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Jul 17, 2007, 01:00 PM
aka ben wilson
thelocust's Avatar
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The Road to the 2007 NATS

My "live feed" to the 2007 AMA/LSF Nationals...

Hello all - my name is Ben Wilson. I fly with the Louisville (Kentucky) Area Soaring Society, and this year I've been tapped to handle the NATSNews coverage for the AMA/LSF Soaring Nationals. I'm also going to try to bring you live updates, photos, stories, interviews, what-have-you here on RCGroups.

A little history on my NATS experience to put this into perspective - the 2007 NATS will be my 3rd consecutive NATS. That makes me a relatively green NATS participant with some competitors having attended the Nationals (in one form or another) well before I was born (1978). But who says you gotta be a soaring legend to "get" the NATS? Not I!

If I had to pick a soaring discipline to by my #1, it would be handlaunch - yeah, I'm one of "those guys". What can I say? I like to fly a lot when I go to a contest... But I also love simplicity and grace of RES and the out-and-out competition of the Unlimited ships.

One thing I'm truly excited about this year is my opportunity to tow or Marc Gellart's F3J team this year. International competition is cool enough - but the team aspect of F3J (not to mention F3K and F3B) really makes for an exciting and motivating experience. (And yes, it's weird to be excited about running a lot in the July heat)

Somewhere in between flights at the NATS, I'll be writing the daily NATSNews coverage ( for the soaring events. I'll be snapping photos and generally going where the action is to get the scoop. I'll be doing interviews with people I meet and trying to get the skinny on the new gear. If you've got something to share, just hit me up! I'll be around!

My one moment of NATS glory, 4th place handlaunch 2005 (second from right)
Last edited by thelocust; Jul 17, 2007 at 01:14 PM.
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Jul 17, 2007, 01:13 PM
aka ben wilson
thelocust's Avatar
Thread OP

Questions from a NATS Newbie

NATS Newbie David Beach wrote me in response to a post I had on the RCSE, and he asked me a few really good Q's about the NATS:

David Beach wrote:


Hi, my name is David Beach and I'm preparing for my first NATS. I'm writing in response to your RCSE posting regarding NatsNews. As a NATS Newbie I'm excited about the competition and want to make sure I'm fully prepared. I've got a few questions regarding logistics that I hope you can assist me with.
All excellent questions! The NATS differs quite a bit from local club contests, mostly because it's so huge. The differences lie mostly in the organization - in that there is quite a bit of it.
Equipment preparation - The models I'll be flying are all test flown and
contest ready. I've got my name, AMA number, and cell phone on them using a label machine. As far as I can tell there are no specific requirements for identification for sailplanes, is that correct? Are there other things that first-time competitors tend to overlook?
"Contest ready" - exactly what I like to hear! My first NATS I flew a 2-meter that I hadn't done a lot of contest landings with - and that caused me a bit of trouble. And, while you don't appear to have any frequency conflicts the entire week, just make sure you've tested your alternate frequencies. You don't want to have to change out a freq and realize you don't have a crystal or something of that sort...
You don't have to ID your planes - there are no rules about that, though it is a good idea. Some years the field is surrounded by tall corn (though I hear this year it's shorter soybeans) and not a single NATS goes by without someone losing a plane in the corn. It's so tall you likely won't find the plane until it gets harvested (the farmers there are understanding).
Morning setup - I'm not at all sure what to expect the first day. I've got
the AMA address and site map, but what time do things get going? At the other contests I've been to (primarily Eastern Soaring League events) the 'early birds' show up around 7AM. Parking is typically on the edge of the field and people setup canopies within a few feet of their vehicles. Are canopies welcome at the NATS? How much equipment 'lugging' is involved?
I don't know why they don't do this, but they rarely post start times for the events, but it's normally around 9AM, so getting there around 7-8am would do you pretty good. Pilots meets always start the day off with a review of the rules, weather, etc. Depending on the speed of the contest, they'll usually stop flying in late afternoon. A single unlimited round could take 2 hours, easily.
Parking isn't a problem at the soaring event site - there is a lot of grass and gravel and normally the pits are three deep with cars. Pop-ups are certainly allowed, though the AMA always has huge "circus tents" set up to give folks a cool place to sit.
During the day - I'm traveling alone, but expect to see a few familiar
faces. Once the flight groups are posted my first challenge will be finding a timer, I'm expecting that. But what about lunch - bring your own, or will something be available on site? Is water available, or should I have a day's worth on hand when I arrive? What are the hours for competition?
First, there are two types of frequency control you are likely to encounter at the AMA site - one is the "AMA Style" where you put your AMA card (or some sort of ID) in a slot for your frequency, the other is the LSF "frequency clip" style (if you have the clip on your person, you have the freq). The AMA policy is done only before and after the soaring events - during the "Free Fly" times, the LSF style is done during the event. During the event itself, the LSF runs a transmitter impound, meaning that your transmitter will be kept by Marna Jeffries(sp?) and her crew, and you will only get it when you are being called to fly. So when you get there in the AM, you'll put your planes together, throw your ID in the AMA frequency board and do a quick trim check. Shortly before the event begins they'll start calling in the transmitters for impound, and they'll announce "NOW WE ARE UNDER LSF CONTROL" or some such.

