Remember, the following is worth exactly what you paid for it...
It's a new year and many aerobatic competitors will be waxing their machines and making the big decision to move up a category this year. The change in category may well involve the need or desire to fly a Free programme. This will be a new experience for many and will pose some questions as how best to do it?
No matter which category you fly in, some basic principles of Free design apply, if winning is your objective! If your desire is to blow the judges socks off with your aerial artistry and huge cohunas, then you don't need to read any further.
You need to start with the maximum K and number of figures allowed for your category (Sportsman- same K as Known/15 figures, Intermediate - 220K/15 figures, Advanced - 300K/12 figures, Unlimited - 420K/9 figures). From this you can calculate the average K per figure. Then you can start drawing figures that approximate this K value. Why do we do this? How boring!
First up, if you have a sequence that is less than your allowed maximum K, you are giving away points. Second, if you bomb one figure, it's Ok if it is a low K figure. But Murphy is active in aerobatics, so when you fly it won't be...so keep near the average K to minimise the damage. Of course you want to show off your skills and aircraft to advantage, so by all means include figures that you like and fly well.
An excellent guide to Free design is on the IAC Chapter 38 website http://www.iac38.org/sequences/freetips.htm It has lots of good tips that will minimize the risk of failure, so I won't repeat them all here. Have a read and come back.
Again, it appears pretty boring initially, but competitive aerobatics is all about dodging the donuts! You will be surprised, however, at the skill required to design a top-notch Free that meets all the criteria. By all means get some help from senior competitors in the early stages. And get them to vet your efforts so you can refine it with their hard earned experience.
One IAC Chapter 38 tip I don't wholly agree with is starting at Mach 2 with a killer figure. Again, nice if you pull it off, but if you don't it looks real bad. And it will mar the judges' appreciation of the rest of the sequence. Also, if the judges are asleep or a bit slow and miss part of the first figure an 'Average' mark is going to be poor reward for the and risk. I'd suggest starting with a solid conventional figure to get the judges started thinking 'this guy is crisp', and then build on it. The good first impression should then carry over to the rest of your sequence.
Chapter 38's final note on the development of a 'Californian Free - style' is pertinent, and it may fit your Free rather than the conventional centrebox figure and a turnaround figure at each end. Particularly if you have a fast monoplane and fly big figures. A further development of this that I have noted at International competitions are Free sequences that effectively have all the figures centrebox! How can this be? By flying 'N' and Super-eight type figures that include the turnaround in them. Even P-loops can have this characteristic, and no doubt other figures. The sequence can flow from one figure to the next and never take an excursion to the extremities of the box! The French and Russians are particularly adept at this.
Study and collect Frees from competitions you attend. It will help you develop better ones of your own. Remember though that how Frees are judged does vary with region. So this may be a consideration if you are aware of what certain judges like. A simple rule is you don't want to challenge the judges ability to appreciate what they are seeing. This may lead to a simpler and less satisfying Free to fly, but if a judge cannot keep up you probably won't pull a good score. Not all judges are created equal or perfect - cest la vie.
You'll be surprised how by the end of the season your Free will have morphed into something greater than the original, and how you fly it will bear no resemblance to your early attempts! Most of all, remember to enjoy the journey,