Musings from the combat pits

The Team: launcher/helper role and the pit crew

By Buzz Wilson

Part 1 of these musings began with the pit box and Part 2 discusses the Pilot. Part 3 will look at the role the Launcher/Helper has on the team.

Because the Launcher/Helper has the least amount of adrenalin flowing, they are in the position to think the clearest. This means helping the pilot and the starter make good decisions. The Launcher/Helper should wear a watch with a stopwatch function so they can help make decisions about managing the match.

The Launcher/Helper is responsible for everything behind the engine and fuel system. This means making sure, the lines and streamer are clear-no streamer handling errors. The Launcher/Helper is responsible for filling the syringes. As soon as the starter has put the first syringe in the bladder, hand him the second, take the empty, and fill it. Once the second syringe is empty, take it and fill it. Here is where a primer bottle is very handy because it is easier to meter the exact prime using a primer bottle.

You are now ready for the shutoff test. Once this is done, the starter should clear the engine and then top off the bladder. Hand him a full syringe. The Launcher/Helper is responsible to remind the starter to reset the shutoff. There is nothing more frustrating than to get a one flip start and the engine stop because the shutoff was not reset. Because I typically pit with Jeff and Ken, I know their idiosyncrasies. Some starters like to have equipment handed to them while others like to get it themselves. Once the plane is launched, then top off the syringe that was used to top off the bladder.

So what happens when the plane is snatched by a grass snake or re-kitted in a mid air? Here is when you want Mel Lyne on your crew. It is amazing what Mel can do with a roll of packing tape and a broken Dbat. If the pilot set the pit box, there should be all the materials you need to put this dog back in the air; Fascal, Tape, CA, Microballons, accelerator, alcohol, splints, etc. Get creative when you are trying to put something back up for airtime. The starter will be working on the front end. It is very difficult to have one person changing the prop while the other tries to fill the bladder. In my opinion, you are better off to let one person do this. The helper should be checking the plane for damage and getting the repair materials ready. Drag can be your friend. I have seen Howard put tape on a shutoff arm to increase drag to keep it from pinching the line. Remember creative is good, but do not compromise safety.

The Launcher/Helper is also responsible for arguing. There are times that Ken and Jeff designate me as their lawyer. We had an incident at the 2006 Regionals where I had to argue their case for making it in to the Clown Race finals. I lost the argument but still contend they did not make the finals because of bad penmanship ­ it was a seven not a one. The Launcher/Helper can help point out cuts to the judges as well as call rules violations to their attention.

Remember that watch I talked about at the beginning of the musing, well airtime management can be critical. The Launcher/Helper needs to keep the pilot informed. Some pilots will take a win anyway they can get it ­ sitting on the ground if ahead in points.

Once the match is over and the planes are down, check the pit area for dropped or loose tools on the ground.

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This page was upated March 4, 2007