Want To Try IMAC ?  Some Thoughts On Preparing For Your First Contest


I remember my first contest, it was almost 17 years ago.  I had become interested in IMAC a year earlier, however at first I was just too nervous to fly in a “real contest.”  That being said, I was tired of flying in circles and I was looking for a new challenge. 


I had attended a couple of local events, but not having the nerve to get my plane out, I relegated myself to being a spectator and watched and tried to learn what IMAC was all about.  I think I was afraid of embarrassing myself in front of really good pilots.  My fear was unfounded, but it took me a while to realize that.


After watching the other pilots having fun, and having the chance to talk to a few, I quickly realized there was more to be learned by flying than just watching.  Every pilot I talked to said, “get your plane out,” and “give it a try”. It just took me a while to get my courage up.


When I started I did not have a big airplane.  My first contest was flown with a Great Planes 60 size Extra 300.  There were other pilots flying nitro planes so I did not feel out of place. Yes there were other guys flying “great big” gas airplanes, but I had a ton of fun and from that day on I never looked back.  To start in Basic you can fly any single prop aircraft, nitro, gas or electric.  Better if it has aerobatic capability but almost anything goes in Basic.


One thing I quickly learned was that there were always other pilots willing to help.  No one made fun of me, no one said my plane was too small, no one laughed at my attempts to fly the sequence.  Everyone was welcoming and helpful.  What I saw were guys working together, lending each other parts, helping other pilots tune their engines, and working together on airplane setup techniques.


Sure I was nervous flying in front of judges.  My knees shook and my hands trembled.  Of course that was all self-inflicted. After the round the judges gave me a quick one minute debrief and made suggestions as to what I could improve.  Rather than being critical they were very helpful.  They pointed out my mistakes, but then told me what to do to correct them.  Their constructive feedback accelerated my learning curve with each round that I flew.


So you want to give it a try?  I want to share some useful ideas and suggestions as to how to make your first contest a success.


If you are reading this article, you have managed to find the IMAC web site - mini-iac.org.  Take time to explore all the menus and read the information on the site.  Most importantly there are several key areas you will want to spend time on. 


Under the Downloads section you will find the Basic Sequence.  Download the sequence document because it is your guide as to what you will need to learn and practice before you go to your first contest.


You will quickly realize that these documents are written in some peculiar collection of lines, arrows, numbers and triangles.  Don’t be dismayed.  You will need to start learning “Aresti” language.  All those lines, arrows and symbols have particular meanings and are adopted from the full scale aerobatic language that is used to depict the various maneuvers.  


Don’t let “Aresti” language frighten you, it is fairly easy to understand once you get the hang of it. It is something you can learn as you go.  


The good news is that there are a series of videos under the Training section of the IMAC web site, and the first video is “Learning Aresti”.  After you go through that video you will be able to look at the Basic Sequence and understand what the various figures mean.


Not to swamp you with homework, but you also need to develop a working familiarity with the Scale Aerobatic Rules.  You can download these from the Rules Section on the IMAC site. Take the time to read the rules, they contain important information every IMAC pilot needs to know. The rules will help you understand how you should fly the maneuvers and what the judges are looking for.  


The other good news is that there are a series of videos on the IMAC Training site that walk through all the Families of Figures and what the judges are looking for.  These videos are a tremendous learning tool.


One document that has been produced almost every year is the “Basic Sequence Judging Guide”.  This is a “must read” for all new Basic pilots and applies the rules to each of the maneuvers in the sequence.  Again it is found in the Training section.  It is a terrific document for new pilots and new judges.


So how should you practice?  In an ideal world it would be best to find an experienced IMAC pilot who can coach you and be your mentor.  If you have someone locally who can do this, take every advantage of the opportunity.  


I fully appreciate that many pilots will not have another experienced pilot to advise and guide them.  This makes it a little harder but don’t let it discourage you.  I had no one locally to coach me when I first started, there are other ways to move forward and learn as you go.


It is common that video recordings of the various sequences are posted on the YouTube site.  These videos are great for new pilots because they give you an idea what the sequence looks like and the “flow” between the maneuvers.  By “flow” I mean how the sequence is flown, stringing the maneuvers together, one after another.


Of course the other way to learn how a sequence is flown is by attending a contest and observing other pilots.  Whether flying or spectating, one suggestion I would make is to volunteer to “scribe” for the judges.  Scribing is sitting beside one of the pilot judges and writing down the scores that the judge gives you.  It is easy and it is a terrific way to meet pilots and to start to understand what judging is all about.  Between pilots, don’t be afraid to talk to the judges about what they saw or why they scored a maneuver a certain way.  Scribing also gets you involved in a low-key fashion and will increase your learning of what IMAC is all about.  Volunteer to scribe, you will be glad you did.


OK what about flying?  A couple of suggestions.  Don’t try to learn the whole sequence all at one time.  Break it down into smaller pieces.  Start by practicing individual maneuvers.  Fly them repeatedly and fly them both directions, left to right and right to left.  The wind changes directions all the time at contests and you need to be able to fly the sequence both directions.


One of the hardest things to do at first is to fly straight, wind corrected lines.  That is the real foundation of IMAC flying.  Straight and wings level horizontal, vertical and 45 degree lines.  In fact your learning would be well served if you spent time at each practice session flying back and forth, keeping a consistent track and distance out from the flight line. Watch the more experienced pilots at contests, see how well they fly straight lines.


