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An F3B Primer

An F3B Primer

Thankyou to the author Dennis Phelan

The following articles were written for the newsletters of the Downeast Soaring Club and the Eastern Soaring League.

Subsequently printed as a chapter in Airage Publications "R/C Pilot?s Handbook" and reproduced here with their permission
Thermal Duration, World Class. That’s what this event is all about. It’s sniffing out thermals, finding thermals, following thermals, waiting for thermals as well as flying to, from and through thermals. Yup! You do those already. In this event, you get to look for lift in the duration task, rip off laps in good air for the distance task and for speed, and wait for the best air to start your run in. See, thermal duration. Working time, relaunching and normalized scores in flight groups are some of the devices that make this event fair for all.

This sport can be very difficult to get started in. These articles were made available to make it easier for someone with an interest to learn about the event, the tasks, and prepare for serious practice. It doesn’t come close to telling a pilot how to fly. Each group of F3B pilots working as a team practices according to their own wants and needs, here are some ideas on how you can prepare for competition.

If after reading them, you decide to work on the event and have no one to look to for answers, have no fear. Contact me and I will direct you to someone near who can help. What! You thought I was going to answer all your questions?

This is the beginning; there is no end.


(Eastern America’s Soaring Team)


What started as a classified ad in the E.S.L. newsletter in early 1991 has finally brought a new team into the F3B arena. Here is the story of how our team was formed and what happened along the way.

I had been flying F3B tasks since 1987. After qualifying for and flying in the 1990 Team Selection Contest I realized being part of a team was necessary to become competitive in the event. The quality of my practice sessions was limited simply because I was flying alone which made it hard to get better at the distance and speed tasks. “Advertise for flyers” I said and so called Byron Blakeslee, the editor of F3B/ USA. He told me I had a good idea but only one person in my area subscribed. Since I already knew Steve Syrotiak, the local subscriber, I looked to the regional pool of pilots in the Eastern Soaring League for interested people.

After a whole flying season of no replies to my ad I sent a form letter to a group of seven pilots with good flying skills, possible interest and the ability to get together and fly. Mike Lachowski, John Marion and Steve did reply and showed up to see what the event was about. Others I sent the letter to replied and were to be too busy or would be glad to help a team on a non-flying basis. After talking to Mike I was sure he would be off forming his own team with local people rather than myself. Steve surprised me by pushing to get practice sessions going and in January and February 1992 we did get together with John for some not so serious task practice. We were hoping that Jim Tyrie would make it, like the event and join in, but weather kept him away.

Everything started happening the first weekend in April. Three pilots with F3B planes, Steve with his Synergy 91, Mike with his own design F3B and me with a Comet 89T. I had sent copies of the rules out and after discussing them we started practicing Task B, distance. What’s different about this task is flying back and forth in a straight line. After a few flights everyone was at least doing that much, I was also getting them to keep the nose down and moving fast. I couldn’t keep Mike from circling in lift while on the course. Things got better quickly and once they had each put up a flight of over 20 laps there was a genuine understanding of how the task should be flown. Day two of the weekend and we were doing distance again, paying more attention to the teamwork aspect and calling turns. Mike stayed late to do speed runs and out of his first six came up with some good times.

Based on his abilities in the first session I talked Mike into going out to Chicago the next weekend for a S.O.A.R. qualifying contest for the team selection event. Rich Burnoski was our host and Tom Blood was the C.D. for two days of contests that provided great practice in what had to be the worst of weather and yes, we did get Mike and I qualified.

Distance practice dominated our next two sessions, practicing relaunching, launch techniques and teamwork. Now everyone was capable of flying with a wing loading of 20 oz/ft or better, could handle the course with any wind and could fly both sides of the course Mike and Steve were both ready to dive into speed.

