Last time I checked, flying model airplanes is generally considered “fun”. I do believe I could find a consensus to this fact, and I think we would all agree that is why we all do it. As a general extension of this fact, flying for fun can sometimes lead to flying in competition. Competition gives us a reason to all get together and have some good fellowship with brother modelers, be exposed to other flyers, learn new approaches to modeling, and measure our abilities against each other (oh… and eat bar-B-Q).

The need for competition leads ultimately to the little thing we call a model airplane “stunt contest”. This is ultimately the subject for discussion here.

There are some people out there that believe that a stunt contest has a great many functions, and that the people running them have a great many responsibilities. One of the functions I hear bantered about is the need to “maintain the traditions of the event”. In my opinion, this perceived function has ultimately led to a nearly total halt to the advancement of the event. Stunt contests as we know them, have remained virtually unchanged for more than 40 years. Other than the addition of the skill classes, nearly all aspects of the stunt contest including scoring, judging methods, contest format, scoring tabulation, and the pattern itself have remained almost completely unchanged.

So, if some people think that remaining unchanged is the ultimate function of our little endeavor, then the event has been very successful. Indeed, in terms of the contest format and practice itself, if remaining true to “the way we did it in 1963” is the ultimate goal of the stunt contest, then control line stunt is (by far) the most successful faction of modeling on planet Earth.

I completely go the other way; I do not feel that stunt contests are for exercising traditions. Admittedly, I have been pretty outspoken about this subject for some time so this may not be any real surprise to many who might read this. It is my view that Classic Stunt and Old time Stunt maintain the “traditions” of the event just fine, and as I understand it, these events were expressly put into place for that function.

It is my belief that the modern CLPA event should be just that; MODERN.

In general, flying for fun is a hobby; flying in competition is a sport. All sports evolve. The reason they evolve is because the competitors get better in succeeding generations. Performance increases as equipment improves, coaching gets better, and as a result margins between the competitors tighten as everyone elevates. As a result, Distinguishing between performers becomes more difficult. As an example, look at golf. Some would argue that golf has remained unchanged for 400 years, and they would be wrong. True, that while the basic rules and premise of the game has remained virtually unchanged, the measure of performance of the players has changed radically. As players and equipment have improved, courses have been made incredibly more difficult. Modern courses have been lengthened, fairways have been narrowed, rough has been grown higher and thicker, and greens have been made faster and more undulating. Even an old course can be made to have a whole new set of “teeth” with a little fertilizer, a mower, and some tricky pin placements. All of this is been done to separate the field and narrow the performance band. As players improve, something is needed to “drive the cream to the top”.

To evolve, we have to examine where we have been historically. I think that a brief study of the typical stunt contest would be productive. First, we have to ask ourselves, what have we learned after 40 years of stunt contests? It should be a generally accepted fact that we have a huge database of history from which to glean precious contest information, and this history should be useful for determining the strengths and weaknesses of our methods. If we could simply be honest with ourselves, and actually allow some open, honest discussion while throwing politics out the window, we might be able to make improvements.

Some points of our current method:

    • Stunt contests are subjective. Even though the subject of stunt judging has been historically considered a taboo subject for public consumption, it is a set in stone fact that stunt contests are not decided by pilots, planes, or patterns. In fact, they are decided by judges. It is also a fact that judges are human beings and have their own opinions, viewpoints, and pre-conceived notions. At a contest, judges are asked to exercise their opinions, and that is exactly what they do. As pilots we all accept that fact when we pay our entrance fee.


  • As a general fact of history, some judges are more neutral than others. While I am in no way trying to be controversial, it is no secret that historically some judges have brought pre-conceived notions to the circle with them. It is also not a secret that many others are more neutral and are able to disconnect their outside opinions from their judging. Just from my personal observation, I would be willing to assert that very few local level contests are won by total strangers to the area. This might happen on occasion, but it is rare. Although my methods are not scientific, I would be willing to bet that there is data to support the hypothesis that “local flyers generally win local contests, especially when judged by local judges. Put another way, judges score “what they know and who they know” best.


  • Stunt judging in its current form, when done correctly, is very difficult. Not only is stunt judging difficult in terms of being able to recognize mistakes when they are made in tenths of second increments from 100 feet away, it is difficult in the fact that a number must be assigned to the mistake using a completely arbitrary system. Adding to this difficulty is the fact that there is no set deduction scheme for the judge to use to be found in the rulebook. Deduction schemes are found in nearly all judged sports. Some examples are gymnastics, diving, ice skating etc but we do not use them in CLPA. In fact, the stunt portion of the AMA rulebook is really just a series of “suggestions” for judging, not really “rules” for judging.


