Ian Cole Responds
By Ian Cole
Posted June, 2008.
The following letter is in response to a review by ‘Flyonline’ and ‘Surfimp’ of Ian Cole’s work on slope soaring aerobatics. But first a bit of trivia: Aussies (Australians) can spell but there are at least three types of variations in spelling used frequently in aircraft lingo that may differ from some countries. 1/ The word maneuver is spelt differently as in, manoeuvre. 2/ The letter ‘z’ is often replaced with the letter ‘s’ toward the end of words such as organi(s)e and exerci(s)e. 3/ We use two of the letters ‘l’ toward the end of words such as model(l)er or travel(l)er. Don’t blame me, I didn’t make the rules. J)
I was very pleased to find this website, SlopeAerobatics.com in 2008. More pleasing was to come across a review of my work on aerobatics, even though it had come in for some close scrutiny. Still, that’s fine by me. Be warned though, my detailed analysis on aerobatics is not for the faint hearted. One should read my material meticulously before passing judgment.
Before I give my response, I feel it only fair that I be allowed to give some credibility to my work, for the sake of those who have no previous knowledge of my background in slope soaring aerobatics. I have been involved in aero-modelling for almost three decades. This includes slope soaring, powered aircraft and helicopters. I am a qualified flying instructor, have my Gold Wings and have judged for the powered fraternity in both powered aerobatics (known as Pattern) and powered scale. I’ve also been involved in dozens of slope contests, be it organising, judging or flying – my record speaks for itself. I’ve learnt much from these experiences and my website only exists because I wanted to share my experiences and knowledge with other slope soaring enthusiasts around the world. I had nothing to gain from publishing my work other than the satisfaction of being able to help other slope soaring enthusiasts to become better aerobatics pilots.
Work on my aerobatics book, AEROBATICS PLUS, began in 1992 out of sheer frustration. I got tired of going to competitions that didn’t have guidelines on both performing and judging aerobatics. Though my book is still evolving, it does have enough information to make one a competent aerobatics flier and a reasonable judge. Not surprisingly, the judging system I developed is a contentious issue. As with any sport where subjective or ‘non-tangible’ judging determines the final outcome, criticism is simply par for the course. It’s just the nature of the beast; be it gymnastics, spring-board diving, aerial skiing, dressage, etc.
I will respond to the following review, paragraph by paragraph or part thereof.
Flyonline: Rather than clutter up your 2nd Annual SlopeAerobatics.com video contest thread with other only partially related stuff, I thought I’d send you this link and see if you’d come across it in your web travels. I’m guessing you have but if not, enjoy.
Ian Cole’s Slope Soaring
Surfimp: I’ve read it previously and find it interesting from an historical perspective but at the same time find the system rather complicated and, since it seems to focus on doing one figure at a time within a preset space, rather than a routine (whether predetermined or freestyle), I feel that it’s rather dated in its approach.
Ian Downunder: This style of competition is definitely not dated. It takes considerable skill to perform a single manoeuvre highly accurately and all within a relatively small window. Created in the 1970s or thereabouts, this style of competition may appear to be complicated at first but so too is driving a car unless you are taught. The aerobatics program in principle is in line with pattern manoeuvres still performed world wide in the power fraternity, though granted, the slope aerobatics program is not done in a linked format. This is simply because it would be very difficult to perform highly accurate manoeuvres continuously when one hasn’t got a propeller pulling one’s glider through the air. Mind you, it could be possible to perform manoeuvres accurately, provided the venue was a near perfect slope accompanied by near perfect conditions. However, it is a rarity for these two factors to fall in place on a set date of any one contest, particularly in my neck of the woods. Most championships I have participated in have not produced the perfect day, resulting in average performances all around due to the fickle conditions. In many contests I have witnessed, pilots have crashed out or been forced to crash-land due to a sudden drop in wind, which we know as ‘sink’. Hence, my push for the introduction of electric power assisted gliders (EPA) – but that’s a topic for another time.
Surfimp: And I question how well a ‘flatland’ approach to aerobatics translates to the slope environment, as I alluded to in my response to your post in the thread.
