For those of you that haven't seen it, here is a (slightly amended) copy of my article that appears in the latest CFA newsletter.

I have been flying combat on and off for a long time (my first nats was 1967) and I have seen many people enter the sport/hobby full of enthusiasm only to give up after a while due to lack of success. It seems to me that if combat is to survive and flourish we need to encourage these people and give them access to the knowledge that all of the best flyers have learnt the hard way over a lifetime. Don't forget, in the sixties, entries for combat at the Nats was well over a hundred, with one model per bout and no losers round, you had to be really, really, good to win. These are some of the lessons I have learnt.

Although I have competed in all classes of combat, this article is mainly aimed at the diesel classes, for there are others more knowledgeable than I when it comes to F2D. In any event, equipment, pit crew, tactics and dare I say it, luck, play a much bigger part in F2D than the other classes.

To win at combat requires three things, four if you count luck.
1. The right equipment
2. Skill
3. Tactics

Lots of people have two out of three and often don’t really understand why they don’t win, either, at all, or more often. Others have one or none out of the three and are not sure how to go about acquiring these combat essentials. Hopefully, I can help.

Equipment

Everybody has their own ideas about models and engines and some choices are down to personal preference, but this is what has worked for me.

The Vintage model. Most designs have something going for them. Some are stronger than others, some are easier to build, and some perform better. Essentially, we are looking for wing area and an elevator hinge line as far back as possible. It is no coincidence that the designs that have these features in abundance are banned! (Sequi etc) In my opinion the Yeti or the Chaos are the best available design for vintage, although the recent introduction of the Supermonger with its increase in wing area over the Yeti, makes this a natural choice also.
The drawback of Warlord type designs is that although they are strong, pleasant to fly and very ‘flickable’, they tend to slow down too much in consecutive maneuvers. An experienced opponent will exploit this to their advantage; two consecutive loops and they’re behind you unless you have a huge speed advantage. Much information is already available about building techniques so I won’t go into that here, but I will cover some less well known points.

Everybody knows that the lighter the model the better, but in vintage there are other factors at work that are not obvious. This is mainly to do with the engine. The PAW 19 is a crude brute of a thing that is inclined the shake the model to pieces; much airspeed is lost this way. When I was flying, I always had some of the fastest models and although I used the best Dave Harrison 19’s a lot of the airspeed was due to the model. How so? It’s to do with mass centralization. All of my models were heavy and stiff in the middle to anchor the motor, thus the power is translated into airspeed rather than vibration.
The wing section was 1 ¼ in the centre, reducing to 1’’ at the tips. The leading edge was solid in the middle and then progressively hollowed out towards the tips. The engine bearers had a huge gusset. I was never able to build a vintage model that weighed less than 16ozs.
When it comes to the Oliver Tiger class things are a little different, because you haven’t got anything like the power. Here, lightness is all. Choice of model is really down to how good your motor is; the biggest model (that you can build lightly) that it will pull, basically.
As for F2E, go and buy some of the excellent ready-built models that are available and it’s job done.

Engines.

There are no secrets here. Make friends with those that have a proven track record of preparing engines, do what they say, and never quibble about the price. The more engines you have, the more chance you have of getting one that is just that bit special. Mix your own fuel (shop-bought fuel is useless for competition). Balance your props and throw away those that are even a little bit bent.

So, you’ve built some fantastic models, got a great engine, so now you need….

Skill.

Let us assume for a moment that you are a relative newcomer to combat. All of the big names seem to have an unbelievable level of flying ability, you want to be able to fly like them, but they won’t tell you how they do it. This is usually because they don’t know; they have been flying for so long that it has become instinctive, they are not consciously aware of any technique, they just ‘do’ it. Here are some tips to enable you to fly like that.