When you impound your transmitter, you'll get a namebadge with your round/group numbers. It's a fairly informal affair to find a timer - everything from two flying buddies hooking up all day to people shouting out "I need a timer!" before their rounds. Feel free to walk up to anyone and ask "Can you time for me?" Likely they'll say yes if they are free - it's an opportunity for them to see what's happening in the air first-hand.
Thanks in advance,
Excellent questions, all. The Soaring NATS (and perhaps other NATS as well) do lack a bit of "user friendliness" to them - and rightfully, they largely consist of people who have been to a NATS before, or of pilots who know about the NATS. It's kind of an oral tradition - and all of David's questions I asked of my elder soaring guru's back home in Louisville before I attended my first NATS.
Jul 17, 2007, 04:01 PM
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Some Advice from the Front

Hi. I'm Jim Thomas, long time Nats participant and one of the guys you'll see a lot of (possibly more than you like ). I run the flight line. Without going back over all of what Ben said, let me give you a little info on what the Nats consists of. [IMG] jt2000nats.jpg[/IMG]

Parking is along the east side of the flying site, with canopies just inbounds of that area. Parking will be 3 to 4 deep, but you should still have a short walk to get set up. If you have friends there, pit with them, it will provide shade and seating. In any event, when you first get to the AMA site, proceed to Nats HQ (past the flying site along the paved road) to pick up your information envelope.

One of the reasons there isn't a hard and fast pilots meeting time is it takes us some time to set up the field. We run 12 winches, along with the associated charging equipment. Plus there is a full landing area. All this needs to be finalized and checked before we can start the contest. And if there has been a weather change since the day before, we may need to shift everything. Be early and patient.

Marna Jeffery runs impound. She is the goddess that keeps us all in line and is the REAL one that controls the flow of the event. Be VERY VERY nice to her, she's the best. You will turn in your TX when the call goes out on the sound system. We don't start until we have all the TXs.

Pilot's meeting is next. In the past we have had each of the area heads (CD, impound, flight line, landing, scoring) give their part of the pilots meeting where you will learn everything that you need to be ready to fly. Listen closely and you will not be on the critical path, and things will flow smoothly.

There are always plenty of folks there enjoying the event and you should have no problem finding a timer. If you hook up with someone you don't know, be sure to go over what information you want from them, what you don't want, and especially how you want to hear times in the critical last couple of minutes of your flight. Its your responsibility to be sure you and your timer are on the same page.

When you are called to fly, you will collect your TX when Marna puts them on the proper side of the table, NOT BEFORE. Then you get your plane ready to fly (on, checked, settings verified, etc.) and report to the CD. When he has the full group and the flight line calls for them, you go to the winch designated on your timecard. If there is a problem with that winch, let the flight line boss (me or one of my fellows, whoever has the radio and bullhorn) know and we will get you to a winch.

The Nats fly man on man. You stage at your winch, hooked up and ready to go. The flight line boss will direct you when to launch. When he does, you do. You then back away from the winch so the line can be wound down (no retrievers are used). Your timer then assists you back to the flying area (midway between the winches and landing area) until your landing zone is clear. You then stage there until you land. The landing judge will mark your time and landing, your timer immediately turns in your TX and card, and your done until next round.

Problems. If you land out, please send your TX and card in immediately. Wait until directed to retrieve your plane so you don't interfere with the (up to 10) other flyers in your flight group. If the plane is very far away we have golf carts and will take you to retrieve the plane. If you have problem on launch (non crash) have your timer notify the flight boss of the problem, BUT KEEP FLYING until you are told to land. If the problem is equipment you will be relaunched; if not, you fly it out. If you land voluntarily assuming you get a relaunch but are not given one, your flight is over.