Ian Downunder: Couldn’t find the thread referred to on this matter. However, when you read my book, AEROBATICS PLUS you will see that I have addressed this issue. To view the book, go to my website and click on the navigation button with the said name. Although some people feel that a landing has little to do with aerobatics, I believe that the landing should be an integral part of an aerobatics program. If you are referring to a ‘square pattern-type’ landing, then I agree, it probably doesn’t relate to the slope. However, in the early 1990s, I introduced an alternative and more appropriate method of landing called the SAFETY APPROACH AND LANDING (SAL), which is prescribed in my book. One has to land one’s glider some time (unless of course you crash it) and if one is involved in an aerobatics competition, one might as well perform a landing which takes a certain amount of skill. The SAL requires one upwind leg, one crosswind leg and one downwind leg, followed by a descending half turn back into wind, then landing, usually within a specified area. The landing by the way, (including the approach pattern) is to be performed in a consistent descending manner. Any ascending would result in a penalty point/s deduction. Performed accurately and gracefully, this type of manoeuvre just seems to top off ones routine nicely.
Surfimp: I’ve given aerobatics competition some amount of thought, not least of which due to its near complete absence from slope soaring today. I feel that, at least for Americans, the appeal of (and therefore interest in participating in) a judged aerobatics contest of any traditional sort is essentially zero.
Ian Downunder: Unfortunately, I have to agree with this point. Mention the word ‘competition’ downunder (Victoria, Australia) and everybody runs the other way. Aerobatics competitions were well patronised in 1980s but not now. I think our busier lifestyles, rising fuel costs and very efficient electric models have caused a dramatic drop in support for slope soaring, in particular, slope competition.
Surfimp: Basically, every sloper I’ve interacted with has expressed deep suspicion of any sort of subjectively-judged ‘figure skating on the slope’ type of thing. They’d rather fly F3F or DS where there is an objective (or at least, more objective) measure of performance.
Ian Downunder: I couldn’t agree more, which is why I developed my book. Paragraph 1, MECHANICS OF JUDGING AEROBATICS, breaks down every section of an aerobatic manoeuvre and in doing so, minimises most of the subject matter from the manoeuvre. In other words, I have found a way of turning ‘subjective’ matter into ‘tangible’ matter. I believe I am the first and only person in the world to make this break-through. Yes, I know you are going to say that no-one is going to bother to learn this paraphernalia – and you may be right. However, at least now there is a method out there if anyone cares to spend some quality time and learn it.
Digressing slightly, I branched out into judging powered aerobatics for a short time to gain more experience. I was amazed to find that there were no written tutorials or guidelines on how to judge. Wherever I went, I would be told to stand next to another judge and take mental notes and that eventually I would work it out for myself. To my way of thinking, this was just not good enough. In particular, this system (or lack of) was not fair on novice judges, not to mention the pilots being judged and it only made me more determined to fine a solution to subjective-type judging.
For those who don’t wish to go down the seemingly complex path of studying the chapter in my book, MECHANICS OF JUDGING AEROBATICS, the JUDGES SCOREBOARD shows a much simpler method of scoring subjective matter. Have a look at this as it has been used very successfully in Australia. To view the JUDGES SCOREBOARD, go to my website, then click on the navigation button with the name, MAAA RULES, then click on the PDF named AEROBATICS EVENTS KIT. I developed the kit so that slope soaring contests could be run much easier and in particular with consistency. Feel free to download it and let me know what you think.
Surfimp: Anyways, with that said, the video contest idea is a sort of end-run around that whole thing. By forcing participants to produce something that hopefully not only contains top-rate aerobatics flying but also appeals to the ‘unwashed masses’, you’ve got the makings of a fairly objective contest in the sense that everyone gets a fair shake and everyone gets to judge too. And it can become a team effort with pilots linking up with talented videographers and editors to make a great finished product – which is kind of cool from my perspective!
So that’s the direction I went with it. Competition is overall a good thing insofar as it pushes us and we’ve got this great technology that basically allows us to do a worldwide aerobatics competition and give everyone a chance to fly in the best conditions possible with the glider of their choice. Basically, put their best foot forward, so to speak. And be creative, much more so than any static and overly predefined single-site, single-day kind of contest ever could. I feel this is as big or bigger of a challenge than a traditional format contest and the outcome proves just as conclusively (if not more conclusively) who the best pilot(s) is/are.
That’s how I see it, anyways!
Flyonline: Yes, I’m not sure how you’d be able to keep track of all those scores AND the points off the plane. I understand you’re point of view on freestyle, I personally much prefer to fly that way myself, winging it, so to speak as I fly.