The first weekend in May was windy and our position on the field had us flying near trees but we remained undaunted. We had helping us my brother Roger, another glider pilot Mike Fritz, and a good friend Bob Hurlburt. These three came to the field to help with chutes and sight Base B for most all of the sessions at the Durham field and were here for the show along with the power flyers of my club, the Black Sheep Squadron. We set up the four winches and launched from each in succession doing consecutive practice flights. None of our timed runs were world-beaters and Steve remarked that the Portuguese National Team as yet had nothing to worry about.

Two more practices in May and early June were devoted to speed runs and we worked hard at calling turns, timing and critiquing each flight. We added one more helper to our crew when Dave Garwood came by to learn the different jobs required of a person at Base A during the tasks.

Two final sessions for the pilots and crew covered such items as the learning the total time taken to bring a plane down then relaunch back to altitude, remote launching for Task C(speed) and some man-on-man using the working time with relaunches for simulated contest experience.

As a three-man team we had practiced together more than half a dozen times and we weren’t doing too badly considering two of the pilots had less than six months experience with the tasks. We were ready to go to the NAT’S and meet Terry Edmonds, our fourth pilot. A pilot may have four people helping during a flight, we had three pilots for help with Roger, Dave and Mike available for duty. We also found it necessary to recruit ESL members Terry Luckenbach and Tony Matyi during the contest. We were ready and the contest was a week away, but that’s another story.


Why is teamwork important in F3B? Why did our teams at the World Championships do so well? Here are some answers why.

During the contest tasks, the pilot making the official flight needs the team pilots and mechanics help. Listed below are the jobs that pilots like to have performed for them while keeping their eyes on the glider and mind on the task at hand. These are jobs that I’ve had done for me and performed for others. Some pilots may like more than this done; some will get away with less. Pilots have been known to complete tasks without help from anyone at all!

Good teamwork can really improve a persons abilities and scores. We all use teamwork to our advantage. When you pick an official timer at a Thermal Duration contest and have him keep track of time for you, watch the other gliders, get information on the condition of the air or pick a landing circle and straighten the tape, you have become part of a team. You are also a part of the team by taking on those tasks. As we know, there is no commitment here and in these cutthroat contests, some “timers” are better than others are.

An F3B team is made up of three or four pilots. A team may have more than four people; rules allow only four people total to help the pilot at any task. Having extra people means that a pilot flying in the next flight group has a chance to get ready, the person at the turn-around can be replaced and it’s nice to just watch what’s happening or have a chance to relieve yourself.

Each pilot will find that he has a preference for who will help at certain jobs, one person may be best to call his turns, another launch for him. There may be one person on the team that will call turns best for all or who can only be counted on to keep time. By flying and practicing together the jobs will be assigned so all pilots have the best chance to perform in the air. Oh yes, each team-member may do more than one job during a task and will be capable of performing many, if not all of the jobs.

It is as important to practice these tasks as to learn to fly the plane. In F3B scores are normalized inside flight groups, when you help your team do well, pilots on the other teams don’t get big points against YOU.

These are a few, some, or all of the ways you might want to be helped, or help.

At Launch, all tasks:

1) Man the turn-around to retrieve the line and return it to the winch for a relaunch.

2) Hold and launch the glider, in the distance task, hold the glider up for identification.

3) Operate the winch or, if the pilot operates the winch, to wind the line down to within 10 meters of the turnaround after launching.

4) Start the working-time clock and keep the pilot informed of how much time is left.

5) Be ready to retrieve the glider for a relaunch.

6) Help pick the air and the tactics for this working time.


1) Clock the time of flight, from the moment of launch to landing in duration. Supply this information to the pilot in the format of his choice, countdown or time into flight.

2) Inform the pilot about working time and his chance of relaunching.

3) Inform the pilot about air, the location of other members of the flight group, how well each is doing and their chance of relaunching.

4) Inform the pilot of landing circle position, wind direction, air traffic, trees and other obstacles during the landing.


1) Inform the pilot how much time he has spent on the course and keep track of lap times.

2) Inform the pilot about working time and his chance of relaunching.

3) Count the laps.

4) Call the Base A and B roll-ins and turns

5) Repeat the turn signal given by the officials.

