Musings from the combat pits

The Team: The pilots' role and the pit crew

By Buzz Wilson

Part 1 of these musings began with the pit box. The next few musings focus on the team members.

Yes, it is a team - the pilot, the starter, and the launcher/helper.

The pilot must give their pit crew every opportunity to succeed. What defines success? Up first, and the engine running at peak performance. See Ken's article Getting the Instant Start in Fast Combat. The rest is up to the pilot.

Up first and the engine running at peak performance begins with the pilot. Do not give your pit crew bad equipment, and then expect them to be successful. Give them equipment that has been checked and tested.

Before you show up at the contest, charge your batteries. Check your fuel bottle to make sure the tubing has not split. Check your syringes. Check the needle valves on your engines and make sure they are tight and will not back out.

Once at the contest, and before you ever leave the pits and head out to the circle, preflight your equipment. The following are a few things to check before each match.

This sounds like a lot to do, but it takes less than five minutes and it is a lot easier to do in the pits than at the edge of the circle.

Once you and your pit crew are at the edge of the circle, show them where things are in your pit box. Let the crew know about any quirks your engine may have. If you are running good competition equipment like a Nelson there probably are not any, but if you are running an old Fox MKIV in 80 mph, let them know how it should be set, in fact set it during the shutoff check.

Unfold your streamer, put your hat on it to hold it in place, and check that your streamer is not the same color as your opponent.

At the local contest where you may be starting your own engine, ask your helper if they are familiar with your type of shutoff. At a recent contest, my helper did not have experience with the H-R shutoff. His launch method caused the shutoff to activate. A restart and telling him how to launch solved the problem.

Planes hit the ground and they hit each other and break. If you are using a remote needle valve assembly, put an extra one in your pit box.

You did put a crash repair kit in your pit box? I have been precutting FasCal for those small repairs. CA, microballons, and accelerator all fit neatly in a Zip-Loc bag. Wire ties are another must have in the crash kit. If you are prone to lawn darting and turning your engine into a Chia Pet, then alcohol and an old toothbrush should be included. After the match alcohol, brake cleaner, and canned air, can help get the engine cleaned up. On more than one occasion, I have seen a Nelson torn apart and washed under the faucet in a motel sink. A little oil and ready to go the next day.

You may want to set up a crash bag. No not the plastic bag that was your pit box, but a small duffle bag. You can put a spare engine in it, alcohol for cleaning, big roll of tape, splint material, dowel or carbon tube that can be used to put a boom back together, spare elevator, lead weight.

Once the engine has quit, fly the plane to your pit crew ­ white men can't jump, old men can't run.

Get the plane on the ground and don't break the prop. Practice bleeding speed and spot landing.
If the plane goes down as part of a line tangle, clear the lines and make sure the streamer is clear. Stay out of the way of your pit crew. Stay at the handle and think about what you have to do to win the match once you are back in the air.

Over the years, I have seen pilots get irate with their pit crew. I have never seen a pit crew intentionally not try to give their pilot the maximum advantage.

Flying Lines home page

Back to Musings from the Pits main page

Back to Combat main page

This page was upated March 4, 2007