Ian Downunder: I have no problem with FREESTYLE AEROBATICS. Actually I love this form of flying and do it often. In fact I have developed a freestyle format which you can view in my book. Accompanied with music, my program would be similar to what SlopeAerobatics.com is offering, though my manoeuvres would be done with a degree of formality and accuracy. Basically what I mean is, the manoeuvres and turns are performed to music (optional) as individual items and marked accordingly but linked or connected with freestyle flying. Additional points are scored for overall presentation. Still, I am happy with the program SlopeAerobatics.com is offering. It encourages people to have a go. I agree that few people these days want to get tangled up with over-regimented flying and/or judging.
Regarding keeping track of the scores (as I touched on previously), one doesn’t just jump into a car and drive off without first having lessons, many lessons, many repetitive lessons. One usually has to learn how to do something by doing a course and/or spending many hours of repetitious practise, to be able to do what it is one is trying to do. Performing aerobatics and in particular, judging aerobatics, is no different. It takes many hours of practise. In the past, I have run courses on judging to qualifying people to judge accurately and consistently for our State championship events. Each course took several weeks and included theory and practical sessions. When it comes to judging, it’s one thing to be able to come up with a consistent score but to do it for the right reasons is something else entirely. When you know what you are doing and use proper equipment and guidelines (see photo of JUDGES SCOREBOARD), it’s not too hard to do Ã¢â‚¬â€œ really it isn’t. I have recently designed a computer program as well, using MICROSOFT EXCEL, which automatically calculates the scores, including automatically adding a K factor (degree of difficulty score) for each manoeuvre. This program was not available to download at the time of posting this letter – but it will be in time to come.
Flyonline: However, if each routine had to include a few, say 3 or 4 maneuvers such as 4 point roll, hammerhead etc, this would give a base on which to judge the piloting skills against each other. I understand that this is ‘only’ a comp for the masses but if you ever start a competition yourself……
Surfimp: Many people, bless their souls, have rather limited understandings of aerobatics beyond loops & rolls. There’s nothing at all wrong with it and in fact, rather than have an attitude about it, I embrace it. Far better to make an exciting and compelling video that inspires people to get interested in slope aerobatics than a ‘technical exposition’ filled to the brim with super difficult but super boring (for the ‘unwashed masses’) flying. Y’know?
I’m not against it in concept, but my ‘mission’ is to popularise slope aerobatics enough that people can actually see and understand the difference between, for example, an aileron roll and a snap roll. I know, sounds obvious, but it really isn’t to a lot of people, at least in the US / UK / Australia / New Zealand. Slope aerobatics knowledge in the ‘English language’ part of the world is still pretty much where it was when Jeff Raskin and Ian Cole (bless their souls ) wrote their treatises on the subject back in the late 80s and early 90s. We’re 10-15 years behind, at a minimum, what’s going on in France. Maybe more.
Ian Downunder: I agree entirely but I don’t know about the ‘bless their souls’ bit. That’s okay. I can take it.J))). Better to be talked about than not at all.
Flyonline: Could be that the above makes your point, I don’t really know. I think you have to first make aerobatics compelling on a visceral, no-explanation-needed X-Games type of level and from there you can work on developing the appreciations for and understandings of the more technical stuff. Maybe next year if things keep on their current trajectory – or the year after.
Ian Downunder: Again, go to my website and click on the navigation button named, COMPETITION. There you will find a competition called MINDTWISTER. This format has been specifically designed for both the novice and expert. It has a very basic set of guidelines that enable and encourage a pilot to learn to fly aerobatics and at the same time, learn about judging. Again, feel free to download it.
Flyonline: Maybe I should make a video of my Orca, some huge carving turns and some thrash metal.
Surfimp: F’in A dude, it might win! Seriously!
Flyonline: So, hum when are YOU writing a treaty on the subject? I’ve always thought that a limbo/aerobatics/bottle knockdown would be a lot of fun.
Surfimp: Well, there’s the stuff I’ve got on slope aerobatics so far but that’s more introductory as opposed to ‘opination’. And for that matter, maybe we don’t need ‘yet another’ definition of what slope aerobatics ‘should be’, rather just encouragement of whatever it is, as well as we imperfectly understand it?
As regards to limbo/aerobatics/bottle knockdown: Now you’re talking my language! The whole aerobatics thing is really just a furtherance to general stunt flying or ‘hooliganry at the slope’ as I believe it’s referred to in the UK.