6) Watch the flight group members and help decide if a relaunch is advisable.

7) Advise the pilot at minimum altitude to stay away from the pits, winches and sighting devices and direct him to a safe landing.


1) Help pick the time the pilot chooses to launch.

2) Call the approach to base A as the pilot exits the course.

3) Call the Base A and B roll-ins. Call the turns.

4) Repeat the turn signal given by the officials.

5) Watch the safety line and keep the pilot on course.

6) And of course inform the pilot about working time and his chance of relaunching.




Welcome to your first season of F3B flying. Yes, there’s snow on the ground and it’s cold, but there’s a lot to be done. A few things must be gathered together so the actual flying sessions will be productive and fun.

The most important item on the list is also difficult to find, but when you have this gem the rest is easy. You need a team. To learn anything about the tasks quickly you need three people at the field, three that want to fly F3B. The team will share the timing, act as officials, become instructors, critics and competition. They will also make it much easier to put together all the following items.

Two landing tapes are needed. 15 meters long marked every meter. OK, you can use rope with a knot every 39 inches, OK, OK you can take your hats off and throw them on the ground before you set up for your landing pattern. These should not be used much on practice days, maybe once at the end of the day for man on man duration or early in the day before the thermals are rising. Why? Because we have better things to do when there’s lift coming through.

To lay out a course for distance and speed tasks a measured wire or rope 200 meters (656 feet) long to control the length of the winch line with a mark on it to indicate 150 meters (492 feet) for the course should be made. For first practices measuring the winch line once will suffice, close is good enough. Learn to pace off the 200 meters and it should be easy to determine the 164 feet that base B is short and pace back to it. For the first sessions, when you are learning to stay on course and make turns accurate distance is not important, but only at first.

Sights for base A and B are needed to finish the course. As you get on with F3B nice ones will be very important. To get started a sight could be as little as a good reference to a tree on the edge of the field, two tall poles lined up perpendicular to the winch lines or could end up as a piece of aluminum with a hoop on top, mounted on a camera tripod.

To signal from base B to A you could use something as simple as a flag, but flags don’t work. Someone must be looking at the flag at the moment it is waved or the signal is missed, yes, having a person dedicated to this job makes it work better and there are other tricks to communicate with a flag and not get a wrong signal but an audible signal will work better. Inexpensive walky-talkies will work under some conditions but for having limited manpower at the field, nothing beats a good set of CB radios, hand held or voice operated, cell phones will work too if you have the "minutes".

Two stopwatches are the minimum for a session. Working time and flight time are both important and you should keep track of both on every flight. A count down feature is very nice.

Two or more winches, Ford, Bosch, sport, bring what you have. Worry about legal winches when you want to try for a place on the team. Oh yes, the more the merrier, relaunches you know. You’re going to love launching. On a sad note, there are not many winches out there in the world yet. Do not despair, you can hand tow, even use a pulley! The line length is 175 meters for F3B (574 feet).

Almost last, get a rule book on the FAI events from the AMA.

Last, ballast. Folks, it makes your plane go. Make up one the heaviest you would put in the plane. A Falcon 880 can easily carry 24 ounces (maybe more), make another half that weight. Don’t make ballast in small weights, a few ounces does nothing.




Ah, spring! No doubt you’ve been out all ready this year, contending with the stiff breezes and wet fields. The old fingers are getting back their feel for the sticks and summer is just around the corner. If you were considering flying the tasks of F3B you may have gotten together a few or all of the items necessary to be serious. That should mean you have a TEAM to be out practicing with, or at the least someone that will be coming to the field to help you at base B and whatever. Good for you if you have a Team.

I’m going to talk here of your first flying of the tasks, not the first practice you’ll have with the Team. Getting together with the guys for an afternoon is fun, so is flying F3B, but, more will be learned by going to the first fully manned session ready to help the others and be ready to fly yourself. What you want to learn flying as a Team is what you can’t learn yourself. Respect must be given to the others at the field, you should not be there wasting their time. You must have tried on your own before you ask for help and have some good advice for them when they ask.