This probably sounds kind of regimented, and it is. The same basic crew putting the event on has been at it for nearly 18 years (since Vincennes) and we have it down pretty well.

Finally, Muncie is Muncie. The weather is always a crapshoot. Be prepared. Suncreen, light raincoat, some way to keep your planes dry if/when it rains, etc. Its a great time if you are prepared and approach it the right way.

Enjoy and see you on the flight line.

Jim Thomas
Last edited by jtlsf5; Jul 17, 2007 at 04:13 PM. Reason: Add Pix
Jul 17, 2007, 05:37 PM
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jfrickie's Avatar
Nice shoes Jim.
Jul 17, 2007, 06:19 PM
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jtlsf5's Avatar

The Shoes

Frickie, you're just jealous cuz I'll be there and you won't. We'll miss you.
Jul 17, 2007, 07:02 PM
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jfrickie's Avatar
See you at next years Masters if not sooner.
Jul 18, 2007, 12:33 AM
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A little tidbit about the landing zone. The "rules" were unfamiliar to me before I went to the NATS, so I'll share a little.

As JT said, there are ~12 winches. There are also 12 landing tapes. You land at the same # winch you launched at. Simple enough. However, all the landing tapes and maybe 200' downwind are outlined by a "landing box". You cannot circle your plane, or even cross the "landing box" at low altitude at all. If you do, the landing judge will give you a zero. Ask me how I found out. So there's no flying over your shoulder and flying a "U" pattern, like mentioned in Dave Thornburg's book. Basically, once you enter the landing box, from the side across from you, you are supposed to fly a straight line towards your own landing tape.

Just imagine 12 planes all coming in for landing approach at the same time. It does happen. You don't want someone flying sideways through the landing zone, while your plane is 3' off of the ground.

Attached is a photo showing some of the landing strips. The tape/cones in the background mark the side of the landing box.
Jul 18, 2007, 06:48 PM
Flying What?!?
fnnwizard's Avatar
This is great. I plan on being there next year. Would love all info on the ins and outs of the operation. Thanks in advance.
Jul 20, 2007, 02:07 PM
little flyer's Avatar
Should be fun. Im in for F3J and Unlimited. Who else will be attending?

Jul 20, 2007, 03:20 PM
aka ben wilson
thelocust's Avatar
Thread OP

On preparations...

One of the most crucial aspects of readying yourself for the NATS is preparation - especially if you are new to the NATS, which is unlike most contests due to it's size and organization.

We had a hellacious rainstorm last night, so I didn't get to fly my new Onyx JW again - which means I'll be going to the NATS with a plane I've only flown maybe 1/2 and hour in the air, total. A little scary! But, at least I am sure about these things (in order of importance):

1. I trust the battery.
2. I trust the range on the radio.
3. I can launch it with no problems.

The battery is crucial, of course - but a lot of people overlook them. If you can't trust *it*, then everything else doesn't matter! And really, it's not usually a battery problem - it's a wire problem! No stress, no mess. Just make sure you *really* trust it.

The radio range is another issue - I don't care if you've flown your new whiz-bang super-hifi radio on your home field alone without any problems. The NATS is a congested (though well-organized) radio area, and you'll be flying around people with all manner of other radios, frequencies and technology. This is kinda a tough thing to test if you don't fly with other people, but the good 'ol antenna-down test is a good one. You should be able to get 30 paces away from your plane w/o problems.

The 3 or 4 times I launched the JW ONyx it was stable on the launch (no popoffs), and went up straight. I've also been launching off of a winch for the last few years, so I feel good.

If you are not used to launching on a winch - well, it might be best if you suck it up and let one of the people manning the winches to throw and pedal for you. Safety is critical out there - and there have been times when people have been struck by a plane out of control. You might even seen the CD call for throwers on especially windy days. It's not a slight against the pilot - it's for the safety of all.
Jul 20, 2007, 04:52 PM
Registered User
jtlsf5's Avatar

Leave it Alone

Ben makes some good points about preparation. I'll add one of my observations of the most obvious rule that I see broken more often than you would think.

Its simply this: a major contest is not the place to be changing the setup on your plane. Many pilots think that they can improve their launch, flying or landing set up based on conversation with others, observing other pilots planes, etc. Do this when you have the luxury of time and are not under the stress of flying in a large contest.