Flyonline: It’s funny how each country seems to concentrate on one or two disciplines more than the others. e.g. f3J in Australia, TD in the US, F3F in Europe. Hopefully you can start a world wide craze of slopebatics (well, moreso than you have so far with Le fishies).
Surfimp: Yep, in Europe, F3F is popular (my buddy Karras once said that in Spain, they like ‘F3F and then more F3F’…) though in France they like these non-scale aerobats like the kind I’m into and in Germany/Austria/Switzerland they are into gigantic scale aerobatics off aerotow and (to a bit lesser degree from what I can tell) the slope. It’s ironic that here in the US, scale soaring is basically just ‘TD with a tug’ LOL.
All I ever really wanted was a Weasel that could fly inverted as well as it did upright and had a rudder… now look what’s happened!
Flyonline: It’s funny how things turn out isn’t it. If someone had said to me 4 months ago that I’d scratch build a TWF and end up with another, I’d have laughed at them. Here I am with 2 now.
It must be nice seeing all those fishies/guppies out there knowing that you’re having a hand in someones fun. Especially something like that, as opposed to an F3x/thermal type plane. Le F/G are just ‘fun’ planes. Are there any other planes in the pipework?
Surfimp: I’m very pleased at Le Fish’s success. It turns out the itch I wanted to scratch was something other people have found a real interest in too. And it’s been good for Jack, as a way to diversify his line and grow with the times.
I can’t take a whole lot of ‘ego’ credit for the Le Fish, because all I really did was take a bunch of prior art and combine it in one plane. The EPP ‘best practices’ building techniques that evolved on RCG along with the inspiration from the French MiniToons and the Voltij, along with my own twist of adding the straight leading edge wing (I have a predilection for forward swept planes). And I guess a good amount of luck, too! Anyways, it really turned out to be a great plane for me and I’m glad that thanks to Jack, a lot of other people get to enjoy it, too.
And ultimately my interest in this kind of fun stunt flying goes back to my passion for the Weasel and my friendship with Michael Richter. He’s all about low stress, high fun and it’s really rubbed off on how I look at things with respect to this hobby. I have nothing against the F3x or other competitive scenes but they don’t call to me in the same way that stunt flying does. I guess I’m just a big wuss, afraid to ‘throw down’ with the best but anyways I stand by my videos as testament to what I can do with a toy airplane and ‘let my flying do the talking’ in that regard.
As for new planes, as long as I am interested in this hobby, I will keep designing planes. Whether they turn into production kits or not is another question but who knows! If they work well, why not, so long as there is a manufacturer willing to produce them and support them the way Jack does. I certainly have no aspirations to ‘get in the business’ as it’s a ton of hard work and often not so much by way of compensation in return.
Hey, this mini-interview has been a lot of fun! Would it be OK with you if I compiled it and posted it on slopeaerobatics.com? You’ve ‘gotten me to talk’ on a lot of subjects at some length, seems like good article material. As a webmaster I’m a total content-slut!
Flyonline: Sure, I’ve always wanted to be famous. If you want anything else just ask.
Surfimp: Thank you, Steve! I’ve really enjoyed this. Now it will be immortalised ‘forever’ on SlopeAerobatics.com 🙂
Ian Downunder: In summary. Having a deep passion for this sport is what led me to thoroughly research and analylise slope soaring aerobatics. My work is uniquely presented only because at the time of writing the material, I made a point to not view other people’s work for fear of plagiarizing. Since coming on board SlopeAerobatics.com I have read other points of view on aerobatics and they are all very interesting. However, I will make this bold statement! If you read my book thoroughly, particularly anything to do with aerobatics and you truly believe in my work, your aerobatics skills, freestyle or otherwise, will improve considerably – that I promise you.
And for the more spiritually minded, good quality slope aerobatics is not just about ‘hooning’ around the sky, flipping your glider every which way. It’s more about being attuned to your aircraft, feeling what your aircraft is feeling. When you move the sticks on your transmitter you should feel an almost spiritual bond with your glider. The muscles in your fingers and hands should have an almost isometric feel to them. You don’t just see a blank sky, you see a sky full of skyroads in which to pilot your glider along – invisible they may be to some – but not to you. Until you reach this almost spiritual level between you, your glider, the sky and the land, you will never really understand what I am on about and therefore, you will always be content to remain a good pilot and never aspire to become a great one.
Well, I hope you found my response interesting. I do appreciate being given the opportunity.
Happy sloping, Ian Downunder.