As I have thought about the process of improving my pattern, I have tried to remember the physical feel at each stage of my journey. What realizations did I have that made a significant difference? What changed between my first and latter attempts to fly the pattern in front of judges in competition? In this installment of improving your pattern, I will focus on the physical and mental changes that make a difference.
When I started learning the "full" pattern, I had finished a year of flying the beginner pattern in competition. The inside, outside loops, horizontal and overhead eight were comfortable old friends. They were big and round even if the bottoms and intersections were a bit inconsistent. The inside square loop was still an ongoing problem, especially the third and fourth corner to recovery. Inverted flight was comfortable, but I still needed to consciously remind myself that down was up each time. My first crash after starting back into flying occurred from inverted flight when I attempted a quick recovery from six feet by giving a hard up control. My first lesson was: "Think before you act."
Depending on your experience flying, the descriptions that follow assume that you have developed a comfort with directing your model in flight independent of its attitude, inverted or upright. At first every action requires some preplanning. "Ok, I'm going to do a square loop. That will be four sharp corners. NOW!" The first is not bad, just like a climb to a wingover. Now the second, a little hard and the outboard wing rolls in a bit.
Stepping back to recover tension, the model is descending slightly. Now the third corner, with a bit less tension the model over turns and gains speed. Oh no! The model is headed at the ground. Quick! The forth corner over turns and recovering horizontal flight causes the model to bounce. With luck the square loop has four corners but looks more like a trapezoid without parallel sides. Its size is too small. The top is too short and the third corner is soft. Flying an improved square maneuver is a measure of your comfort with control. Are you flying the model or is the model flying you. There is a moment when the square loop becomes automatic and you SEE every side overlaid on the one prior. Now you are flying the model.
I mention this to create a base line for the realizations or "Ah ha!" experiences that made significant improvements to my flying. And I must say that some of the credit for improvement must be given to the ability to build and trim better models. Here I will deal with the improvements that came with flying experience.
To learn the pattern, I focused on one new maneuver at a time. I started with the vertical eight and started having the first problem that I will attribute to how I physically hold the handle and move my arm to follow the flight of the model. I learned to fly by the "draw the maneuver on the sky" school of thought where the pilot points the handle just ahead of the model. I also learned to hold the handle upright, except in inverted flight when I turned the handle to the horizontal, the top of the handle in the direction of flight. What I noticed as soon as I started trying to do the vertical eight was the outside loop at the top of the eight would get too big and was difficult to turn as tight as it needed to be. It dawned on me that it was my handle position and arm motion that was making this a problem. As my arm followed the flight of the model to the top of the circle the amount of down control was being reduced as long as I held the handle in a vertical position. What I needed to do was rotate my handle clockwise 90 degrees at the start of the outside loop. With this handle position the height of my arm would have no effect on the amount of down control. A more consistent control input results in a consistent turn. Your arm position has an effect that can require constant changes to your handle input making consistent turns difficult. As I learned this lesson, I applied it to all my outside maneuvers with a significant improvement on all maneuvers with outside components. If you watch the hand and arm position of all the best pilots you'll notice a minimum of arm movement with the handle held at the center of their body. It's probably here that I will find my next step up in precision. But, for the time being, my awareness of hand position works.
The next maneuver I worked on was the outside square. As with the inside square the idea of diving a model straight at the ground and sharply pulling out to level flight four feet from the ground is a bit scary. Initially, I worked this maneuver from an inverted entry just to build a feel for the timing of the maneuver. It turns out that the whole approach to both the inside and outside squares as corner timing problems was the problem. I was focused on the corners, "square corners." This meant abrupt hard changes of direction. What I got was bounces on corners and recoveries. What I realized after of few seasons of fighting bad corners was: work on the sides. The first thing a pilot needs to do is make sure all the square maneuvers have flat parallel sides. It is important to not push your current model to turn better than its capability. Reprogram your idea of a corner into a turn to flat vertical or horizontal. If you want a better corner build it into your next model. A symptom of thinking about the corner instead of the side can be found in the square eight and a failure to "fly out the tops" of the eight. When the pilot starts thinking "corner, corner, corner, corner", the anxiety shortens the top and compresses the length of the bottom with the result that the timing on the vertical climb offsets the intersection to the left.
The next most important lesson I remember learning is the use of body position as a means to locate maneuvers. The bottoms of loops are directly in front of you. The intersections of eights and the clover leaf are on a vertical line centered on your body. Your feet are planted at the start of a maneuver to identify the center of the maneuver. Visually the center is referenced to the background as it is entered. Now you have two points of reference, your body and a background marker. Visualize the vertical plane that connects the center of your body to the background.
Another maneuver with its own lesson (still being learned) is the triangle. For a long time this maneuver was difficult to do with any consistency. Every corner was a mystery until it was turned. Sure it had three sides, but seldom were they consistent. For some reason the first corner was always getting overturned and the triangle was coming out wide and flat with a hard third corner that would regularly cause a bounce on recovery. Once again the problem was how I thought of the maneuver. Is it a maneuver with three corners or a maneuver with three sides? I now think of it as the latter with one important difference, the first side must point to the top of the triangle and the second side must be symmetrical with the first. To fly this maneuver consistently the pilot must center the maneuver in front with the top of the triangle visualized at 45 degrees. The first turn is made to fly the first side to the top with the top turn started just before the top to a second side mirroring the angle of the first. The third side, or the bottom, is turned to the horizontal from the second side. If the pilot thinks of the last corner instead of the flat bottom the recovery will bounce more times than not. Think sides not corners.
