The Changing Face of Slope Aerobatics in America
Part I – The French Invade The Slopes
In recent months slope aerobatics has witnessed a resurgence of interest not seen since servos went from the size of a small shot glass to something not much larger than your thumbnail.
On days when the wind was questionable, many of us kept one eye on the wind markers outside and the other eye on YouTube videos from France that demonstrated a new and strange approach to slope aerobatics called VTPR. Roughly translated, it means “aerobatics close to the ground.” But it was more than this. VTPR also demonstrated a style that emphasized an almost ballet-like approach to slope soaring that stood in direct contrast to the more hyperactive style commonly associated with the American aerobatic pilot. Where the French were dancing to the waltz, the Americans preferred rock ‘n roll.
Initially, many Americans found it hard to appreciate what the French were bringing to the table. To many of us, the French style of VTPR lacked the excitement and the “danger” that Americans seemed to require to feed their adrenaline addiction. I assume that is what has made Dynamic Soaring so popular in the States. It’s not simply to see if Johnny can fly faster than Billy. It is the rush of seeing so-called “toy planes” fly over 400 mph knowing that you are only a moment away from potential disaster…or worse.
The best example of our initial lack of appreciation comes from my own experience entering an aerobatic video contest a few years back. The eventual winner had performed a very slow and graceful entry which included long sweeping half-pipes, long and sweeping inverted passes…with an occasional long and sweeping roll…yes, it was long and sweeping. But it was also performed very close to the ground and done so with a confident hand. At first, I was amazed at the fact that it garnered three times the number of votes than did my entry. Oh, my entry? It was your basic frenzied performance littered with high-speed multiple rolls, daring diving maneuvers and loops, loops and loops. I couldn’t understand how this slow and low to the ground style could even compete against my own anxiety-ridden blur of a performance.
It took a few years and the inspiration of a handful of Americans to help me see that there was something going on in the world of VTPR that completely escaped our understanding. Over time, many of us began to see VTPR as a special “style” of slope soaring that had more than a legitimate place in our quiver of aerobatic arrows.
As a result of this new-found appreciation, some started developing web sites that covered the subject of VTPR in America. Probably the most dedicated offering was from the people at Slope VTPR Aerobatics. Here a growing number of articles and videos were compiled with a very specific purpose…to expose and promote VTPR in America.
Of course, this wasn’t the only site to discuss and display VTPR. This very site, slopeaerobatics.com, has included many VTPR videos and discussions on the subject. However, this site makes VTPR a “part” of the total slope aerobatic picture as it should be.
Of course, the first thing that Americans interested in VTPR had to do was to start developing designs that were VTPR friendly. The French had plenty of great VTPR designs that have certainly influenced our approach to development. While the Americans had limited access to designs from overseas, they did have a number of American planes that would make exploring VTPR possible. The Le Fish from the design table of Steve Lange comes to mind and has been available for a number of years. It is now enjoying a resurgence of popularity as the French style gains more and more followers.
But the Le Fish wasn’t the only one. A full list of both foreign and domestic VTPR capable planes can be found here.
The VTPR invasion doesn’t mean that we Americans are going to copy move by move the strict VTPR style. Rather, it is clear, at least to me, that we will see the VTPR style incorporated in the already well-established American approach to aerobatics.
Next: The Ultra-Lights Are Coming