Basic Rally flying tips
For those new to the sport of rally flying here are some useful tips
First a brief rundown of the competition format as it applies to Sportsman Class. A rally is not a race. You are required in a rally to navigate very accurately over several short legs and keep on time based on your own nominated speed. That’s it in a nutshell. Now to prove your skills you will be timed at certain of the points that you have to fly to and you will also have to demonstrate that you have found the point. The latter is done in two ways. Firstly there may be a marker at the point. This marker consists of white strips in the form of a letter of the alphabet. Only certain letters are used.
Secondly and even more important you will have to identify a photograph of the check point. These will be given to you before take off and will have the check point numbers on them. The trick is that the photo may be true or it may be false. You have to find the check point and then state on your answer sheet whether the photo you were given is really of the check point or not. Note that you get double penalties if you answer wrongly, so guessing is discouraged. Not sure, then rather don’t answer.
You will be given the route 15 to 30 minutes before take off. In the beginners class it will be drawn on the map, so you will only have to mark in your headings and times. The time you have to be at each check point is also given to you on a separate sheet and will be based on your true airspeed possibly adjusted for any strong winds on the day. Now you will understand that it is better to nominate a slower speed then you would normally fly. A fair speed for a C172 for example might be 80kts. There is the advantage of having more time to navigate and to identify features en route. Just don’t make it too slow that you can not fly slow enough with a tail wind. Top experienced competitors sometimes nominate between 70 and 75 kts. If you are flying a high performance aircraft such as a Bonanza one would have to choose the slowest safe cruise speed. A rally is more difficult to fly at speeds of 100kts and more.
An important skill is map reading. This can be picked very quickly by a beginner but it is a good idea to get a 1:250 000 map of the area in which you normally fly and try to recognize the features and navigate a short course purely by following the map. Remember that this is a team sport. The pilot and navigator make up the team but it is important for both members to be able to read a map well to succeed. If you can follow the map the next thing is to try to keep on time at all times. The standard method used by all rally pilots is to mark each minute of time along your track before you begin the flight. By this I mean that you will have a scale representing the distance that you will cover in one minute. For example at 90 kts you would fly 1,5nm’s. So let us say your start time was 10:35 then 1.5nms along your track you would put a mark 36 (ie 10:36). Then 37, 38 etc so that at your first check point you should find that the time co-coincides with your ETA.
You do this all the way around your track. Now while you are flying you just watch your time and compare it to your position over the ground. If you are ahead of time slow down if you are behind you immediately speed up. This way you should be pretty close to being on time when you get to the check point.
From the preceding discussion you will see that it is pretty important to have a clear digital time display somewhere in front of you. Ideally you need a stop watch type instrument that displays time that you can easily fix on the panel in full view of both the pilot and the navigator. Just a tip here. A common mistake is to confuse the hour digits with the minutes, especially when things get tense. You are only concerned with minutes and seconds so it may not be a bad idea to stick something over the hours while you are flying. Oh and another tip. This may seem an obvious one but make sure to always align your track on the map with the direction of flight and keep your thumb or finger on your present position. It is just too easy to look up for a few seconds and then look down and not be able to find your position on the map.
Well I will add more as questions arise. You will find all the experienced rally pilots more than willing to share there insights so please don’t hesitate to ask. You will find rally flying exciting and at the same time you will be improving your flying skills. Have fun! We know you will.