To put yourself in this position, do it alone. Start by going to the field and setting the winch, the course, the practice schedule and try to set up repetitive maneuvers, individual practices to teach yourself something about handling your plane, rolling is good, learning to roll is very good.

Set up the airplane. Learn to fly it. When your Team needs you on a Team day they don’t want to hear that you have to take time out to dial in your CG or reset the elevator trim, they need you NOW or the day is going to waste. You don’t want to hear that nothing is being learned and this F3B stuff is for the birds. You will know trouble is brewing if someone on the Team wants to put up a flight while things are being straightened out.

Get the plane flying right. Much of the flying in practices is done at speed and in straight lines. Make sure the plane flies in straight lines without input from you. Just as the plane should not turn in the horizontal plane, it should fly hands off in the vertical as well. If you drop the nose to pick up speed, the plane should go faster, not start climbing and slowing, and you shouldn’t have to hold the nose down or up with the stick. Get the trims set, get to know the plane. If you’ve been flying your old trusty thermal ship only to thermals, this new stuff is going to create some problems. Fly in front of yourself, from right to left and then from left to right, using BOTH right and left turns. On the next flight, fly to and from your position to some point on the horizon, back and forth to the same spot, you’ve got it, using right and left turns.

How far should you go before turning? How far is 150 meters? How many seconds does it take to go 150 meters? How small is the plane one lap out, at altitude or low to the ground? An excellent way to get a feel for this is to set the plane down near the winch, so you can see the full span, then walk the course to base B and look at the plane, there it is without any altitude. To see what it looks like at altitude, walk across the course. Every foot you walk across the field is a foot of altitude. Take a hike, you may be doing laps at 600 to 800 feet. This is the kind of thing that you should do alone. If everyone on the Team goes out on their own then the Team sessions will be excellent

Put ballast in on these days and get used to it. Distance and speed will be done with the plane loaded. Master slow and moderate speed flight, shallow bank and steeply banked turns, both right and left. Fair warning, don’t make low altitude downwind turns with the plane set up this way until you have some experience. Stop doing laps with enough air to easily get in position for a landing.

Here’s a novel idea, try practicing launches. Typically you go up the line, zoom and steer your plane towards where you think the lift is, usually drifting and trying to not loose altitude. Do this instead; it’s a must for speed and distance. Before you launch decide which side of the sky you are going to be doing laps in. Run up the line, just before the zoom turn the plane slightly in the direction you want to go, zoom and do it nearly vertically. The plane should be going up to one side, I hope it’s the one you picked. Pull just enough up elevator so the plane is pointed back towards base A before it runs out of steam, roll it out to level flight, set the speed and get ready to exit the course. Now the plane is ready to roll over for the entry of a speed run or turn in or out on the course for the first lap of distance. Practice "hooking" and "weaving" later!

Before you get tired or run down the batteries try speed. Honest now, there’s no need to kill yourself on this first day. Four laps, just do four laps. Burn off altitude to keep speed up but save altitude so you can do all four laps. Do not go so fast as to be out of control. If you want to see fast, keep flying out of control, crashes happen REAL fast when you’re learning. Before you begin the run try to figure out which directions you will be turning so you don’t get confused on the course. Turning into the wind is good, cutting the safety line, bad, zero points bad. Some things you should get used to from the beginning.

After this session I’m sure you’ll feel like you’ve really done something different. With the knowledge gained today the first Team practice will go a lot better, so will all the ones to follow. The harder each pilot works at his flying the more will be learned by all. Keeping a group together is easy if everyone is happy. I hope you have a small group to fly with. The next installment will explain how two or three people can have a decent practice together.




Checklist time. Do I know what the wind direction at the field will be? Does everyone know what time to be at the field? Is my transmitter charged? Am I ready? It’s time to get together, have some real fun and do some serious learning. A team practice will improve more than the flying skills of the pilots.

