2020 F5J Bam

Written by Greg McGill
Running a contest in the time of COVID-19
As seen in the January 2021 issue of Model Aviation.

Buzz Averill was a founding member of the Albuquerque Soaring Association (ASA) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was also a longtime AMA member, world-class competitor, and the developer of the original Albuquerque F5J Rules contest format in the early 2000s.

When Buzz died several years ago, it was only natural that the ASA memorialize him by calling its annual F5J contest the Buzz Averill Memorial F5J Contest. It is held every August, usually at Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta Park. We call it the BAM.

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02. Terry releases his model. These airplanes are superb soaring machines when the motor shuts off. At this point, the window is roughly 3 seconds in. His model has 27 seconds of motor run remaining before it starts soaring.
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03. The lineup for launch included more than normal separation because of COVID-19. Also apparent is the thick smoke haze from the fires in the north that weekend.

F5J is an FAI-sanctioned class for RC sailplanes that uses electric motors to launch. There is a 10-minute working window. Scores are based on flying time within that window and landing points. Every second of flying time is counted, but for every meter the airplane climbs under power (up to 200 meters), 1/2 second is subtracted.

If the airplane climbs above 200 meters, the penalty is 3 seconds per meter climbed. The plan is to get the airplane into the air as soon as possible; climb as little as possible until lift is found; soar; land as late in the 10-minute window as you can; and land on the target for full landing points—up to 50. If you do not shut off your own motor, it will stop by itself after 30 seconds.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, it did not look as though there would be a 2020 BAM event. In fact, the ASA had not even held a club meeting since February 2020.

The city of Albuquerque and state of New Mexico rules under COVID-19 did not permit meetings, so how could we think of a contest? But, after the initial disruption, Albuquerque reopened Balloon Fiesta Park for daily users, including people flying model airplanes. Social distancing was in effect and masks were required, but we flew fine. We also had the use of a local sod farm every Saturday.

We could not accommodate the usual visitors from neighboring states, but we decided to hold the BAM anyway—with proper social distancing. Our first contest committee meeting (on Zoom) was held in June. No face-to-face meeting was needed. The ASA is knowledgeable in contests, and each task soon had an experienced volunteer. We had to come to grips with the new rules for dealing with COVID-19.

Because New Mexico requires a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors, we realized that it would be impractical for anyone but locals to participate. This also precluded our contest from being recognized as part of the 2020 F5J USA Tour. The Tour will welcome us back when we can again open participation to all.

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04. Richard (standing) and Tom Tichy have things wired tightly for contest management and scorekeeping. Clocks, speakers, computers, and power supplies arrived in one pickup truck and packed up quickly. GliderScore software runs well and gets excellent support through its Australian vendor!
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05. Dave demonstrates what the well-dressed sailplane flier wears in the year of COVID-19.

Limited to local participants only, we could not justify the expense of renting Balloon Fiesta Park, so we moved The BAM to our flying site at the Evergreen Turf Farm in McIntosh, New Mexico.

In July, we held another Zoom meeting. Our resources were in order and our AMA sanction was in hand. There was little point in publicity because it was only local, but we posted the event on RCGroups so our friends in neighboring states knew what was happening, even if conditions prohibited travel.

In late July, the contest committee held its final Zoom meeting. The ball was rolling and all we had to do was establish protocol and the schedule. Masks would be mandatory when we were in close contact, but our experience flying through the spring and summer convinced us that we never had to stand within 2 meters of each other when flying. Loudspeakers, a digital clock display, and electronic scorekeeping were all in hand. The sod farm, under new ownership, was in great shape.

The sod farm is now operated by Evergreen Turf in McIntosh. The ASA has flown in the facility’s sod circle for more than 30 years, and we specifically list it as a flying site on our liability insurance with the AMA. Do you want green grass in New Mexico? We advise shopping Evergreen Turf.

We held a dress rehearsal for the sound and scoring system at Balloon Fiesta Park and the system failed, but that’s why we held the rehearsal. By Thursday of the event, it worked fine.

The weather worked well for us too, but it was hot. The biggest single issue was smoke from fires in Colorado and the forests around Santa Fe, New Mexico, which made the whole sky a featureless bowl of pearly light gray. Hawks, clouds, and other signs of lift were hard to spot. Part of the heat was a high-pressure cell stabilized over the area, and thermals were persistently weak, but that’s good for contests! You have to work to win.

Setup began early Saturday morning when it was cool. The ASA has a trailer at the sod farm with lots of landing tapes, tables, pop-up shelters, and even a gas grill. Everything came together quickly. The clock started blinking and the speakers crackled to life. We used GliderScore software and soon had excellent connectivity. We are old hands at flying in the desert and filled our coolers with ice and drinks.

