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Disclaimer: These aerobatics pages are developed by individual IAC members and do not represent official IAC policy or opinion.
Need for an additional category
1. The range of difficulty between Sportsman and Unlimited has increased substantially over the past 20 years. This leaves gaps in the current category structure which make it difficult for some pilots to find their ideal category, and which make it harder than necessary to progress between categories. (Sportsman became easier when the snap roll was deleted. Unlimited has been made progressively more difficult in order to challenge the very best aircraft.) Adding a category would reduce these problems and thus improve participation at our contests.
2. The recent rule change to give bonus points for shorter Free programs in Unlimited has completed the evolution of this category to the point that it is futile to compete in Pitts Specials and many 4 cylinder monoplanes. Including a number of less common designs with similar performance, these aircraft constitute the largest single group of aircraft owned by IAC members. Many of these aircraft are among the most affordable aerobatic planes available. Because of these realties, I think IAC should be doing everything possible to maximize contest participation by this group of aircraft. Instead, IAC has moved in the opposite direction by no longer providing a category in which these planes can be flown to the limit of their capabilities. I believe that this has two negative effects on IAC contest participation. First, those who wish to fly sequences of Unlimited-like complexity and challenge but cannot afford a high performance monoplane have already left the sport. Second, newcomers to the sport quickly realize that being competitive at the highest level requires an aircraft costing $200,000 or more. The majority of pilots cannot imagine spending that much money to pursue a hobby. Of course, this does not deter many newcomers from progressing through the lower categories without worrying that finances will prevent them from reaching the highest level. However, I believe that an appreciable number of the most talented pilots leave the sport soon after facing this reality, to devote their enthusiasm to a hobby which does not have a financial barrier to achieving excellence. A Sporting Unlimited category, using the rules and attitudes that governed Unlimited when these planes dominated the category, will increase contest participation because it will allow all owners of these affordable planes to dream of eventually flying in a category that truly challenges the capability of their machines and themselves, and because it will allow those who reach this level of skill to continue competing.
3. When I flew Advanced in the mid-80s the Unknowns were similar in difficulty to Intermediate Knowns, and I thought that was good. In contrast, at a recent Nationals the Unknown contained a figure that was considered by many to be unflyable in an S-2B. I think this "category creep" in Advanced Unknowns has occurred largely to keep Advanced similar to the sequences used at the Advanced World Championship. Sporting Unlimited should be a great category for AWAC aspirants to hone their skills, and this should make it possible to have a less daunting jump from Intermediate to Advanced. Another benefit is that it should be possible to ensure that sequences for Advanced do not require exceeding the -3g limit of many of the certified planes that naturally inhabit the category.
Objectives and Rules for Sporting Unlimited
Fifteen to 25 years ago, Unlimited was challenging for the very best pilots in the world flying Pitts Specials and 4 cylinder monoplanes. The objective of Sporting Unlimited is to provide that degree of challenge for the numerous current owners of these aircraft, while keeping differences between Unlimited and Sporting Unlimited to the minimum necessary to allow a well flown Pitts S-1S to be competitive in the Sporting Unlimited category.
The Unlimited Known would be the basis for the Sporting Unlimited Known. Changes would be made by the IAC Board as required to make the sequence flyable in a Pitts S-1S.
All rules governing the Unlimited Free would apply to the Sporting Unlimited free, with the exception that no bonus would be given for short sequences.
Unknowns for Sporting Unlimited could be drawn from the bank of sequences used in Unlimited from 1975 to 1990. Eligible figures for new Unknowns would be defined by the Unlimited Unknown list. Rules for sequence design would be those for the Unlimited Unknown, with the limitation that the sequences be flyable by a Pitts S-1S.
The 4 Minute Free Program would not be used in Sporting Unlimited.
Letter I sent to Rob Dorsey, explaining my personal reasons for disappointment
with the latest changes to rules for Unlimited.
Apparently Rob used this letter as the basis for a review of Unlimited, and the Board decided it didn't want to split Unlimited into two categories. However, he encouraged me to try again with a formal proposal for a rule change. As this letter was part of a longer discussion about the legality of the rule change that brought bonus points to the Unlimited free, I've edited it for pertinence.
From your reply, it is clear to me that you do not understand that a
grass roots competitor like myself can progress to the point that only
something as complex as Unlimited is adequately challenging. I have no
interest in World competition. I just want to keep experiencing the thrill
of challenging competition. I need both challenge AND competition to make
it worthwhile. Advanced is trivial to fly in my Pitts. Practicing to
improve my Advanced scores by another percent provides no fascination and
little challenge. I can't justify the time or the cost of maintaining my
negative g tolerance to fly only in Advanced, whereas I could fly another 10
years in Unlimited and continue to find plenty of challenge. But you're
taking it away from me, and unlike previous generations of leaders who
retained a challenging category for outclassed equipment, you're not leaving
me a category to continue to compete in. Giving monoplane pilots a 300
point bonus in the Free just for having more horsepower and, with the change
in IAC attitude to Unlimited, inevitably a 200 or 400 point bonus because
they can fly through every Unknown without interruption, means that I can no
longer hope to win a contest. I haven't won many, but I have placed higher
than at least 50% of the monoplanes I've flown against in the past 12 years
in Unlimited (in approximately 16 contests, the majority in Canada). Under
the new rules, I would have placed behind every one of those monoplane
pilots. Once the competition aspect is removed, why should I compete?
I'm writing this in the hope that IAC might see that catering
valid needs of a dozen WAC aspirants doesn't
have to be done to the exclusion of grassroots pilots who want
Unlimited-style challenge in limited aircraft, and to the disappointment of
newcomer owners of such planes who might otherwise aspire to learn to fly
their planes as well as they can be flown. The happiness of Sportsman Pitts
pilots while telling me how inspirational they found their first time on the
judging line while I was my flying my S-1S in Unlimited is one of the things
I'll miss about the sport. Maybe that happiness is the opposite side to one