Another clue is that you must learn to use rudder!  Many of us learned to fly and make turns with ailerons but you will need to work on your rudder skills.  Work at maintaining a wings level attitude and correcting for wind drift with rudder.  Practice your rudder skills!  There is no substitute for burning “fuel” or “electrons”.


Something I heard over and over early in my IMAC career was “throttle management”.  Many beginning IMAC pilots fly too fast.  It is very common to hear from the judges, “slow down!”  You don’t need full power except when flying vertical uplines.  Learn to find a nice cruising speed and practice it.  This is something else to watch at contests, the speed at which other pilots fly.


As you practice the maneuvers start to string them together in groups of 3-4 at a time.  Eventually work up to flying all ten maneuvers in the sequence.  Again, practice flying both directions, you don’t want to practice only one direction and then find the wind is in the opposite direction at a contest.  


You will notice that the sequences are drawn with a Schedule B with the figures flowing together in one direction, and also a Schedule C with the figures flowing the other direction.  Whatever you do, please practice both directions. 


The concept of direction raises a question: “do I have to fly one direction or can I choose?”  Truth is that it is pilot’s choice. You can decide which direction to fly the sequence.  Reality is that the “Spin” will typically guide Basic pilots as to what direction to fly.  It is much easier to stall the aircraft flying into the wind than trying to stall down wind.  Most pilots are going to choose the starting direction (left to right, or right to left) based on how they will want to fly the Spin maneuver.


Your best learning tool will be your first contest.  Watching and listening to other pilots will help you learn more than hours of practice by yourself.  I have heard many new Basic pilots say that they really did not understand how to fly the sequence properly until they went to their first contest.  This is especially true if you don’t have the luxury of a local coach or experienced IMAC pilot.  There is always a danger in practicing the wrong thing over and over, but with some help, it can be corrected at your first contest.


Don’t be shy, introduce yourself to the Contest Director (or CD).  Tell the CD that this is your first contest.  Don’t be surprised if it is announced at the pilots meeting, “Hey guys, this is Joe’s first contest, make him welcome and please help him out”.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask other pilots for help.  We all remember what it was like when we went to our first contest.  Help is always available to you from other pilots.


Just to briefly mention the concept of the “Caller”.  When you go to the line to fly in front of the judges you will need someone who will stand behind or beside you and remind you what the next maneuver is in the sequence.  At first it may be difficult to remember all the maneuvers in the right order.  Your Caller will work with you and “call them out” just in advance of you flying them. Choose a caller well in advance of your flight so that you have time to go through the sequence and identify any specific details or names of the figures. The Caller also serves to communicate to the judges, to introduce you and to tell them which direction you will be flying.  They also help watch other airplane traffic, making sure the runway is clear for you to takeoff or land. It’s always a good idea to use a caller to help hold your plane on start-up and retrieve once you have landed.


It is vitally important that at your first contest you find someone who is an experienced Caller.  Don’t just ask the other “new guy”.  Having an experienced Caller can help you a lot to understand the routine and to calm your nerves.  Don’t be afraid to ask an experienced pilot in a higher class to help call for you.  95% of the time you should get a positive response.  The only reason someone may not be able to help is if they are assigned judging duties or are flying or calling on the other line.  Someone will surely help you.  Just ask!  


Don’t rely on only one Caller.  Perhaps at your first contest a consistent Caller would be helpful.  However there are times when your Caller may have to fly or judge at the same time you are flying.  It is good practice to have several Callers available to you.  Be prepared in advance as you may be “next up”.


Eventually, once you see how it goes and how the protocol works, you too can volunteer to be a Caller.  Calling is a skill that you will want to develop.  It is very common for competitors in the same class to call for each other.  Later in the season, I often get newer pilots to call for me once I have the sequence well memorized.  It serves to expand their learning experience and increase their comfort level with Aresti.  I am not worried if they make an error because I should know the sequence well by that point in the season.


What about Judging?  Don’t worry about judging at your first contest.  CD’s typically are interested in having experienced judges. New pilots will not be asked to judge until they have more experience or until they have attended a Judging School or Seminar.  Not one is forced to judge if they are not comfortable or knowledgeable of the judging criteria. It is also not fair to the pilots competing to have judges that are beyond their element.


What about the Competition?  Well, my very best advice to new pilots is, “forget about the other pilots”.  You would be best served by developing the attitude that you are flying against yourself.  It does not matter if you come last, or first or somewhere in between.  You are at the contest to improve your piloting skills, first and foremost. Your primary goal is to learn and have fun.  If you happen to get a plaque or certificate, great!  But I would tell you sincerely, when starting out, to forget about where you place as compared to other pilots.


After you have flown in a few contests you can get competitive if you wish.  However, I am a strong believer that IMAC is about “friendly competition” and self-improvement.  Sure you will hear pilots kidding or joking with each other, you may hear friendly “trash talk”, but it is all in good fun.  When you become an experienced IMAC pilot and move up to higher levels and perhaps fly in National or even World competitions, then you can worry about where you place and how you stand compared to other pilots.  For now you are learning about flying IMAC and having fun.  The last thing you should worry about is trophies and “winning”.


There is much more that could be written about protocols and how contests work, however my goal with this article was to introduce enough concepts to help make your first contest a success.  


It cannot be overstated that you will learn much more by flying than just watching.  Jump in and ask for help, assistance is always available.  No one expects you to fly perfectly at your first contest.  No matter how many mistakes you make the other pilots will help you.  The main thing is to come out and give it a try – at a minimum you will have fun, improve your skills and make many terrific friends.


Bill Teeter

ARD North Central