1. Do not think in terms of ‘up’ or ‘down’ or ‘the right way up’ or ‘inverted’. What you need to do is think ‘clockwise’ or ‘anticlockwise’. Thus: wherever you are in the sky the ‘up’ action at the handle will make the model go clockwise and the ‘down’ action, anticlockwise. If you can master this way of looking at it, your flying will quickly become instinctive and you will be able to apply the correct control input without thinking about it, even in the most stressful situations.
2. Practice flying without looking at the model. In the bout your aim will be to follow your opponent all over the sky, this is the very essence of combat flying. To be able to achieve this happy state, you will spend most of the time looking at his (or her) model rather than your own. Therefore you will need to feel comfortable flying your model largely by feel, with quick glimpses in your peripheral vision to be sure of your position relative to your opponents. It helps if you can imagine an opponent in front of you; follow him whilst looking at the spot in the sky you imagine him to be in. Needless to say, you need a fairly stable model to be able to do this and this is something to bear in mind when deciding where your C of G is going to be.
3. Practice flying low and learn to ‘wiggle’. This is an invaluable defensive maneuver, but only use it when you need it or it will either telegraph your intentions or kill your airspeed, or both.
4. Always be aware which way the wind is blowing, particularly if you get into a line tangle.
5. Practice
6. Practice
7. You get the idea…

Let us, for the sake of argument, divide combat flyers into two groups; those who are likely to win a major competition and the rest. Now, I realize that the skills involved in flying combat are many and varied, but there are two areas of difference that stand out between the two groups; the ability to fly low (in a bout) and the ability to watch your opponent’s model rather than your own. This is particularly relevant when there is a break in the bout, the superstar will be watching where his opponent has gone and will guide his model onto the tail of the opponent, all without looking at his own model. You need to be able to do this.


Tactics. Ok, you’ve got the models, got the engine, practiced all over the winter and consider yourself pretty handy, but the results don’t come, why?

To win a combat bout you need to get more cuts than your opponent, right? Up to a point, but most bouts are lost because of a single-minded pursuit of more cuts.
Without a doubt, most bouts are lost because of two things; either you broke the model or you took all of the streamer in one go. I would go as far as to say that the top three flyers never lose except for one or both of these circumstances. So, when you step into the circle, your absolute priority is not cuts, it is: don’t break the model, don’t take it all off.
Consider this: if you’re four cuts to nil down but your model is good and your opponent still has a streamer, you can still win. If you’re two-nil up and break it, you’re likely to lose, if you take it all off in the first minute; you are bound to lose unless you are very lucky or much, much better than your opponent.

With this in mind, your objective should be to control the bout and the best way to do this is to follow your opponent, not with the aim of cuts (ok, take them if they come), but to control the bout. Follow at a distance, not so far that they can turn inside you, but far enough so you don’t have to follow every wiggle.
It is very demoralizing being followed all over the sky, usually your opponent will start to get desperate to get you off his tail, often hitting the deck in the process, and hey-presto you’re leading without taking a cut!

Combat is all about pressure and control, if you can control the bout and keep your opponent under pressure, he will start to make mistakes and the bout will come to you without any heroic cut-taking antics on your behalf. Richard Herbert is the master of this style. Yet there are other competitors who are extremely skilful and dazzling to watch, often taking five or six cuts in a bout, but notice how things often go wrong for them before they get to the final. When you enter the circle you should be thinking about winning the competition not just the bout.
Try to win the bout economically; as long as you win, the score is irrelevant. It is better to win one cut to nil with your model undamaged than win six cuts to nil and have a broken model. This enables you to fine tune the model and motor as the competition progresses. It is quite possible to win a major competition without breaking anything; I have won at the nationals with the same model I started with on more than one occasion.

Let’s now imagine that we’re half-way through the bout and things are pretty much under control, you’ve done most of the following, your model is going well and in one bit, but unfortunately your opponent has got a couple of lucky cuts and you are behind. (I should mention at this point that you should always have one pit man standing with the scorers so that they can tell you what the scoring position is.)
Now you need cuts, how best to get them?
By now you should have a pretty good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of your model relative to your opponents, use the strengths to close-up for a cut, BUT, and this is important; try to do it when the models are moving away from the ground. As you close in for the kill your opponent is bound to try to sell you a dummy with a wiggle or two, if you’re going towards the ground and he dummies you, there’s a good chance you’ll hit the deck, if you’re going away from the ground you’ll just lose the advantage.

Do not allow yourself to be physically dominated in the centre circle. If your opponent is standing in front of you, it is very difficult to get a cut because of the obvious difference in line length. Don’t push your opponent around, but equally don’t let them do it to you. For a demonstration of centre circle dominance watch Mike Willance; if you stepped in front of him every time he stepped in front of you, you’d both be in Grantham by the end of the bout!
By Mike Loughlin
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