The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome
No. 14 Summer 2007
Sywell Rookie AT3 Racers
The view from Brooklands AT3 G-SYLL lined up for
the start of the Gaelic Hunter Trophy Air Race
July last year saw the arrival at Sywell of the Royal Aero Club for a weekend of air racing. MBB thought that we should join in so I duly rushed around to secure a competitors licence and label G-SWLL with our race number, 46, which it still bears.
All aircraft are handicapped using GPS to track our flying an octagon at full power with 30-second legs and gentle rate 1 turns whilst maintaining a constant height, 500ft a.g.l. The GPS is returned at the end of the flight for the handicappers to establish our maximum level True Air Speed and establish all aircraft's position on the starting grid, slowest at the front, fastest at the rear.
Gareth and MBB pre-flight check prior to The Schneider Trophy Race.
Doing a check flight with Geoffrey Boot, on throttling back to cruise power I was told 'that's no good, you'll have to fly at full power otherwise you'll get left behind'. So, full power it had to be. Indeed it's full power from the time you're lined up at the start to the moment you cross the finishing line. Now full power in an AT3 is something around 120kts, just 7kts short of the Vne maximum allowed. This fast cruise of 120kts lies within the yellow arc where abrupt full scale deflection of the controls is most unwise. This means that tight turns round the four turning points in each lap have to be accomplished with some care, but it's these turns which are crucial to winning the race. A fraction of a second saved on each of four turns over each of five laps mean a big difference in placing as the handicappers are aiming to have us all pass over the finish at the same time.
Take off is followed by retracting flaps a.s.a.p. and maintaining a very shallow climb, ideally lOOfpm, in order to fly as fast as we can climbing to the race height of 500ft. Remembering the picture from the practice session we head straight for our turning point, ...then we think we can identify it, ...then we can identify it. Now we have to judge exactly when to bank steeply over so that we turn as closely around it as we can but without flying over it. Getting ever so slightly closer ahead of us is a Cessna 172, we're closing up on the straight but losing it on the turns. Better tighten up the turns then. Without expecting it a Beech twin overtakes us very close on our left and a Sia-Marchetti passes us conventionally on our right. As we close on the Cessna I overtake on the tight turn over the airfield marker, in view of our club members.
From the staggered start the competitors are closing up. On the final straight we seem to be surrounded by an aluminium cloud all diving down towards the finishing line, swapping height for speed to cross the line at 100 feet.
Competing aircraft parked up at a very windy Bembridge, Isle of Wight
The race over and a few beers later, they publish the results. In our first race, for the Gaelic Hunter Trophy, Michael and I were about two thirds of the way down the 25-strong field. The next day we raced for the SBAC Trophy and were placed seventh. September saw us on the Isle of Wight at Bembridge competing in the 75th Anniversary Schneider Trophy race. Winds so strong across the runway that even some hardy air racers wouldn't take off and cloud down well below 500 feet almost forced cancellation of the event. But not quite.
Air racing is exciting stuff. You need only a minimum of 100 hrs PI to fly and need no qualifications to fly as navigator. So if you're a student with a taste for something different, come along and join the Brooklands Flying Club team for the 2007 season.