What does VTPR stand for?

“Sorry for the rookie question. I know the flying style is similar to 3d powered flight”
– as posted by grfcon on RCGroups

Check out the new Facebook Group for VTPR and Slope Aerobatics! 🙂

Voltige Très Près du Relief – VTPR

VTPR, or “Voltige Très Près du Relief” in French and “aerobatics very close to the ground” translated in English, is an aerobatic slope glider flying style originating in France. What makes it notable is the extremely low altitude that many figures are performed at, often within a few feet – if not inches! – of the ground. The most extreme moves involve touching the belly, tail, or wingtip to the ground. The style of flying is very exciting and is now gaining popularity amongst slope aerobatics pilots worldwide.

So, VTPR is similar to 3D flying, in that it is done close to the ground, but quite different, too. Read on to learn more.

Here is what is considered the reference video for VTPR:

Ménez-Hom 2005 from surfimp on Vimeo.

VTPR is especially and perhaps most notably practiced in Brittany, and the Ménez-Hom site depicted above is perhaps its “mecca”. In Brittany, it is generally characterized by fairly large (2.5m+) gliders that are very lightweight (usually around 1500g or less). As you can see, the Pente Nord site at Ménez-Hom has a shallow grassy lip, which offers a special flying setup that lets you get really close to the ground but still have laminar flow, letting them continue flying aerobatics until parts of the glider are literally scraping on the ground. Dragging the top of the fin while doing an inverted pass is a touchstone VTPR maneuver.

Here are some Air 100s playing at Ménez-Hom this past year:

There has been a lot of discussion about VTPR on RCGroups going all the way back to 2005 when Pierre Rondel (of Planet-Soaring) introduced us to the term in a reply to me about the Minitoons (one of, if not the, very first EPP VTPR gliders). But as a flying style it has been practiced in Brittany and other parts of France for 20+ years (whether or not it had the VTPR moniker).

And of course, low aerobatics flying is popular all over the world, not just in France. Here in Santa Barbara, we also like to fly close to the pilots as well as the ground and have traditionally called it “in your face” flying. It is characterized by close interaction with the terrain features of the slope site, regardless of what those happen to be (bushes, trees, rocks, indentations, gullies, etc.)

3D Slope Aerobatics – “Madflight”

OK, so that said, the 3D style of flying is a slightly different thing. It can be performed close and low like VTPR, but it doesn’t have to (whereas it doesn’t make any sense to talk about VTPR if you’re flying 200′ out from the slope and 400′ above the ground – that’s just plain ole aerobatics flying).

3D slope flying also comes from France (noticing a trend yet?) and was pioneered by Benoit Paysant Le Roux aka BPLR with his design from the late 90s called the Madslide. It was the first slope aerobatics glider to feature a flying stabilizer with significant rotation capability (approximately 180* in total). This allowed it to do what BPLR referred to as “Madflight”, and what today is often called 3D by people coming from a powered background. The tight loop figures are referred to as “flips” by BPLR:

The Spread of VTPR and Madflight

Understanding about VTPR and Madflight was spread to English language speakers online largely through the efforts of Pierre Rondel of Planet-Soaring, MarcLR (of La Rochelle), Erik.R (of Toulouse) and other French pilots and designers who made the effort to reach out to a global audience and share news about this exciting form of flying. They posted the now famous Ménez-Hom video above, as well as this video showing Pierre Rondel flying the Minitoons, one of the first EPP VTPR gliders, at the beach in Brittany:

Minitoons from Pierre Rondel on Vimeo.

American VTPR

My own interest in VTPR developed out of my previous experience with the Aeromod Voltij slope aerobatics glider as well as various smaller ~2m scale models of the MDM-1 Fox and Swift S-1 and my passion for flying the Dream-Flight Weasel and Alula. For me, VTPR was very similar to the style of flying we were already regularly practicing here in Santa Barbara with the Weasel and Alula, something that we called “in your face” flying due to the close proximity of our gliders to ourselves. Inspired directly by the example of the open source Minitoons EPP glider, I designed the Le Fish VTPR glider in late 2005 and it was offered as a kit by Leading Edge Gliders starting in the spring of 2006. I posted the first Le Fish video to RCGroups in April 2006 and the American VTPR movement was born:

Le Fish at Farren from surfimp on Vimeo.

