Event Review: Visalia Fall Soaring Festival, Visalia California - RC Groups
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Event Review: Visalia Fall Soaring Festival, Visalia California

Michael Heer visits the 35th annual Fall Soaring Festival in Visalia California to share the beautiful sailplanes and some of the emotion at this year's event.



Recently I attended the 35th annual Fall Soaring Festival. The pilotsí meeting was scheduled for 8:00 both days, and the first flight was scheduled for 8:30 in the morning. Saturday, each pilot was to fly four separate rounds in the order in which they were assigned of 3,5,7 and 9 minutes with a point per second penalty off the target time. Sunday had three rounds of 4,6 and 8 minutes with the same penalty.

I hope you enjoy this year's version of the Fall Soaring Festival as I observed it on Saturday of this two day event. There was even a sneak preview of a new electric glider that is coming soon from ParkZone!

Every Flight starts with a Launch

The first and last fifteen seconds of a flight were consistently the most exciting to see. The drama of being almost down early in the flight and catching a thermal at the last minute before heading in is hard to capture on tape. start my visit to Visalia with a collection of glider launches.

(BASICS) How they Launch Gliders

At Visalia, the flight starts with a launch using a battery powered winch. The winch is made with a car starter motor mounted on a frame with an aluminum drum attached to it that is filled with "line." The winch is connected to a 12-volt battery and has a pedal attached to it to activate the motor. The line from the drum is run down the field and goes through a "turnaround." The turnaround is like the hub of a bicycle mounted into a block or holder that can be secured to the ground or a pole in the ground so that it stays put. The line is then run back to the starting area. On the end of the line there is either a parachute or color marker followed by a metal loop. The loop fits onto a hook on the glider that is located on the bottom of the fuselage, under the wing area.

The launch is initiated by the launcher, usually the pilot but not always, stepping on the pedal connected to the starter motor and taking all of the slack out of the line. In Visalia, they keep rapidly pulsing the pedal and thereby the motor, and toss the plane forward and slightly up. The pull of the line pulls the plane forward, but the wing forces it mostly upward. The plane is pulled forward and upward until it is approaching the turnaround. There, most pilots do a short dip dive down, and then zoom upward as the loop falls off of the hook, and they transition much of their forward movement to extra altitude. The pilot then heads in the direction where they believe they will find lift.


Sneak Preview of the New ParkZone Radian Electric Glider

At the JR/Spektrum booth at the contest they had two of the new ParkZone 2-meter electric gliders out and they have been flying them and were going to fly them some more on Saturday after the contest was over for the day. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay and shoot a video of this new glider in action but I do have some photos to share.

Spektrum donated a lot of prizes to the Festival auction, but what i heard the most talk about was the special free drawing for a $500.00 cash prize. All you had to do to enter was use a Spektrum radio in the contest.

(BASICS) How you Score Points in a Thermal Competition

There are two ways to earn points in a thermal competition: the timed flight and the scored landing. In four rounds the first day and three rounds the second day, pilots are assigned a position. A timer starts the stop watch as soon as the loop of the winch line drops off of the hook on the plane. The pilot looks for lift so that he can stay up the prescribed amount of time for the round. If it is a 9 minute round, the pilot wants to fly exactly nine minutes - no less and no more! If the pilot can't find lift, or worse, launches when a sink cycle is over the field they may come down without making the time. Alternately, a pilot might launch and find great lift and get the glider so high that it can't be brought down in time. Points are lost for every second a pilot is short or over the required time. Finally, to get any points for the flight time, the pilot must land the glider on the field in a designated area. If the pilot goes out too far searching for lift and encounters strong sink or wind trying to get back to the field and lands off field, there are no points awarded for the round.

The second way to score points is to score the landing. Visalia is known for having small scored landing areas that are different every year. The nose of the plane has to stop and end up in the scored landing area to score landing points in each round. These landing areas are near the edge of the landing zone, and if a pilot comes in too hot and goes past the scored landing area and crosses the Disqualification Line, the pilot gets no landing or flying points for the round. Visalia's Fall Festival is not designed to be a beginner competition, but to separate the good from the very good and excellent pilots.

Some Thermal Views

Between the launch and the landing the pilots look for thermals to get lift and make their assigned time. Here are a few pictures of the planes in the air and some video.



Visalia has "gates" at one end of their landing area through which pilots are supposed to enter. This is away from the pilots and is a safety as well as a control factor. It would be far more dangerous if pilots could enter the landing area from any side, especially the side opposite the gates. Once a pilot has entered the landing area, he is seconds from landing. The scored landing area is traditionally small and challenging, and ideally it is where the pilot wants to end the flight. It is very near the end of the landing area, and if the glider crosses the DQ (disqualification) line behind the scored landing area, the pilot not only gets no landing points, he gets no points for that round. It is a pressure packed area for the pilot, and the better the pilot, the higher the expectation and often the greater the reaction to success or failure.