READY-SET-GO!” Those are the words shouted by a pilot, his launcher and the pilot again, before the switch on the winch gets jammed down. They’re very common words at our field, heard sixty to eighty times during a six hour practice. “READY-TURN!” It takes three people minimum to make those calls happen during a flight. We hear those calls often. “I’ll get the plane!” Commonly heard at base A when the person flying has more flights left in their turn at the course. It’s a friendly gesture that lets pilots stay in tune with the flying and gives good practice for relaunching. “What do we do now, more distance or speed?” “Wiggle the sticks, I want to see everything move!” It’s nice to know he cares, so far, every time we’ve launched, the pilot has had control. Uncrossing the used winch lines, beeping the turns and retrieving the lines at the end of a series of launches give you a chance to think about the flying of the day, yours and theirs. Launching, winding down the line, calling the turns and bringing the plane back to the launch site are what keep you from getting the water and rest you know your body needs.

Those will probably be the thoughts you remember at the end of a team practice session. But what will you be doing? The first thing to get done is the laying out of the course. Set up base A at the winch line, point it down the course and measure the 150 meters to base B and set up the second sighting device. Make it nice and square! Make sure everyone has only 200 meters of line to the turnaround and you’re ready to put planes together.

We have to assign some tasks now. We need a person to be the base A official, a person to launch the plane, operate the winch, wind down the line and another to call the turns for the pilot. I just described the tasks for two people. One is the official, a second person does all the rest. We’ll need one person at base B to call turns so if there’s anyone left with nothing to do they can help that one guy that’s real busy! The last person we need is the pilot with a plane. Now we’re going to see who’s been doing their homework.

There are three good ways to hold practices. When people are learning the tasks, the best way is to have one pilot at a time launch, fly the task, then launch on the next winch, fly the task again and so on down the line until there are no more lines to hook up. Then rotate the people helping, so they all get a chance to do each job. Get the next pilot, he came out of the rotation, and have him do the same. How did he get winch lines, you ask?

The person at base B brought them back with him during the rotation. Hint, if you’re short on winches, rotate tasks every time you run out of lines, but keep the same pilot. It really pays for the pilot to fly enough times to learn something. Got it! Round and round we go, through the rotation again and again. Time to change tasks. After you’ve gotten warmed up on distance, move onto SPEED! Speed is simple, just keep doing the same rotation but each launch the pilot will only fly four laps of the course.

When you know how to handle the plane on the course and everyone feels they know the tasks, its time to add pressure. Now we add working time and flight time. When a pilot steps up to the winch line, his job will be the same as in a contest, only he won’t be flying against anyone. Give him a short preparation time and then start the working time clock. He has all the winches and all the help he needs to pick the air, put the plane in it and fly the course. He has all of working time to do it, just like a contest. He does one working time and then everyone rotates, next pilot up to do the same thing, no competition, but when you’ve just moved up from learning the tasks, this is tough.

If you worked hard to put a practice together you may have enough people to have a most excellent practice session, man on man, with officials. You know where the officials come from, anyone that’s not flying or launching. These are the sessions you work for. When all the pilots in the group can handle the pressure and the planes don’t need trimming or repairing at the field anymore, this is what you do. Make sure all your friends that wanted to see you fly come out, along with the pilots you know that didn’t want to try F3B and any relatives that happened to drop by. Manpower is what you need now. To run distance man on man for two requires: two pilots, two launchers/helpers, two base A turn callers, two more at base B and someone has to do the timing and lap counting. Go back to the last sentence and add up all those “two’s,” it’s an easy ten. Of course, the helpers can count laps, keep track of working AND flight time as well as keep in mind the fact they are trying to locate the best air for their pilot and inform him of the where-abouts of his opponent! Isn’t F3B GREAT!

It’s tough to have man on man practices. You can save four positions by having the launcher/helpers act as the officials at base A. Don’t ask me to do all that though, because I’ll fail you. Tell you what! Man on man the best way, is to have a contest, yes the most excellent way!!