As far as safety, we had a first-aid kit and were set up with a fire extinguisher. We have an active and proven emergency action plan. We even have a primary and secondary person designated to call for emergency assistance—critical when you operate near a county line as we do. The closest EMT station can be seen from the sod farm but is in the next county. If we call the "wrong" 911, it can be a long wait! We acquired the station’s direct line instead.

An Evergreen employee stopped by and reversed the direction of the irrigation for two days—it still ran but started close to us and went in the opposite direction. It passed through the contest site during the night, so contest operations meshed seamlessly with the sod farm operation.

The first day went smoothly. There were minor glitches, but all of the heats were flown without problems. The high-pressure cell persisted and kept thermal activity relatively low and heat and humidity levels high. Fortunately, the ASA has a policy of offering first-aid training through the Red Cross, and the CD kept an eye out for heat exhaustion.

By 2 p.m., struggles with the heat were becoming apparent. The decision we needed to make was whether either everyone would fly or if we would all head home for the evening. Home we went after six rounds.

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06. Kirby competed with a "woody" design—the Yellow Jacket. Less expensive than the composite sailplanes flown by most of the field, it comes as a kit and requires assembly. It is a competitive design.
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07. Matt shows off the useful trophy bestowed on the winner! Skyler dominated the preliminary rounds, but Matt toughed out everybody in the flyoffs, climbing out twice from terrifically low engine shut-off altitudes.

Sunday dawned the same as Saturday. We continued preliminary flying with Round 7 and decided to halt with the round ending after 11 a.m. The flying got pretty intense on Sunday morning, and the leaders became apparent. The ninth round ended right at 11:30 and we knocked off for a rest and recharge. The top finishers for the flyoff rounds were Skyler Raver, Toby Herrera, Matt Aurand, and Dave Sieger.

The flyoff, after the experience of Saturday, was limited to two rounds with flight times of 15 minutes, so we knew that any flying mistakes would likely take someone out of the competition.

Sure enough, one contestant had starting issues, but the other three showed us how to really fly hard—start out slowly, lift just barely over the power line to the east, and shut down right away! We saw some awesome flying—thermaling out from less than 30 meters in a couple of cases—and still making a 15-minute flight, nailing the 50-mark on the tape, and showing 14:58 for a flight time!

Thanks to GliderScore, results were instant. Matt Aurand took a convincing first place. Skyler Raver was second, and Toby Herrera, back to flying from a long absence, took third. We did not present plaques or trophies. Who needs them? We presented useful gifts—in this case, glass beer mugs laser-engraved by Sonoran Laser Arts in Phoenix. Sonoran Laser Arts also donated a laser-engraved wood cutting board for the highest-placing woody glider. This went to Kirby House, who placed sixth in the preliminaries with his Sonoran Laser Arts Yellow Jacket 3.5M.

All hands (including three new club members) took part in taking down the equipment. Everything went back into the trailer and we concluded with a walkthrough of the flying site, picking up any little thing. The Evergreen Turf Sod Farm is a great resource for us, and we never want to lose it.

I appreciate the huge effort that the club made. The contest committee this year included flying site manager Richard Dick, timing and scorekeeping by Tom Tichy, and software and finances were managed by Richard Shagam. Chris Pyle, Rocky Stone, and Kirby handled on-site refreshments, sanitation was managed by Bob Galler, and awards were coordinated by Steve Moskal.

Club members have contributed capital investments that make this event special, not only for us but for when we can invite back the entire western Soaring population. Bill Becher built and donated our clock displays, Matt assembled our sound system, and Chris made up a set of durable landing tapes, with a unique device for winding them back up all together.

I am glad we persevered with the 2020 BAM F5J contest. We won’t forget Buzz. Safety during these times is important and we did it right—masks, no social gatherings, and keeping a safe distance from each other. We are sorry our friends from out of state could not come, but the tradition has been maintained and we had fun! With normalcy restored, we expect to do it again, but bigger, in 2021.

Our photographer this year is a friend of mine with no prior interest in RC flying. His primary observation was very interesting to me. He noted that winning was not first priority for any of the contestants. Instead, he told me that it was obvious that everyone was helping one another have a good time.

The best news is that 14 days after the event, we had no reported cases of COVID-19!

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01. (L-R): Matt Aurand, Toby Herrera, Efrain Vila, Skyler Raver, Dan Tanburg, Kirby House, Richard Shagam, Chris Pyle, Joey Winklepleck, Terry Pierce, and Dave Sieger.




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