The Good


The Good landing  12.84 MB

The (too) Bad


The (too) Bad landing  13.22 MB

The Ugly



If you want to know the results of the contests that make up the Fall Soaring Festival, they can be found on the website of the Central Valley Soaring Club. I was told there were 297 registered planes for each round, which means that on Saturday alone there would have been over 1100 flights. An individual pilot could fly multiple events in the contest such as open class, RES, 2-meter and Woody. After the formal rounds, there is electric and night flying. If you ever have a chance to attend the Fall Soaring Festival it is a very special event.

Last edited by Angela H; Oct 06, 2008 at 09:15 PM..
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Oct 06, 2008, 10:12 PM
Be an organ donor
Thanks so much for supporting silent flight with this review.

Oct 06, 2008, 11:18 PM
Registered User
Michael Heer's Avatar
Keith you are most welcome. Mike
Oct 07, 2008, 12:29 AM
Suspended Account
Originally Posted by kwmtrubrit
Thanks so much for supporting silent flight with this review.

I'm with Keith. Great job! Love the videos. Hope to make it out to Visalia one day.

Oct 07, 2008, 10:14 AM
Registered User
Nice article and pics. Thanks for posting. Hope to make it there some day.
Oct 07, 2008, 10:39 AM
Team Crunch Brothers
Woohoo! Made the "good" video....

Thanks for putting this together. It will be a great place to point people who are interested in what we are doing.

Oct 07, 2008, 11:27 AM
Registered User
Monster Mash's Avatar
I thought I made the "ugly" video because of one of the pictures, but you got someone else that did the same burm landing I did...

No mention of the after contest festivities?
Oct 07, 2008, 11:51 AM
Registered User
Michael Heer's Avatar
Monster it was hit and run this year with my wife. I was at a northern Ca Fun Fly on Sunday. Missed out on the Beer Garden and what I have heard were some great night flyers. I would have also liked to get some video of a test fly the Radian electric glider.
Last edited by Michael Heer; Oct 07, 2008 at 02:29 PM.
Oct 07, 2008, 03:40 PM
Registered User
Just a great Job . hope to get out that way one year to see this awesome thermal contest..fdnyjery
Oct 07, 2008, 03:55 PM
Try the Truth for a change
Bill Henley's Avatar
Thanks for posting the downwind launch Video with me in it! (Plane with the silver and orange tail) Now I can prove to my wife where I was!!!
Oct 07, 2008, 09:54 PM
Registered User
Thanks Mike for getting one of my landings on video under the "good landing" heading at about 0:54 seconds into the video - very cool!
Oct 08, 2008, 03:50 AM
Registered User
Very nice but landing its not javelin throw. Can you normal landing ? More people f3b , f3j cant landing perfect only "javelin throw" its foolishly.
Oct 08, 2008, 07:40 PM
Registered User
Originally Posted by Kamyczek_PL
Very nice but landing its not javelin throw. Can you normal landing ? More people f3b , f3j cant landing perfect only "javelin throw" its foolishly.

Hey Kamyczek PL,

No one is stopping you from showing the world how you do it and still be able to hit a spot with precision. If you like to "slide your plane in" on approach more power to you. Again, no one is stopping you here. There are all kinds of approaches and landing styles out there - believe me I've seen them first hand! All of them combined is what makes it so much fun to watch and participate in. Lighten up and land as you please. Besides, in the end we're all trying to hit a designated area or tape etc., it doesn't really matter how you get there, just as long as you get there!
Oct 08, 2008, 08:33 PM
Glider Geek!
lenci1938e's Avatar

Thank you Jflyer1


I want to tell you "Thanks again" for the great job you did at the landing zones all weekend. You and your club did an outstanding job, as usual, with a lot of adverse conditions this year. Congrats as well on your top ten finish! You are one of the West Coasts top flyers. Consistently at the top. Well done!

Shawn Lenci
Oct 08, 2008, 08:36 PM
jrerickson's Avatar
Not too many of us land downwind if given a choice. At Visalia it's always downwind in the morning. This year was worse than usual. I came in with my Topaz in RES and burned off as much speed as I could. Remember that you have to maintain some airspeed or you'll fall out of the sky. I kept the plane about a foot off the ground for the last 25' and put the nose into the spot.

Instant flip. I didn't even have time to complain. I then watched 7 other planes IN A ROW flip over. It had to be some record. Nobody could figure out how not to flip. Finally a plane came in crosswind and made it to the ground without flipping over. Out of the landing zone, but right side up.

In open class I could slow the plane down at the last second using flaps and I managed to hit the bullseye in that downwind round. I'd like to see anyone slide into that spot, intentionally. You had to put the nose down hard.


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