2019 USA F1D Senior Team Selection Contest Report - Brett Sanborn
The 2020 World Championships will be held in the Unirea salt mine in Slanic Prahova, Romania which has a ceiling height of approximately 185 feet. Due to the similarity in height, Lakehurst—about 176 feet of flyable height—is generally the preferable site to select a team for the mine. Unfortunately, the availability of Hangar 1 could not be confirmed for Labor Day early enough, so the USA F1D team selection committee was forced to choose the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho as the contest site for the team selection. The Dome is still a good option for the team selection contest as it has about 140 feet of flyable height and provides the advantage of five continuous flying days. Team selection hopefuls assembled in Moscow over June 20-24.
The team selection contest is organized into nine rounds over three days. Compared to the world championship format, this provides three extra rounds in an effort to select the best team. This gives competitors many tries to do their best two flights. The top two times of each participant are added together for their score, in addition to qualification points earned in the roughly one-and-a-half year lead up to the team selection contest. The top three competitors represent the USA the following year at the world championships.
Like most F1D contests, the action starts slowly and crescendos over three days. Going into the contest, many people expected Yuan Kang Lee to put up some big times. At the 2018 Kibbie Contest, Kang pulled off two amazing 29+ minute flights which are still site records, so it was expected he could easily do such times again to safely make the team. Jake Palmer, Kibbie Dome organizer, has also done some excellent 28 minute times in the building. John Kagan had a strong showing in previous years with 26 and 27 minute flights. Evan Guyett and Leo Pilachowski had done a few 24-25 minute flights in the past. As is often the case with such contests, we’d all be surprised and worn out at the end.
The first day started with several scratches from early rounds as people tuned their models to the flying site. Kang did not fly the first round. John and Jake had some decent initial flights with 25:27 and 24:58, respectively. Kang’s second round flight put him on the board with a similar time as his competitors, a 25:13, but well below his capability. As the building heats up over the course of the day, the air begins to get better at around 3-4 pm, and usually peaks at about 6 pm. Though the air is better, it can become turbulent and jet stream forms at the ceiling tiles. If a model gets within about three feet of the ceiling, it begins to quickly drift toward the opposite end. This is a perilous flight path due to several wires supporting two curtain rods as well as a scoreboard which hangs in the center of the building. Nonetheless, times generally improve in the late afternoon. This was indeed the case, as we saw a shakeup of the rankings. In round three, Jake improved with a 27:10, an excellent time which put his two-flight total at 53:17. Kang similarly improved by flying a 27:29 in round three from a relatively safe height, which indicated that he could improve further later. Nonetheless, Jake was in first, Kang was in second by about 35 seconds while John trailed by about five minutes. Due to his work schedule at his summer internship, Evan did not arrive at the contest until the middle of the first day. Therefore, he did not have as much practice time under his belt and spent the day trimming models and flew a single flight in round three of 24:23.
The second day of the contest started similarly slow, with times in the 24-25 minute range for all of the top four competitors. Nobody improved their backup times until round five, when Jake flew a solid 26:55 and Kang slightly improved his backup time with a 25:33. Round 6 surprisingly did not yield any spectacular times. Kang attempted to recreate his 29 minute flights from the previous year, which required flying late in the day all the way at the ceiling tiles. In 2018, Kang’s plane made it to the ceiling in a hurry and quickly entered the jet stream and was transported to the opposite end of the building before cruising around and landing at 29 minutes. This time however, Kang managed to land his model on top of one of the ceiling tiles at almost 13 minutes into the flight. This left him with a two flight total of 53:02 to Jake’s 54:05. Fighting for the third spot were John and Evan. Evan slightly edged out John on the scoreboard by eight seconds with a two-flight total of 50:39. Both still stood a chance to improve on the third and final day of the contest.
Although the best times at Kibbie have been late in the day, it’s possible to fly good times in the morning. In the 2017 team selection, Jake Palmer pulled off an excellent time just under 28 minutes in the morning air, showing that it was possible. Evan confirmed this as a fact. Though the air is generally not as buoyant as in the afternoon, the jet stream is generally not yet active. This provides the possibility of flying right up to the ceiling tiles and in some cases, allowing slight bumping of the tiles without the usual repercussions. This was Evan’s strategy. His flight reached maximum height, cruised around, and descended in fine form to land at 27:32. This was three seconds better than Kang’s 27:29 and would stand as the high time of the contest. Less than an hour later, Evan flew his round 8 flight trying to keep the same trim settings and recreate his time. At that point, he was not safely on the team with a strong two-flight total. His second flight was like the first, and landed with a similar time of 27:26, solidly cementing his spot on the team. Kang meanwhile flew a fine 27:08 in round 7 to bring his two-flight total to 54:37, 20 seconds behind Evan who would remain in the lead. Jake flew three 26 minute flights over rounds 7-9 but did not improve his backup time. Kang did not fly round 8 or 9 as he was solidly in second place. John struggled during the final day to match the 26-27 minute flights of his fellow competitors. His two-flight total ended up being 51:00, about three minutes off third place.
In the end, there were only 54 seconds between third and first place. This is the closest result in a USA team selection contest, and no doubt caused by the restrictive 0.4 g maximum rubber weight requirement. With such little rubber, maximum energy content, motor size selection, tuning, and trimming have become even more critical than in the past. Evan showed real strength making his first USA Senior Team, having quickly adapted to the flying conditions and producing great results. Congratulations to the entire team USA: Evan Guyett, Yuan Kang Lee, and Jake Palmer!