Come to the event with a plane you have flown before, and are confident in your ability to launch, fly, and land this specific plane. If you do this one simple thing, you will increase your chances of meeting your competition goals for the contest, be it winning, top ten, first page, making all your times, whatever.

If you try to change critical set up items at the last minute, you risk not only tanking a flight, but potentially losing the plane to the unknown response of what you have changed. Doing this at a contest as busy as the Nats can also present a safety problem for the dozens of other people that are concentrating on what they are doing.

One more safety item. When you get to Muncie put your planes together and, in the safety of your hotel room, check to see that everything made the trip safely. No broken parts, linkages are still tight, radio still controls everything properly, etc. This will alert you to any problems and give you some extra time to fix something before you step up to the winch to launch for the first time.

Jim Thomas
Jul 20, 2007, 06:41 PM
LSF V,LSF Secretary,AMA Lifer
Robglover's Avatar
2 more cents worth -

A big part of a successful Nats is logistics instead of flying. Remember to bring rain gear, dry socks, extra shoes, plenty of water and gatorade. There will be food and drink vendors on site, but a week of hot dogs may not suit your digestive system. Find a grocery store, Walmart, and Tractor Supply when you have some spare time before the first day, you may need them in a hurry later in the week.

They sell ice at contest HQ, you'll probably need a lot of it. When it's hot in Muncie it's really hot, you can't drink too much water or have too much ice. Beer is great stuff after the flying is over for the day, but keep in mind that it will add to any dehydration issues you may experience.

Check your ballast for everything you fly. Muncie weather is usually great for about 1/3 to 2/3 of the week. The other 1/3 to 2/3 of the time it can be challenging. Know beforehand what weight your plane likes in wind and you'll be ahead of half of the other guys out there.

If you are there for the first time try and get over your rebellious streak and do what the organizers ask you to do. Pay attention at the pilots meeting, they will give you details on how things work. As has already been mentioned, these folks have done this before and have it down to an art. Do what they say and your day will go much more smoothly.

Take Marna and the other contest workers cookies, ice cream, cold sodas, or whatever else you can think of. It's a long hot day for them and they are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. You want them to come back next year so make the week enjoyable for them if you can.
Jul 20, 2007, 08:57 PM
LSF V,LSF Secretary,AMA Lifer
Robglover's Avatar
JT just sent me a picture that graphically depicts what you can expect at the flight line. Prepare yourself accordingly.
Jul 21, 2007, 05:54 PM
aka ben wilson
thelocust's Avatar
Thread OP

Greetings from Muncie!

Stepping out of the front door this morning, I smelled the smell of fall on the wind. A crisp sweetness with a slight chill and a light breeze. Little puffy clouds and a high, blue ceiling that seemed to stretch in all directions. Packed up and ready to go, I sped up I65, flying across the Kennedy Bridge, sun dappling the shrouds from the ever-present bridge painting. I crossed the Kentucky/Indiana border flanked by a pack of bikers, all headed north for excitement unknown. Indiana just north of Kentucky opens up wide, exposing it's glacier-strip lands and making the sky seem limitless and without constraint. And on a day like today, it makes you feel like it does stretch out to each coast. What a day to be in Muncie.

Arriving in Muncie and driving down Route 67 from I-69, birds and even butterflies hemmed my route, all getting sucked up into thermals. Who needs roadsigns?

Pattern guys were wrapping up while the soaring sites were being freshly mowed. Handlaunch and Nostalgia kick off tomorrow on separate fields, and the weather forecast might be the best of any day of the last three NATS I've attended - low 80s and winds maxing out at 5 MPH.

Already a few folks are set up on the campground just across the field from the main soaring site - me and Ed Wilson from Louisville, Stu Swanson from Harrisburg, PA and Doug Pike from Brampton, Ontario Canada just rolled in.

They've just upped the tents at the flying field so I'm going to run down there and check it out.
Jul 21, 2007, 06:21 PM
Flying What?!?
fnnwizard's Avatar
Hi Ben, being somewhat new to Soaring contests and never having attended a NATS, I really appreciate this thread. Keep the updates and pics coming please !

Also, if you take lots of pics and don't have time to cut/crop/upload while you're competing, you can send them to me and I will crop and post to this site . Of course all copyrights will be observed. Thanks.

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