Why You Should Try Competitive Soaring

If you think competitive soaring isn't for you, read on to find out why you might be wrong.


You Might Just Love It

As some of you may know, I started flying in the mountains of NC. Sailplanes were what I loved and there was nothing else like being out on the slope for a day of fun. Over my career, I've branched out into just about every segment of the hobby like 3D, speed, helicopters and drones, but sailplanes have always been my favorite.

I knew about sailplane competitions back in those early days, but it just didn't sound like fun to me. I was a sport flyer and why would I want all that pressure of competing when you could just enjoy flying however you like. Well I hate to say it, but I was wrong. I so regret being closed minded about competitions. About 5 years ago I picked up my first DLG and decided to go try an F3K contest and that changed everything for me. I fell in love with flying contests and here's why.

You get to fly with a purpose. Flying by yourself with no goal in mind is still fun, but giving yourself a challenge has a different feeling to it. Making the target time with perhaps a low save is a great endorphin rush. It's more than just a "that was fun" moment, you get a "THAT WAS AMAZING!!!" moment.

You'll make some great friends and get to travel. It's more fun to fly with others and traveling to contests lets you meet new people and fly at new locations. You build friendships and recount stories, experience epic flights together and the whole contest experience is built around community with meals and all. You get to see how others build, repair and setup their planes and can learn a lot just by hanging around other pilots. You also get to push each other to perform better and expand your skills.

Even if you don't plan to be "competitive," you should go to a contest. It's not all about winning or doing well, although a lot of us do want to fly well. It's hard to explain, but there's so much more to it than winning and winning can mean different things to different people. For some, winning may be not landing in a tree or landing out of bounds, for others it may be outflying their buddy in an All Up Last Down Round. Winning may be just getting out of town for the weekend.

The point is, if you think contests are not for you, I'd like to encourage you to open your mind to the possibility that it may just be the best thing you'll ever do in your flying career. There's nothing I'd rather do more on a weekend than to spend it out at a contest and that may happen to you too, just don't blame me when it does : )

If you'd like to go experience a contest and see for yourself what it's all about, you can check out the events forum linked below.

Click Here to View the RCGroups Sailplane Events Forum

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Jun 25, 2020, 04:59 PM
Registered User
I think competition flying would be fantastic (Iím especially enamoured of F5J, those beautiful Maxa 4s what whatnot) but holy, you could it a mortgage for the cost of those ships! They sure look like theyíre worth every penny, but thatís not in the cards in this lifetime I deem.

Arenít even basic DLGs close to $1000CAD at least?
Jun 25, 2020, 06:15 PM
Registered User

F3-RES is a fun class and if you don't mind building you can get into a nice kit and gear for under $300.00.

Dave R.
Jun 25, 2020, 07:15 PM
Registered User
That seems more reasonable. Iíve actually been doing a little reading about F3RES. It looks like a cool beginner class.

Someday Iíll sell my car and buy an F5J ship... someday!
Jun 25, 2020, 07:32 PM
Professional sink locator
To me it's not about how much you spend, but it's about how much you like flying with like minded people.
I tend to fly what I call my "Junk Yard Dogs" , planes that are not the latest and greatest, but are still competitive within the field. It's not about "Cubic Dollars", but as Jason stated it's all about having fun.
Latest blog entry: Repairing a boom break
Jun 25, 2020, 07:55 PM
Introduction F5J
$175 + shipping for the kit
Rudder - elevator - flaps - motor = donít need a fancy radio with all the bells and mixing whistles

Yellow Jacket 3M & 3.5M
A bit more, but has a composite fuse
Rudder - elevator - spoiler - motor = see above

Two excellent choices, fly remarkably well & great bang for the $

Will they out-soar a $2k moldie? Probably not, but theyíre good enough to stay in the middle of the pack and take a round from the big boys here and there

Most importantly it will get you out flying without breaking the bank

My $0.02

Jun 25, 2020, 08:56 PM
the kitty litter of rcgroups
rdwoebke's Avatar
Originally Posted by DoverSail
I think competition flying would be fantastic (Iím especially enamoured of F5J, those beautiful Maxa 4s what whatnot) but holy, you could it a mortgage for the cost of those ships!
Originally Posted by DoverSail
Someday Iíll sell my car and buy an F5J ship... someday!
Keep the car and spend your mortgage on your house. Jason's thread says to just try competitive soaring. If you have any kind of electric sailplane at all (and I mean any kind) you can try out competitive soaring. Then you can decide if you really like F5J. And you can get an evaluation of if you have the potential to be particularly good at it. Then you can decide if it is worth taking the bus or living on the streets for.

Originally Posted by DoverSail
Arenít even basic DLGs close to $1000CAD at least?
You can get plenty good second hand DLGs with the servos and everything for less than half of that. There are quite a few things that show up used. Just keep an eye on the classifieds, go back at past ones to get an idea of what things sell for, and be ready to jump.

