friday we were once again on the paved circle, this time early in the morning. Once again, I was the first American to fly, and the flight went well for the conditions presented. The wind speed had increased from previous days, and was rough. I completed this pattern in regulation time, but received a substantially lower score when compared to what I "would" have on the first flight, if it had not run short. My flight turned out to be one of the higher scores on that circle for the group. At one time, I had moved up to 14th place, but as the day progressed, I slipped to 19th place. There was now no cushion left. On this day, David elected to pass as he was not going to better his score. Orestes chose to fly, to see how he stacked up in these conditions. He flew well, however his score was lower than mine was. I am sure that did not make him feel very good, but it did make me feel a bit better. He is an excellent flier, so I was more confident that someone was not going to sneak in a higher score than the previous flight on this circle, thus keeping my chances more alive. The remaining Saturday score was going to have to be very good to qualify for the finals.
Saturday was our last day of qualifying, and we were scheduled for the afternoon session on the grass circle. Once again, we headed to the practice circles for early morning practice. Still, there were people there! Each day at the field, the air got worse and worse. With trees on three sides, and a storm front heading in, the air was moving in mysterious ways at the practice field. If you let it get to you, you could loose a significant amount of confidence flying there. As the English say, you had to "Keep a stiff upper lip".
Now as the final qualifying flight approached, it was "do or die" time for me to score! I could make no mistakes, period. It was now my turn to fly and the winds were swirling on the grass circle, next to the tall trees making the positioning of the maneuvers difficult. I had to put all those problems out of my mind, and just concentrate on flying. Fortunately, I was able to do that and concentrated on nothing but the pattern. I added a few extra laps here and there to let the air clear for better air during maneuvers. I assessed my flight as being "good", and now it was time to wait for the score. David and Orestes chose to pass this round, as they were not going to improve their previous scores on this circle. Paul F flew, in hopes of improving his score to try to make the top three in junior. That improvement was not to be as he had a good score from his first trip to this circle. At 1:00 PM, my score went up. I believe it was the high score for that group on Saturday. That score moved me to 14th place, and I needed to be at least 15th. However, there was three plus hours to go in the qualifying rounds. Having time to review the scores, realistically, only two pilots could bump me from that qualifying spot. Their difficult task was to improve on their previous score from when the weather was better. As other pilots found out, that was not going to be an easy task. It was not impossible, and there is always the judging balloon to consider. I then spent my time waiting for the rest of the scores to post, tic, tic, tic, on and on! Oh, how slowly time went by waiting for their flights, and then scores. I then ambled over to watch these two pilots fly, to see what might beat me. In reality, both had to beat me to move me to 16th place. They both flew well; however, the quality of the wind was now even worse than when I flew. It then became scoreboard-watching time. At 4:30, the first of the two scores came up. He had scored 100 points less than me, and did not improve his score, thus I had made the cut! What a huge relief that was to see his score! It turns out the second pilot also did not score enough to improve his score either, and I would have made it anyway. Paul Ferrell flew as well, and was awaiting his score. However, he did not improve his score compared to the first flight on that circle. He was to finish fifth in the junior division. No disgrace, as there were many good juniors there flying. This was the highest number of junior entries that I have seen at a World Champs.
Sunday was the finals. The storm front now was passing, and the wind was the strongest of the week. It became a real crapshoot. In the first round, David took advantage of what was given to him and just smoked in a great flight. His 1062 lead Han XinPing by about 30 points, and third place by 40 points. Around the 1010 mark, there was a major catfight for 4th place. Orestes and I were in that group. Things changed in the second round, including the wind. It got even worse! Once again, David put in an excellent flight, with around a 1045. This round saw a few people in the 1020 to 1030 range. On my flight, things were going "well" until the hourglass. Between the second and third corners, a wind shear hit the plane and eliminated all the line tension. I waited and unfortunately, what happened was the top leg was excessively long, and the corner was down near 45 degrees. That resulted in a less than an optimal score for that maneuver. Then entering the overhead, a wind shift moved my plane like a big hand from the sky pushing it WAY to the left of where I was going, and the start of the maneuver was at about only 45 degrees up from the ground. I did a LARGE inside to get its bottom where it was supposed to be, and then returned to where the intersection was supposed to occur at the very top of the hemisphere. Once again, a less than optimal score for that maneuver, and thus I just flew my throw away flight!
