The changing styles of aerobatics
Aerobatics is not a stagnant sport. The rules evolve and change. The aircraft available change also, more power, more roll rate - more of everything. New pilots also come along with new ideas. While the core figures and elements may not change a whole lot, the combinations of them and where they are placed in the sequence definitely change.
Unlimited Frees from the 70’s (Fig.1 Zlin 526) and early 80’s (Fig.2 Henry Haigh, Haigh Superstar 1988 Free) look like extended Intermediate sequences to today’s eyes.
The number of figures allowed in the Free was reduced to 9 sometime after this, and sequences from the early 90’s are quite similar to today. In the late 90’s a bonus point system was introduced for Frees with fewer than 9 figures. This led to amazingly complex 7 figure Frees that were very busy to fly, and also made rational judging a superhuman task. (Fig.3 Cassidy Free 1999, CAP-222).
This experiment was dropped and the 9 figure Unlimited Free returned. This does not mean change has stopped, however (Fig.4 Mamistov Free 2008, Su-26M3).
A smart sequences with an even spread of K and designed to minimize losses. One exception would be the use of a full 4-roll rolling circle. It is difficult to get a good score on any roller, so usual practice would be to use the lowest K roller possible, and place it late in the sequence so as not to colour the judges’ opinion of other figures. Mamistov’s later 2011 and 2013 sequences did change the roller for a simpler one, influenced no doubt by the 2010 increase in K for all rollers. Similar comments may be made about the super-eight figure – lots of steady looping segments and 45’s with rolls to be centred. The figure is slow flying and allows judges to nit pick many elements, so hard to score well with. On the other hand it is a relatively easy figure to practice and refine to perfection, as Mamistov, twice powered world champion, obviously does.
Often recommended when designing a Free is to start with a killer figure at VNE and zoom to the moon – and this is the usual practice today. It conforms with the traditional approach of starting with lots of energy, assuming you will have less as you progress through the sequence (Fig.5 Le Vot WAC 2013 Free).
But this doesn’t suit everyone, particularly if you are ‘slow starter’ and take a figure or two to settle and get into the groove. If this is you, it may be better to start with a technically simpler figure and build through the flight (Fig.6 Cooper Free WAC 2013).
Supporting this ‘cautious’ approach is the fact you don’t get any chance to practice your start in the Free Programme – just the safeties and then straight into it. You should also consider that at a large International comp you may have to wait days between the Known and the Free – how current and fresh will you feel when your 15 minutes of fame comes?
That said, I think you can see a definite shift in Free design (the exception that proves the rule?). Possibly this latest move can be attributed to Renaud Ecalle and his Free of 2010 (Fig.7).
The horizontal start figure, able to be flown at the bottom of the box, is the defining characteristic of the new design style. Then the sequence climbs up for the spin and tailslide, and back down to finish with a minimalist roller at the bottom of the box. Maintaining energy throughout the sequence is not the concern it once was. These types of figures are also appearing more often elsewhere in sequences. Here is another start figure (Fig.8):
Accuracy and confidence are needed to make these explosive starts work for you (and no little amount of skill). Only 4 of the 57 Frees at the last WAC began with similar low rolling figures. Notable proponents were Holland, Thomas and Boerbon (2nd, 4th and 8th in the Free, respectively, USA). It doesn’t suit everyone, and it needs to be executed flawlessly. Maybe it is a risk that needs to be taken only if you are gunning for the World Title?