IMAC Flight Line Etiquette
I have had the privilege of flying in a number of contests this year and judged at amajor national contest. As the season progressed, I noticed a few things that gave me concern from a safety or perhaps "common sense" perspective.
These are things that are not "rules" as such in the SA Rule Book, but nevertheless I think they are worthy of discussion. I admit that some of the observations are less of a concern with a single flight line contest, and become more important with two flight lines. I suggest that we consider them overall in the context of how to make contests run smoother and safer!
Take Offs: There is little need in my mind to "blast off" like a rocketship headed for the moon. Especially if it causes the plane to swerve towards a pilot who is "in the box" and flying at the flight station along the runway in the direction of take off. Personally I find it unnerving to have a plane lift off right in front of my nose, about 15-20 feet away from me, especially when I am trying to fly a decent maneuver in front of judges.
What I am suggesting here is that we all can manage the throttle such that we have sufficient thrust for take off, and at the same, time try to consciously avoid lifting off right in front of the other pilot if at all possible. Even to the point of perhaps angling off away from the flight line as we take off so we are not near the other pilot. We can all do this better and safer.
Landings : A similar concept and suggestion. We should try very hard not to land in front of the other flight station and pilot. I appreciate that cross wind conditions and other factors make this a challenge sometimes, and harder to control than take offs. As a caller I am always trying to watch "incoming aircraft" that are landing towards the pilot I am calling for. It can startle the pilot at the flight station if you land right in front of them. Either aim for landing short or longer (before or past the other pilot) if at all possible. An incoming aircraft that is angling towards the flight station fence in front of you can be very distracting and possibly dangerous.
Get In The Air: In a large contest with many pilots in a class you need to be ready when your turn comes. When the CD says "be three deep in the ready box" they mean to be ready when it is your turn. Also be aware that the person in front of you could suddenly have an engine problem or a radio issue, and may have to move out of line and you may be "next up". Be ready!
Pilots should be ready to get in the air before the previous pilot lands. That generally means engine start up on the 6th or 7th maneuver for the pilot in front of you and taking off before the other pilot is out of the box. It just slows the whole contest down when people don't get into the air until the previous pilot lands.
Don’t Over Rev The Engine: When starting your engine to be ready to take off, please be mindful of the pilot flying and the judges trying to do their job. Please avoid revving the daylights out of the engine and making a huge amount of noise. Start the engine, let it idle to warm up and give it a couple of short throttle blips to clear it out if necessary, but avoid full throttle run ups if at all possible.
This may seem trivial, however there have been situations where the judges did not hear the pilot call the box because someone else was revving their engine at full throttle a short distance away.
It is often a good practice to start your engine before the first round of the day and give it a chance to warm up, and verify that it is running to your satisfaction. This generally lets you get the engine started quicker when it is your turn.
Out Of The Box: when you finish your sequence and are out of the box and transitioning into the landing pattern, it is simply good practice to move out from directly in front of the judges, and move to the side such that the next pilot can move into position and get ready to start their sequence.
Once you are out of the box, your caller should guide you with a hand on a shoulder or a hand on your shirt sleeve, so you don't run into fences or trip over flight stands etc. But get the "heck out of the way!"
This year I have seen too many pilots remain fixed in the same position in front of the judges and land their plane, then move away afterwards. This unnecessarily slows down the contest. Get out of the way and let the next pilot get into position
Callers Need to Watch The Other Flight Line During Takeoffs and Landings: With two active flight lines your caller needs to keep an eye on the other pilots and make sure the field is clear before you taxi out to take off or before you get lined up to land.
Calling is a very important function, but it means more that just calling maneuvers for your pilot. Callers also need to keep an eye on the other pilot in the air to help their pilot manage "air traffic" before, during and after the pilot flies their sequence. Nothing wrong with calling out your take-offs and especially landings, so the other flight line is aware of what you are doing.
Your job as a caller does not end until your pilot has their plane back on the ground and it has been safely retrieved and off the active runway.
You Need Options For A Caller: We all have our favourites and callers we are most comfortable with, but make sure you have options for more than one caller. You never know when suddenly your caller is next up on the other flight line.
The time to figure out who your back up caller will be is before you are "up next". This is sometimes hard when there are only 2-3 pilots in a class, but those contests are generally not large and there is more time to get the rounds done. Have a “plan B” for another caller if possible.
Judges Ready? : It is a matter of good practice to verify with the judges if they are ready. I also mean to be truly certain they are ready. I have seen situations this year where a caller asked, “judges ready” and then immediately called the box. Judges may be conferring over scores for a previous pilot, or one may have had to run to the washroom, or to get some water. It is a simple matter of courtesy for the caller to quickly verify if indeed the judges are ready. Let them verbally indicate they are ready, or give you the “thumbs up”, before you or your pilot calls the box.
These are just some of the things I noticed at contests and I intend my recommendations as helpful guidance, especially for new pilots. These comments are not only directed at Basic level pilots either. I have seen these issues at all levels. Above all, Safety is the primary concern in dictating “good flight line etiquette”.
If you are new to contests don't be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. Get an experienced caller, they can help you learn the ropes and increase your comfort level. We all need reminders sometimes. IMAC is fun, but we can all make it safer.
ARD North Central