  • The scoring of the event is subjective, and human beings are prone to error. This is a just a fact. Due to this fact, it would seem that minimizing the subjective elements in judging would be a productive improvement. As discussed before, for some reason, stunt judging has remained virtually unchanged since its very beginning. It is well known fact, for example, that accurately seeing maneuver size from the opposite side of the circle is very, very difficult. It is a pretty well known fact that the addition of a side judge would be a drastic improvement in the ability to see angles defined by the rulebook, but for some reason a side judge has never been used (although it has been proposed several times over the decades).


  • Finding highly qualified judges in large numbers for contests can often be difficult. This is especially true if one is seeking judges that have demonstrated both judging proficiency and neutrality.


  • Stunt contests generally require judges to perform their jobs consistently for long periods of time in difficult conditions. The typical stunt contest format requires a judge to sit out in the sun, wind, heat, rain, etc and judge all of the flyers consistently for hours on end. Some contests have multi day formats, so the abuse can continue for several days.


  • Stunt contests are often decided by a single point or even a fraction of a point no matter how large the scores. Even with expert level scores over 550 in a typical AMA stunt contest, most contests are decided by the slightest margins. For reasons sited above, judges have a tendency to judge very conservatively, so many flyers receive very similar scores. The AMA and FAI scoring systems both, as I see it, basically encourage “middle of the road” scoring because the possibility of ballooning is always a consideration.


  • Stunt contests are often decided by the weather. This is just a fact. I have personally witnessed the weather decide the most prestigious contests. All it takes is a break in a spat of horrific weather for a decent pilot to receive huge scores over pilots who were forced to fly in brutal conditions. In Texas, you want to get a score in the morning before the wind kicks up in the afternoon.


  • The flying order of a contest can often effect the scoring. It is no secret that being first to fly is less than desirable. Typically, the judges are concerned that they will start too high or too low, so they start out scoring very conservatively.


  • Stunt contests require large amounts of scoring tabulation. Someone has to add up all of these scores from all of these flights, and then these scores must be verified and posted. This requires additional manpower and expertise.


  • If the judges need a break, the contest stops.


  • Typically, local stunt contests consist of two official flights and a lot of sitting around waiting to fly. Nearly all local contest formats allow for one flight in the morning and one flight in the afternoon (think of one flight before lunch and one after). This is so common that I have had numerous conversations discussing the fact that pilots must nearly always deal with the fact that one flight of a contest will be in the cool air in the morning and one in the heat of the afternoon. To me, driving for several hours and then sitting out in the sun all day to fly twice does not always seems attractive.


  • Stunt contests are generally not considered much fun to watch. While it could be argued that watching a stunt contest is just completely boring, I think it could also be argued that it is difficult to be engaged as a spectator, and the format of the contest does little to help this situation. Stunt contests are pretty flat… everyone flies and then they announce a winner. That is a about it.


Instead of focusing on what we have been doing historically, let us take a completely different tact. Let us do a little “out of the box thinking”.

Ultimately, the goals of a contest are supposed to be simple. The way I see it, the function of a CL stunt contest is as follows:

    •  Have fun


  • Let every contestant fly as much as practically possible


  • Find the best flier in the bunch


  • Do all of the above using the easiest to manage, most fair, and least subjective manner possible


  • Be fun to watch (this is probably too much to ask, right?)


That is about all that is of a concern to me… everything else is just minutia. If you stop reading right now, I think the point has been made. There is nothing wrong with thinking “outside of the box” when it comes to contest format.

My solution to the issues sited above is the TOC (Tournament of Champions) stunt contest format. This type of contest is based on Phil Cartiers’ “head to head” stunt format. First of all, the format is unlike any other stunt contest flown today, in that it is a “match play” version of what we normally do. In golf terms, the way we organize a stunt contest today would be considered a “stroke play” tournament. The similarities are that everyone flies and the scores are looked at overall to determine the winner. In match play golf, each hole is a separate contest. The only thing that matters in the end is for one contestant to win more holes. The popular Skins Game is a version of match play, and appears to have been invented for television.

