Free Flight World Championships

Written by Jace Pivonka International competition returns to Lost Hills after 18 years As seen in the February 2020 issue of Model Aviation.

It has been 18 years since the 2001 Free Flight World Championships took place on US soil in Lost Hills, California. The 2019 FAI World Championships for Free Flight Model Aircraft was held once again in Lost Hills. Head juror Ian Kaynes described it as the largest world championships in the western hemisphere. It was truly a sight to behold with 38 countries coming together from around the world to compete.

Since the last World Championships in Lost Hills, there have been many changes. The biggest of these is the orchards that have started to close in from the south and west sides of the field. When they were originally planted, they were much shorter than the 15-plus feet high that they are now. Although the trees are rarely a problem for fliers because of the fabled low drift of the Lost Hills flying site, it was almost guaranteed that they would become a factor before the week was over.

One thing that hasn’t changed much is the overall size of the Lost Hills truck stop where many US supporters and team members stayed, as did a few members of other teams. There are still only two hotels and a few fast-food restaurants. A little farther from the highway, in the town of Lost Hills, is a small grocery store, as well as Gabby’s Grill & Café, that catered delicious food to the competitors all week via a food truck on the field.

The town of Lost Hills recently received a new park complex from the Wonderful Company, the makers of Wonderful Pistachios. Wonderful Park was the site of the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as model processing. The festivities officially kicked off on Tuesday, October 15, although many fliers had already been there for several days or more for testing and becoming accustomed to the field’s weather conditions.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, competitors came to Wonderful Park with their teams to process their models. Thanks to the contest organizers, this went off without a hitch.

Working with the Holloway Gypsum Company, the organizers also did a fantastic job of setting up the field before competitors arrived. Holloway graded the RV area and parking lot, as well as the drives to the various flightlines.

The contest directors (CDs) set up three flightlines that accounted for the most likely wind directions. Each flightline had plenty of poles as well as a 5-meter line marked on each side of the poles.

Thursday’s opening ceremony in Wonderful Park featured the Lost Hills High School band playing as the teams marched across the soccer field. Lost Hills High School was thoroughly involved in the opening ceremony, with students from the school holding signs for each country to stand behind. After the competitors found their respective places, CD Charlie Jones introduced each country.

The World Championships were preceded by the Sierra World Cup and followed by the Kotuku World Cup. The two contests, as well as a third held in Las Vegas the weekend following the World Championships, increased attendance. After each country was recognized, the Sierra Cup awards were presented then the US national anthem and FAI anthem were played as the FAI flag was raised. The competitors’ and timekeepers’ oaths were read aloud and, finally, Ian declared the contest to be officially open.

The teams had a few hours to return to their hotels before the timekeepers reported to a meeting. In previous world championships, timekeeping has been one of the biggest challenges faced by the contest management. Although that was no different this year, a significant amount of help came from the US in the form of volunteer timekeepers. Because the contest was held on US soil, many FAI fliers from across the country attended, helping the timing go smoothly.

The results were posted live online, thanks to a lot of work behind the scenes.

Rounding out Thursday night, the team managers and assistant managers met to get rule clarifications and make sure that every team was on the same page. The meeting determined that a group of teams planned to use the new altimeter flyoff rule, which involves ensuring that the altimeter data to be presented was created during the flyoff flight instead of data that had been previously recorded. This rule led to a funny altimeter calibration dance before the beginning of the flyoff window, where competitors had to raise their models above their heads then lower them to the ground in a pattern specified by the CD.

Friday began with cool temperatures and a stronger breeze than what had been seen during most of the practice days. F1A began with 103 competitors, which was pared to only 33 by the end of the seventh round. Round two saw the fall of US flier Ken Bauer, and round seven took Mike Thompson out of the flyoff.

Among those in the 6-minute flyoff was Jim Parker of the US, who managed to max the round despite a malfunctioning timer and the model looping after detaching from the line. He joined the 20 other sportsmen who maxed the first flyoff in the 8-minute flyoff later that evening. By 5 p.m. there was little thermal activity and maxing the 8-minute flyoff was challenging.

Jim flew his backup model and finished in 16th place. Only three fliers made the max, setting themselves up for a 10-minute flyoff the following morning. The F1A flyoff ended with Constantin Brinzoi, of Romania, on top of the competition. The Russian team found itself on top of the podium in team scoring.

cd charlie jones
01. CD Charlie Jones speaks at the opening ceremony.
oscar findahl
02. Oscar Findahl, of Sweden, helps launch an F1A towline glider.
Peter Monninghoff
03. Peter Mönninghoff, of Germany, gets ready for the day.

