formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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April 7, 2009 Aerobatic judging

The Liberty Gazette
April 7, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Linda has been doing some training in the aerial art of aerobatics. She and I participated in a competition last May in Giddings, Texas in which she took home a third place trophy in the Primary category. This past weekend we spent a little more time digging into the nuts and bolts of the sport by attending a Judges School offered by the Dallas chapter of the International Aerobatic Club. We are members of the Houston Chapter, which covers most of Southeast Texas.

At the school we learned what makes a particular maneuver or sequence better and more precise and how the scoring system works. This in-depth training will better prepare us for two things. One, to know what the judges are looking for and thus hopefully make us better competitors, and two, this gives us an opportunity to give back to the sport. If there was no one sitting out in the hot sun looking skyward watching our dance in the sky, there wouldn’t be a contest.

Competition aerobatics are different than what you see at an air show, although many pilots do both. At an air show the pilot does everything he or she can to make their act look daring and dangerous to thrill the crowd. That’s entertainment, pure and simple. But at a competition it is all about precision. You aren’t going to thrill anyone unless you get a perfect score, and you do that by making the airplane do exactly what is expected, flying a series of 10 to 19 maneuvers linked in a specific sequence. Like figure skating or gymnastics, aerobatic pilots are judged on complexity and precision.

I discovered something this weekend in Dallas: my niche. I love the feel of rolling an airplane around a point on the horizon, but what interests me more is gliders. I haven’t flown them in a while but when I did, I had a blast. Now I am looking at aerobatic competition as a means to not only combine two very different types of flying, but to do it with precision. Also known as sailplanes, the glider category does not have very many people in it at this time. The field is so small that last year there were only two glider pilots entered in the U.S. National Aerobatic Championships and the pilot who won was my first instructor when I added “commercial glider” to my pilot’s certificate over ten years ago.

As far as judging goes, Linda and I have to score 40 contest flights within the next 18 months under the watchful eye of experienced judges and pass both written and practical exams before we are finally given the judge’s badge ourselves.

One more thing I might add. While it is nice to know and understand every aspect of the sport, being a line judge at an IAC Contest does not require that you be a pilot. All it requires is learning how to judge the flights and participating in the fun.

Linda: Gliders. They normally have no engine. Aerobatics with no engine. I’ll get back to you on that.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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