Generally, the head to head contest format seeks to pair up flyers that would be required to compete back to back to win individual “matches” to advance to the next round. The TOC format is designed to use a standard double elimination format used in a multitude of sports for tournaments all over the world to determine the order of the matches.

There are many advantages to the “head to head” match style format over the current contest format:

    • Because each match is a totally separate contest of its own, it is not important to have a fixed judging corps judge the entire contest to determine a winner. When it comes to judging a head to head match, the only important thing is to determine at outright winner in each match. The judging corps could literally be different for every single match if needed.


  • Due to the double elimination tournament format, each flyer that enters a head to head tournament would be guaranteed that they get to fly a MINIMUM of two flights. As stated before, the typical stunt contest allows for two flights for everyone in the contest. Using the TOC format, the lowest performing flyer in the contest will get to fly the same number of flights that they would normally be allowed to fly in the current system. The second lowest ranked flyer would fly three matches, and so on and so on, up to the winner.


  • Since matches are flown “back to back” the chances are that both fliers will be flying their match in the same weather. This greatly levels the playing field for the entire tournament,


  • The head to head format makes the flying order of the contest irrelevant.


  • Each match, since it is a contest of its own, would allow for the “pressure players” to thrive. I would propose there would be no re-flies as there are in our current system. I believe that re-fly rules are constantly abused. Do you want a free practice flight at the Nats without penalty? Leave your handle thong hanging. Instant practice flight. The TOC format would change the current AMA rules would be in relation to the definition of an “attempt”. The only “do overs” allowed would be in relation to engine starting. Once the airplane wheels leave the ground, the flight for that match becomes official. Any failures to follow the rules such as losing an airplane part or not wearing your handle thong would no longer be counted as “an attempt” but a loss of the match. If you get a bad engine run, you can either choose to fly anyway or lose the match, it is that simple.


  • Since it is no longer important to be “consistent” over an entire days judging, the current scoring system can be modified. In a head to head contest the only thing that matters is deciding the current match between two flyers. The only important outcome is to determine at outright winner in each match. Due to this fact, the TOC would allow a much more decisive scoring system than the current system. Much of the current scoring system encourages average scoring to eliminate the possibility of ballooning of the scores. Since we do not care about the score ballooning effect any more, we are free to use more extreme measures to be decisive.


In an ideal setting, (4) judges would be used for each match. (3) of the judges would be positioned upwind, and (1) would be positioned to the side.

    • Two of the upwind judges will be judging maneuver shape. The sole job of these two judges is to grade the shape of the maneuver as defined by the rulebook. Is a square a square in shape? Is a triangle triangular, are rounds round, etc. These judges watch the entire maneuver for the correct shape. Position in the hemisphere is irrelevant. Size is irrelevant. Scores are from 1 to 10 for each maneuver. The (2) shape judges’ scores are averaged to make one shape score (in a manpower pinch, (1) shape judge could be used instead of two).


  • The third upwind judge would be responsible for scoring the corner quality, tightness, bobbles, and airplane tracking. The sole responsibility of this judge is to watch the airplane as it flies through the maneuver. Scores are from 1 to 10 for each maneuver.


  • The final judge would be placed 90 degrees to the maneuver. The 90 degree judge would be to stand to the side and grade 45-90 degree aspects of the maneuver, as well as the accuracy of the maneuver bottoms. Scores are from 1 to 10 for each maneuver.


Now we have (3) sets of scores each derived from completely independent variables within the pattern. We have (1) averaged shape score, (1) corner and bobble score, and (1) size, position, and bottom score. To create spread between the flyers it is imperative that the scores be used as multipliers, and not averaged. Using scores that are multiplied is the true secret to creating spread in the finish scores.


  • The beauty of using multipliers is that they can be changed at random. It was the intention to vary the multipliers from round to round of the tournament. For example, we might leave the scores flat for the first round. For example, for the second round we might double the “corner” judges’ multiplier, putting an increased emphasis on corners for that round. For the third round we multiply the “shape” judges’ multiplier by 4, etc. Between rounds numbers could be drawn from a hat to determine multipliers. Each change could be announced before the subsequent round or match. These changes would force fliers to emphasize different aspects of the pattern. This would also reward the flyers truly flying the pattern closest to the rulebook on the whole.