F1B day saw 97 competitors start the day but after a long and hard set of seven rounds, 41 fliers remained in the competition, including the US team’s Blake Jensen. The day saw lots of wind shifts, leading to challenging thermal picks, as well as frequent dust devils in the afternoon rounds. These challenging conditions claimed both Alex Andriukov and Greg Simon of the US team in the second round.

With 41 competitors in the 6-minute flyoff, the line stretched out 410 yards, creating different thermal conditions for competitors depending on their location. Blake was in approximately the middle of the line and, despite a nearly perfect climb, his model never found the right air and only did 5 minutes and 14 seconds—46 seconds short of the max. Most of the maxes came from the ends of the line and almost no one in the middle was able to survive to reach the 8-minute flyoff.

This flyoff saw most of the competitors launch almost immediately, which unfortunately led to all but three of the remaining competitors dropping the round. Sunday started off with the 10-minute F1B flyoff, which ended with Mickael Rigault of France taking the win despite all of the models in the flyoff drifting into the orchard. The F1B team trophy was awarded to the team from Israel.

Sunday began with the classic buoyant air of Lost Hills. Many of the F1C aircraft easily made the 4-minute max in the first round, but as the weather began to transition in the second round, Jeff Ellington, of the US, missed the max by a few seconds, removing him from the running.

As the day continued, the wind picked up and dust devils started rolling through the flightline. The wind increased throughout the rounds as Faust Parker and Taron Malkhasyan of the US team remained clean. Because of the strength of the wind, the flyoff was postponed until 5:30. Of the 23 fliers in the 6-minute flyoff, 16 made the max, including both remaining US team members.

The following morning, the 10-minute flyoff began at 7:30 with perfect conditions. Five minutes into the round, Taron launched and had a perfect climb and transition. Faust was able to get his backup model in the air to finish in eighth place.

Meanwhile, Taron floated overhead with no drift in slightly positive air. When the model landed after 9 minutes and 54 seconds, he was the new world champion. When the model was back on the flightline, it was taken to processing. Despite a long wait, all of Taron’s models passed and he was officially declared the world champion.

per findahl
04. Per Findahl, from Sweden, launches his F1A towline glider.
team usa placed third in the team competition
05. Team USA placed third in the team competition.
lu hong
06. Lu Hong, of China, launches his rubberpowered F1B model.
the flightline
07. The flightline was 380 meters long. The national flags on the flightline help the retrieval crews downwind spot their team’s models when they are launched.
roel lucassen
08. Roel Lucassen of the Netherlands is getting ready for the F1B event.

With all of the flying completed, most of the competitors turned to socializing. Jim Parker hosted a barbecue for all of the competitors. The event featured a live band formed by a couple of modelers and many people stayed on the field until well after dark.

The following day saw the closing ceremonies take place in Wonderful Park and the awards were presented to all of the individuals and teams who placed, as well as the Challenge France trophy, which goes to the team with the best total score across all events. This year, Poland took home the trophy, closely followed by Russia, with the US finishing in third place. After the awards presentation, Ian officially closed the contest.

Later that evening, all of the competitors and supporters flocked to Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, California, for the banquet. At the banquet, fliers exchanged shirts and other goodies in between dancing and eating delicious food. There were line dancing lessons while a live band performed and sang everything from country to blues. At one point, a few modelers got on stage and performed the altimeter dance to make fun of competitors preparing for flyoffs.

The amount of work that took place in the 2 years leading up to this contest was tremendous and its execution was nearly perfect. There were no formal protests posed to the jury, and there were no timekeeper errors or complaints.

Thanks to all of the work of the CD and his assistants, as well as the people who worked behind the scenes to put on this contest, the 2019 Free Flight World Championships went off without a hitch.

or shabat
Above: Or Shabat (L) and Adam Krawiec (R), from Israel, both launch their F1B models. Right: A Chinese team member gets ready to launch Zhang Zhiyong’s F1A glider.

Flickr Album

2019 FAI F1ABC Free Flight World Championships



2019 FAI F1ABC World Championships for Free Flight Model Aircraft

National Free Flight Society (NFFS)

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I was a volunteer timer at Lost Hills and would not have missed it for anything. I even got the time the winner of F1C in the dawn fly off. My wife has us looking for a way to time at the FAI Worlds in France in 2021, so I will find a way. You get to observe the best at work...and learn from every flight! AMA 12203

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