The ready availability of the Le Fish helped spread interest in VTPR and slope aerobatics in the US and beyond. Additional versions of Le Fish were made available in smaller and larger sizes and slowly this style of flying began to catch on and spread throughout the US and amongst English-speaking hobbyists worldwide. Dawson Henderson of Flagstaff, Arizona became a proponent of the style and his videos were hugely influential in captivating viewers and getting them excited about VTPR and slope aerobatics flying. Here is Dawson’s first slope acro video, the classic “Loop Loop” posted in January 2008:

Loop Loop from Dawson Henderson on Vimeo.

The Swiss Revolution

During the summer of 2011, my friend “Swiss Peter” and I were able to take a couple threads of development and put them all into one airframe. Using Le Fish as a basis, Peter introduced the idea of using an ultralight laminating film covering (pioneered here in the USA by Karl ThePredator of Colorado) and Depron control surfaces to create a version of Le Fish that was significantly lighter than normal – by as much as 50%. I incorporated a Madslide-inspired full flying stab capable of nearly 180* rotation, hoping to finally achieve successful Madflight flips with the Le Fish. We called these ultralightweight planes “Swiss Fish” and they were capable of full-on aerobatic flight in as little as 6-8mph… vastly extending the range of flyable conditions for the design. And we finally were able to do Madslide flips! It was an extremely exciting time 🙂

The ultra light weight of these planes (they are 1.5m and weigh about 16-17oz vs the original Le Fish weight of 35-40oz+) combined with the radical movement of the stabilizer allowed us to perform a VTPR / in your face / Madflight hybrid which is really fun. Pierre Rondel called it “ultimate VTPR”, but whatever you call it, it’s a good time!

Ellwood Compilation from surfimp on Vimeo.

Perpetual Motion II from surfimp on Vimeo.

The Spread of Ultralightweight VTPR

Those experiments led some really talented American pilots to also give ultralightweights a try, including Dawson Henderson, who was the first to successfully perform and document multiple consecutive flips in the style of BPLR. He also used a modified version of the Le Fish kit:

Le Flip… beyond the double from Dawson Henderson on Vimeo.

Paige Anderson of Future Slope Designs has started offering a number of VTPR and Madflight -capable gliders, including the Axis 60 and Axis 72:

Riding the Crest – Axis 60 from Paige Anderson on Vimeo.

There is another line of gliders offered by Dan McCleary of XG Extreme Gliders here in SoCal that are also inspired by the Madslide but have PSS (power soaring scale or power slope scale, depending on who you ask) lines:

Dan’s 40″ 12oz. Extra from John Scahill on Vimeo.

John “Big Gas” Scahill, a friend of Dan McCleary, is working on his own design idea beginning with the DoDo:

Dodo Slope Aerobat from John Scahill on Vimeo.

John has also modified a Telink Multifun to use a TP42 wing, with extended span… HUGE improvement!

And lastly Swiss Peter is working on his own development design he calls the Swissfish, which is now about 66″ wingspan and does not have a “Mad” elevator though it does have very large control surfaces capable of 3D-style deflections:

Natural Mystic from surfimp on Vimeo.

The Future of VTPR Aerobatics

The American VTPR movement is even gaining some mainstream appeal. Recently, clips from one of my videos were featured on the national TV show Right This Minute in their All About Remote Control Gliders at the Beach segment. Pretty cool! Here’s the full video, coincidentally my most popular to date with over 1,000 plays within the first 48 hours of its publication.

VTPR California Style from surfimp on Vimeo.

In May 2012, Michael Richter (of Dream-Flight) and myself collaborated on the design of a next generation aerobatics glider named the Aero-Glide. This plane featured a pod-and-boom style of fuselage and was designed for one specific purpose: to attempt a new trick, a Madflight -style flip in the yaw axis. On the first flight, we successfully performed the first-ever Rudder Flip, documented below:

The Aero-Glide UltraBatics Slope Glider Prototype from surfimp on Vimeo.

So anyways, that’s a brief history of VTPR, Madflight, and the US slope aerobatics renaissance in a nutshell 🙂

Now the question is, where do we go from here? Check out Futuristic VTPR slope aerobatics for some ruminations on the subject.

Good luck, and have fun!

Steve “Surfimp” Lange
March 2012

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