F3F - Decades Past

Funny thing, someone asked me at the English Open F3F in 2019  if I had ever fancied F3F myself. In fact, I had tried it, over 30 years ago. I wasn't that good to be honest, much preferring aerobatics and so I never pursued F3F.

While F3F started in the Nordic countries way back in 1985 I believe, I only got involved in 1989 when I drove to the very tip of Denmark with my brother and RCM&E columnist Chas Gardiner for the '89 Viking Race (as it was then called) at Hanstholm on a series on slopes and cliffs pretty near or over the sea. Bro came 5th and the English team was second. I remember it was a great week away, crossing to Europe via Harwich to Holland, if I remember correctly, and then a drive north through Germany to the flat lands of Denmark. I may even have been responsible, unwittingly, for introducing F3F to France and other parts of Europe.  I don't actually remember there being a French, Spanish, Belgian, Italian, etc. team present; we were nearly all northern European except for a Bavarian team.

At that time slope racing the UK was pretty much 4-up  at a time man-on-man Pylon Racing with, in those days, home built designs (no mouldies), F3F was something new. On our return from Denmark I decided to write, in my best 'O' Level French, an article for the French Modèle Magazine. To my surprise they published my piece, and photos, and even paid me well in old French Francs. I had  another F3F article published with bro in a Spanish magazine called Aerotec in 1995. See below.

I do have a bee in my bonnet over current F3F competitions and this was borne out on my trip to Chapman's Pool in August 2019, a new slope for us. My brother remarked on how smooth the air was and that there was little thermal activity. I already knew this after flying off a Kent cliff for a number of years, i.e. that there was indeed very little thermal activity on coastal slopes.

F3F started in the Nordic countries and mostly flying close to or over the sea. This IMHO makes for a fairer competition and that is sometimes not the case today on inland slopes.  The vagaries of wind strength, thermal lift, gustiness and downdraughts associated with it means that times can vary from blistering sub-40 sec. runs to 80 sec times in the same round and massive wind direction swings of up to 45º. While this is great for a mediocre pilot, enabling a round win and keep their enthusiasm high, it may not be a real test of pilot skill. Many disagree with me saying the best pilots make the best of the conditions, but that's my opinion. The other thing to bear in mind is that in those days modellers often built their own machines; today's all carbon F3F models simply weren't available in days of yore.

Click on thumbnails below to see larger images.
30 years ago - Denmark - 1989

While my report in Modèle Magazine was more of an explanation of F3F to the French readership, Chas Gardiner did a contemporary report in English with a day by day accounting for RCM&E. Here's a copy of his article too.

25 years ago - Scotland -1994

How's your Spanish? Have a look at our article published in the Spanish magazine Aerotec about the Viking Race which I wrote with my brother David back in September 1994. It took place at Bishop Hill near Glenrothes in Scotland. A few more countries had been added to F3F mania since 1985, France, Austria, Ireland and Czechoslovakia, as it was then.


25 years ago - Spain - 1994

Here's another F3F competition, this time at La Muela in Spain in March 1994. Plenty of contestants here... F3F was really starting to take off it seems! This report in the French RCM magazine is by Pierre Rondel (https://planet-soaring.blogspot.com) who is still writing about soaring and competing.


As if to prove my point above, the recent (Sept. 2019) Welsh Open F3F at the Bwlch, a 3 day event, with a large overseas contingent of fliers was pretty much rubbish with light, swinging winds and slope venue changes meaning this comp. was a nearly a washout with just a handful of rounds flown.

Graham Woods