After the second round, David was in first, Orestes 6th, and me in 11th. That added up to a team score of 18. The Chinese were in second, third, and seventh, for a team score of 12. This was a clear advantage for the Chinese in the race for the team gold medals. As s side note, earlier in the week, Han Xinping was handing out hats declaring his drive for a 6th individual victory. How arrogant! Well, they were in control of the team title, while David was in control of the individual title. The third round was clearly going to decide the team gold.
This time, David caught some bad air, and scored his lowest score of the competition. How he had to wait it out. Both Orestes and I flew well, and gave everything we had. Now, the flying was over, and it was time to wait for the scores. A large crowd collected around the scoring screen that continuously scrolled. The organizers started the third round scores, but then erased them, and simply did not put them up for over an hour. Finally, they were up, and David had held on to the individual title. Finally, after all these years trying, there was success. Congratulations on your win Dave! What happened after that was simply amazing! Igor Burger, with an electric, flew into the second spot, displacing Han. Further, the third place Chinese flier dropped to fifth, and their third member dropped to ninth. They now had a total score of 17. Somehow, my flight was the highest scoring flight for the meet, for me, it moved me up to sixth, and Orestes finished seventh. This gave us a total score if 14, thus taking the team title as well. That was almost as good as winning the individual title. Further, to see our Chinese friends having loud discussions amongst themselves made it even better. We, as a team, and individually, stood on the gold medal position on the podium! It was a great feeling. Myself, I also felt a great rush of satisfaction returning from 40th place to help win the gold. We have taken our lumps from the Chinese for a number of years now, and it sure felt good to be looking down at them while on the podium.
This report is clearly lopsided to my issues. If it were not for my problems, there would not be much to discuss. David, Orestes, and Paul Ferrell simply flew well, and did not have any problems to deal with. Orestes experimented with a small amount of nitro to liven things up, and he had a horizontal tail attachment that needed a touch of glue, but that was it. For those that do not already know, I was planning on bringing and electric plane to the World Championships. It was flying very much like the '92 Impact, and I was clearly looking forward to the competition. A freak accident the day before packing in its transportation box unfortunately destroyed it. I had one day to re-adjust to the 2006 Impact from Spain. Unfortunately, it was with an internal combustion engine, and not electric.
This was a good team as there was very little selfishness, and very much team support. Any time there was a need; there was always a team member there to help. I also thank our team management for their support. Rich Lopez did a great job as team manager, and Howard Rush supported us very well in the assistant team manager role. Once again, any time there was a need, they were there. This characteristic made the entire trip very enjoyable. Thanks Rich and Howard!
One last thought to consider for those who will go to the next World Championship. Plan on a take apart plane similar to what Orestes and I have. Both wings separate from the fuselage, and the horizontal tail comes off. This makes it fit into a piece of luggage that is checkable. No one has ever flinched when I have brought one of those, and Orestes brought two without issue. If the box is anything larger, you are at the will of the counter personnel at the airport. If they are having a bad day, you will not be taking your box. David certainly got lucky this year, but then again he has a certain advantage. I would be building one of those planes right now, before the next team trials. That way, when you make the team, you will already have a plane to take, and the next project would be a back up for that plane. Any pilot seriously considering making the team should invest time in developing this skill.
Once again, congratulations Dave for your individual title. Congratulations to the team for their team victory, and to Paul Ferrell for his valiant effort. I was very impressed with his ability to tough it out in those awful conditions. You rose to the task and did well. Orestes was just "there" all the time. He did well, and was a very steadying influence on all of us. He also had the highest placing Shark in the competition.
Once again, it was an enjoyable competition. "Great job" to all the team members!
These photos submitted by Don Schultz. The photos are from the excellent CL stunt Web site maintained by Claus Maikis. See also complete results Web site. Congratulations to David Fitzgerald of the USA, the 2008 world champion. Congratulations also to the U.S. team for its team title, and to the Northwest's Paul Walker, sixth place, and Orestes Hernandez, seventh place.
Orestes Hernandez launches for David Fitzgerald, 2008 world champion.
A closer look at world champion David Fitzgerald's winning airplane.
Rhapsody airplane by USA Junior competitor Paul Ferrell.
Orestes Hernandez prepares for a flight. He is twice U.S. national champion.
This page was upated Oct. 16, 2008