    • One truly important advantage of the TOC judging format is that training judges would be infinitely easier. No longer would a judge be solely responsible to assess every single aspect of a maneuver. Any given judge would only be responsible to watch a specific portion of the maneuver to which he is assigned. For example, I believe that nearly everyone could be taught correct shapes, and could judge whether a round is round, a square is square, etc and assign a 10 point scale to this single attribute. Also, it is certainly easier to assess turns and bobbles if you are free to not watch the shape, etc. Heck, I could train fliers’ wives to judge 5-45-90 with 20 minutes of training. Side judging is very obvious in my opinion (why we do not use it in the current AMA contest format I will never know).


  • Pilots can be recruited for judging. Once a flyer has been eliminated from the contest, he can be recruited to judge for later matches. It is my belief that the best judges of the pattern itself are the pilots. No one spends more time looking at patterns than the pilots.


  • Tabulating could be made easier. Since we are using 10 point scoring, no appearance points (my TOC is a “flying only” event), and no pattern points (no need), scoring becomes much easier. Each judge can add their own scores, and write their scores on a hand held chalkboard and hold it up for everyone to see (no more score sheet runners). In my world, the scores would be entered into an Excel spreadsheet on a laptop PC so that the match formulas could be easily changed. So, the TOC only needs one scorekeeper, one laptop, and no runners.


  • Lastly, dare I say it; I think match flying would be infinitely more interesting to watch. For the first time, the audience would be able to easily understand what is going on in the contest, and the contest excitement would build with each round.


Not to say that the “head to head” format does not have negative issues of its own. One of the issues with this format is that the contest may require more time or more circles to get all of the flights in to complete the contest. The idea is to fly a lot, and there would indeed be a lot of flying with a double elimination format.


Dennis Adamisin ran down the format for a 16 flyer match (Writer’s Note: most people do not know that I secretly want to change my name to Adamisin—this is my blatant butt kissing moment):


“Round 1: 16 flyers, random match, 8 win, 8 lose. Winners fly winners, losers fly losers.


Round 2: 16 flyers, 4 get second win (2-0) 4 get first loss (1-1), 4 get first win (1-1), 4 get second loss (0-2) and are eliminated


Round 3: 12 flyers, 2 get 3rd win (3-0), 2 get first loss (2-1), 4 get second win(2-1), 4 get 2nd loss(1-2) and are eliminated


Round 4: 8 flyers, 1 gets 4th win (4-0), 1 gets first loss (3-1), 3 get 3rd win (3-1), 3 get second loss (2-2) and are eliminated


Round 5: 5 flyers, 1 gets a “bye” (4-0) 2 get 4th win (4-1) 2 get 2nd loss (3-2) and are eliminated


Round 6: 3 flyers, flyer 1 gets another bye (Huh), 1 gets 5th win (5-1) 1 gets 2nd loss (4-2) and eliminated


Round 7: 2 flyers, if 1 wins he wins contest with 5-0 record, loser is 5-2. If he loses his record is 5-1, opponent now 6-1


Round 8: winner takes all; winners record either 6-1 or 7-1.


63 flights for a 16 man contest.”


As we can see, that is double the amount of flights for typical local contest (which would have 32 flights for 16 entrants). So, for a large turnout it is possible that more circles would need to be utilized to finish on time, or that the contest might need to be stretched to all day or multiple days. While the expertise of the judges may not need to be high as the current format to be effective, a CD will need to recruit more judges if more circles are utilized.


In closing, no matter what you think of what was written here, the idea behind this kind of discussion is to get the reader thinking. If you read this and thought “this guy is out to lunch” that is fine (it would certainly not be the first time I heard this sentiment). If the head to head stunt format is too much to swallow, then consider the judging format discussion alone. Many of the ideas outlined here are germane to the current event as it stands today. Much of what has been discussed here has been discussed thousands of times in hushed whispers by countless flyers, judges, and contest organizers. Not to mention that discussions of subjects such as judging methods and contest outcomes were occasionally seen in print years ago, but much less now. It is almost like the subject is off limits in the modern era, and anyone who wishes to discuss it is considered controversial. I think this is counter productive in the extreme.


My ultimate message is that we all need to be thinking about the future and not the past. This means that we need open minds and open discussion. It can be very hard to be open minded, and I am in no way claiming to have it all figured out. In general, we need to be constantly asking ourselves questions: What are we doing here? What are our goals? Is change a bad thing? Is it time to address the issues inherent in our event and start to move forward? Asking these basic questions might lead to some wonderful results down the road. No matter what, as long as people are thinking for themselves, I will be happy.


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