Latest blog entry: Supergee wing mount pylons
Jun 25, 2020, 09:10 PM
Bad command or file name
Imageek2's Avatar
My first contest I flew a foamy Calypso. All the pilots welcomed me as if I was flying the latest greatest superplane. Just fly what you have, youíll probably have a blast

Jun 25, 2020, 10:13 PM
Registered User
gliderguide's Avatar
Have a look at the range here. Iím just finishing the 3.5m. Easy build. Lite, strong and very well priced. They apparently fly superb and will give a lot of planes a run for their money.
Itís actually stick time that will help you perform better, not just a fat cheque book. Having said that, nice toys are nice....
Jun 26, 2020, 04:17 AM
Registered User
I'm sure that contest flying isn't right for everyone. Also, if you start going to a lot of contests that are far away, it's expensive.

However, my experience with competition has been quite enjoyable. I started competing about a month after I got my first glider. In that first contest, I think I only made the landing circle once, though by freak accident that was with, a foot of the spot. It was another couple of years of flying and competing before I got into the upper half of the results, but it was fun. Later, I was able to win sometimes.

Contests are most fun when you have a chance of winning, but only if you are flying at your best. Sometimes, at local contests, this means it's more fun to fly junk. One time, I was flying against a guy who was flying a very good design that had been built with excellent workmanship. I was flying a beat up example of a design that was 26 years older. I beat him. He complained that he was distracted by the buzzing of a loose piece of Monokote on my model, which I took as a compliment.

If the conditions are reasonably good, you don't need a world beating model. You just need a model that's good enough. You also have to have at least as much skill and/or luck than the other pilots. I notice that the guys who practice a lot and go to many contests seem to have more luck.

In ALES, a world beating model is somewhat less important, because the launches are all to about the same height. It seems to me that I've seen Radians win such contests.

These days, I have less enthusiasm for driving long distances and for the expense. I don't practice as much, either. I still enjoy going to nearby contests, even if I'm unlikely to win. If I feel that I'm flying well, that's good enough.

I miss F3K, though.
Jun 26, 2020, 05:56 AM
Registered User
Pappyjkns's Avatar
In the past our glider club ran a number of contest each week during the flying season, weather permitting. Very low key, more of a fun event that intense competition. Everyone had different flying prowess. Some of the pilots were very experienced and consistently placed at the top of the heap each time out. Others, like yours truly were just happy to land the sailplane in one piece somewhere on the field! Lol! Truthfully, though, having a goal and trying to improve my results each time out did make a lot of difference in my overall flying ability. I highly recommend it as well. Good post Jason...well written!

Jun 26, 2020, 06:11 AM
Registered User
Originally Posted by MMR
Introduction F5J
$175 + shipping for the kit
Rudder - elevator - flaps - motor = donít need a fancy radio with all the bells and mixing whistles

Yellow Jacket 3M & 3.5M
A bit more, but has a composite fuse
Rudder - elevator - spoiler - motor = see above

Two excellent choices, fly remarkably well & great bang for the $
An excellent two cents! I wasn't aware that these were so affordable. Not bad looking gliders either!
Jun 26, 2020, 01:27 PM
Going in circles.
GliderJim's Avatar
I love contests. When I was a beginner I would fly whatever I had just to get out and fly with other people. It's fun, plus you learn a lot. You get to have experienced pilots time for you and offer advice. And timing for other pilots can be very informative as well as some will explain to you what to look for and why they are making the decisions they are. If you're a competitive person, you'll find there are many opportunities to "win" without taking home first place. Burying a flight group is always fun, or winning your round, or just beating the guy with the brand new high dollar composite ship when you've got something you built or bought used that's 10 years old.
Jun 26, 2020, 02:08 PM
Screwing up is an art
mabrungard's Avatar
Don't assume that it takes a high-dollar super ship to win contests. I recall a contest about 20 years ago when one of our soaring league's former top competitors showed up with a Gentle Lady equipped with a Sniffler and proceeded to win the contest against all of the super ships of the day. Of course, the weather conditions happened to not penalize that Gentle Lady that day.

But the lesson is: don't discount your piloting skill and luck in out-dueling your fellow competitors. Just recognize that modern ships might enable a pilot to take advantage of tougher soaring conditions.
Jun 26, 2020, 04:54 PM
Registered User
John O'Sullivan's Avatar
DoverSail Is a new Sailplane flier who has joined our very small group of Sailplane fliers in Nova Scotia. Although a previous power flier he has made great strides with his Spectra and is anxious to advance his soaring skills. We are fortunate to have in our small group of Nova Scotians the notorious Whacker who is a skilled builder and proponent of all sailplane types from vintage to state-of the art. including loca lflier Andrew Smith, it adds up to a total of four people whose prime interest is RC Sailplanes.
In the 1980's we had a large group, and had regular Sailplane contests. However. thing have changed and within our club of over 40 members, we only have two who regularly fly sailplanes. A handful will occasionally come out to the slope with powered foamies.
As for the possibility of any contests locally, it is very improbable. However, if anyone is visiting the area we would welcome you to come and fly with us.

This July marks the 70th Anniversary of starting in this wonderful Hobby, Free Flight, Control Line and RC. There has never been a year when I have not flown.
I'm still designing, building and kitting models


Walter, Andrew and I will guide DoverSail into a very good series of sailplanes, with which he can develop his skills.

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