The reverse wingover is also a maneuver that can benefit from the use of your body to mark and maintain its position. The reverse wingover is flown from the right shoulder to the left. The start of the maneuver is marked against the background to locate the start of the second recovery wingover which is flown again from the right shoulder to the left. The initial turn is to the vertical. This is thought of as a turn and not a corner. The vertical line of entry is more important than the sharpness of the corner. After the entry is marked against the background, the leading foot is planted 180 degrees from the entry and the body is turned to face the inverted half lap. A smooth maneuver focuses on turns to the vertical and flat recoveries to level flight not on hard corners. When using something in the background, usually a Judge standing up-wind, the turn to vertical starts before the location of the wingover. With most models this is eight to ten feet before the turn. After the turn to the recovery and the model crosses overhead, the leading foot is brought back and place perpendicular to the flight of the model. This positioning centers the last recovery turn on the body.
Using the center of your body and the background to mark the intersection of the horizontal eight also provides a reference for the transition from the first inside to first outside loop and the first outside to second inside loop. At the transition the model is at the center line and just touching vertical when control input is reversed. This happens at 22.5 degrees. In this maneuver, the two things that lead to inconsistency are flying the vertical intersections too long and flying ovals instead of circles. When I think of the intersection as a vertical line, I have a tendency to fly too high before starting my transition to the other side of the eight. This causes the bottoms of the outside loops and the bottom of the second inside loop to be too high. The second tendency is to gradually reverse the control input at the point of transition causing the loops to be more oval than round. The combination of oval loops and a delayed transition is most often seen in the last outside loop which commonly over flies the intersection. When flying the horizontal eight, I've found it helps to see the maneuver as inside loops followed by outside loops touching a single transition point centered on my body.
The vertical eight also has its body centered reference point at the top of the bottom inside loop. This point is centered on your body and is the transition point for reversing control input. Consciously visualizing this point as you fly the maneuver keeps the maneuver upright and the size of the two loops consistent. I found that I had a tendency to fly the intersection as a flat spot which made the second inside loop too big with the result that the second vertical eight moved to the right. Putting the bottom and intersection on my body's center line improved the consistency of the vertical eight.
The clover leaf at the end of the pattern is also a maneuver that benefits from visualizing the intersection of your body's center line with a horizontal 42 degree entry line. As the first inside loop is flown, your body is aligned with the left side of the loop. The exit of the inside loop establishes the horizontal line which is flown through the vertical for the same distance to the left as it started to the right. This establishes the starting point of the first outside loop which is turned for only _ of a loop to the centerline before going vertical along the center line as far above the horizontal line as it began below the horizontal line. This is repeated for each of the remaining two partial loops of the clover. The key visualization is that each time the model is flown through a single intersection vertically and horizontally. The intersection on the center line is the key to the maneuver. Visually it should appear to the judges as a plus sign and not a tic-tac-toe game.
The last realization that made an improvement in my pattern was seeing the importance of the maneuver entry. This is particularly important with all the consecutive round maneuvers. What I began to see was that I had developed a habit of entering round maneuvers slowly. My control change at the entry was gradual and not consistent. This results in larger first loops that become gradually tighter. In the worst case the consecutive loops move to the right from the initial entry point if the bottom is correct and to the left if the bottom is high. Correcting the loop in progress to maintain the bottom creates flat spots where the model's smooth change of attitude is interrupted. At the entry, control input should be abrupt. While the control input may be abrupt, it is also important to consistently establish the correct amount of control. A method that can help is to visualize a quarter turn point from the bottom which is where the model just touches vertical. Control is entered that flies the model to that point.
The last realization that I'll mention here is the importance of smooth recoveries. As I practiced flying the pattern, at some point it became less about each maneuver and more about how they connected and flowed to and from level flight. The realization is that the maneuver isn't over at its exit. This is best illustrated with the vertical eight. The maneuver begins officially at the top of the first inside loop and ends at the same point after the second outside loop. This leaves the model inverted and 45 degrees from level flight. A smooth half loop to level flight, while not part of the maneuver, does more to accentuate the quality of the maneuver to the judges than a hard turn or a bouncing recovery to level flight. Thinking of a smooth recovery to level flight will make it so. In the end, the overall presentation of your pattern should reflect total control and confidence.
The proceeding discussion should not be taken as complete or a final chapter on all that can be learned from flying the pattern. It is a snapshot of my personal experience to date. Your experience may vary. In the end, it all comes down to practice and being critical of every flight you make while being conscious of your actions and mental perceptions.
Photos: At left, Scott Riese shows his form at the handle. Right,
Pat Johnston's Bearcat going through a smooth pattern. Flying Lines photos.
This page was updated November 30, 2006