Panel Discussion: Contest Rules

Bikle - Moffat - Smith


I'm not sure I know exactly what Ed had in mind on this particular Panel, but I know what I had in mind, so I'm going to talk about things that I thought we might want to do about contest rules.

I would like to begin by outlining some ideas and by saying that I think people who make rules only hear moans about what is wrong with the rules. What I would like to point out is that I think the present rules are very good indeed, compared to those we had ten years ago or if you read really old magazines, 15 years ago. I think contests today are fairer and much better and I think a great deal of this is due to people like Paul Bikle and Bill Ivans who are willing to do an awful lot of work, the kind that is not much fun and the kind that you don't get much credit for, to try to improve the rules by which we fly. These people have brought us things like photo recognition of turnpoints, have eliminated such old-fashioned things as the pilot selected goal, and have done an awful lot of good for soaring in general.

There are, however, four things, I feel, we should consider for change, in no particular order. As many of you know, I would like to see us go to the European system of having all speed tasks, on the grounds that it would emphasize flying instead of driving. I would drive race cars if I liked to measure driving ability.

I think one unfortunate thing that has tended to happen in recent years is that distance tasks have been more and more relegated to very chancy kind of days and consequently the luck factor is rather high and furthermore, you don't have enough of them. This may seem contradictory. I think free distance was quite a fair task in the days when you had eight free distance tasks and that was the contest, because over the eight days, the pilot ability probably balanced out pretty well. If you have only one day of free distance as we do nowadays, you don't have a chance for a bad break to balance out over the long run.

The second point that I would like to make is that I feel that re-lights that is, landing away from the airport, and de-rigging and coming back and re-rigging and taking off, should go. I feel that this is very expensive. It means that you have to have bigger crews, you must have better and much more powerful cars, and must have a driver who is willing to drive 80 or 90 mph in order to keep up with you. And to me this should go. The Germans have already done this and I believe the British are considering this too.

The third point. I would like to see it considered weighing speed tasks a little bit differently than they do now, with more emphasis given for speed. For instance, it's a possibility it might be considered that no speed points be given for anyone whose speed is less than, say, 75 percent, or say 66 percent of the winner. He would get distance points only, but no speed points. This would encourage people to take a few more chances and fly faster. It would, of course, at the same time, give these people a bigger point spread as they do, for instance, in Poland.

The last point. I would like to say that I highly oppose what we keep hearing rumors about, which is a handicap system. I oppose for reasons which I have never heard expressed publicly before. It is two reasons really, one is well known. One would require the measurements of sailplanes for the handicapping, which we do not have, and have, according to Paul, no way of getting. That is, measurements of sailplanes' performance in thermal rough air, not smooth air. Nobody cares what a sailplane does in smooth air because you never fly in smooth air. What you want to know is what it does in average afternoon rough air. It is very, very different from what it does in smooth. My second objection is that I feel that if we had a handicapping system, it would give an absolutely unbeatable advantage to people like Paul, A. J., Dick Schreder, and some of the rest of us who have been flying a lot of ships for a lot of years, simply because we would have the experience with these ships to know which ship is not being handicapped fairly. For instance, in England right now, anybody in his right mind would be flying an Open Cirrus on the handicap system. They say the Open Cirrus is not even as good as the BS-1, which is an absolute joke, especially for English conditions. And anyone who had flown the two against one another would know this. But the British handicap system does not point this out.

Those are things concerning contest rules that I feel are fairly important at this particular moment.


I find myself in a somewhat similar position in not worrying too much about the present rules as long as everybody is operating under the same rules. I am, therefore, reasonably happy. At the risk of being fired or sent off on sabbatical by Byars and Holbrook, I won't say much more about rules except to say that I am happy to see the recognition of and a tendency in organizing, particularly the launching aspects of soaring competition, so that everybody at least has the opportunity to start out on a task under his choice of conditions. This does away with the unhappy circumstance of being launched late. This is one which I have been and still am somewhat bitter about. However, the problem is recognized and people are doing something about it and I would encourage them to do more in that direction.

I have heard a lot of people talk about a kind of launch and start which would be a so-called racehorse start where everybody gets off on an actual start at one time. I realize that this problem is extremely difficult, particularly when you begin to talk about more than 50 sailplanes. I have a suspicion, however, that it is not an impossible thing to accomplish and I would like to see some continuing work on it. It has been tried a couple of times previously in Chicago and Bryan, where there are a reasonably low number of sailplanes, and I felt it was extremely successful, and I think it could be extended further.

One added element in this start that I had thought might make the system work might be a system that had maybe a first turnpoint or very close to the start line, a sort of a scatter pylon that is used in power plane racing which might involve photo identification and this sort of thing. I think it possible then to use a rather wide starting gate and have that starting gate monitored by, perhaps, power planes--a couple of them--and have this first short leg, and have this first scatter pylon or whatever you want to call it, also monitored by power planes. I think there is a possibility that this type thing might work. At the moment I am afraid that idea merely moves all the wreckage from the field and off to some nearby town. But perhaps it might be the beginnings of a way to go. I would really like to see this happen because I am enthralled with the idea of seeing everybody out there get started under exactly the same conditions and I am also enthralled with the idea of knowing where you are in relation to other people out on course, and I think this could get to be even more fun on the second lap around.

I, too, would like to see speed points increased, perhaps geometrically, with the speed differential. I have heard all the arguments against this and I am only moderately in favor of that and I haven't heard enough arguments yet to convince me that it's a bad idea.

I had not planned to say anything about handicaps but since George mentioned it I should comment. My comment is that I am still convinced that there are many circumstances under which the higher performance ship has real advantages that can't be compensated for with a handicap system. A tabulation I did a couple of years ago indicated that there were 27 conditions where the higher performance ship had a considerable advantage and I don't see any evidence yet that any of those 27 conditions have been compensated for in the current even percentage stand concept. So I am afraid I am still not in favor of handicapping.


I am going to keep my remarks pretty short. Bill Holbrook told me last night that he and Ed had really only invited me down here to give everybody an opportunity to sort of tell me what they thought about how lousy the rules were. In all fairness, I feel that I should provide the maximum time for this purpose. But at the same time I probably ought to make what might be considered as sort of an announcement. As of last Monday I an no longer on the Rules Committee. I had put a space here in my notes for applause (laughter). I can, however, still answer questions about what the rules are and the thinking behind why they are that way, if anybody is interested. And I suggest that before a lot of these things are brought up that you keep in mind that no matter what you decide, there are going to be people for it and people against it. I might also point out that the Rules Committee, as such, does not decide many of these things that are the basis of complaints. For instance, the SSA sent out some 300 questionnaires to every pilot who was registered in any sanctioned contest last year and to any officials that they had record of. I couldn't help but notice that to a considerable extent, many of these people who are most loud in their objections in public meetings, didn't bother to answer the questionnaires. We did, however, get a fairly good response which was something around 60 percent, which for a questionnaire, isn't too bad. They used to restrict it to about 50 people and we used to get 80 to 85 percent return response. They were people who were more active in competition and had more at stake.

We sat down and went over these rules. We had the president of the Soaring Society, chairman of the Contest Board, myself, and the executive director, and we hassled over each of these points. For example, some of the things that George brought up such as should we do away with the re-lights, we considered the arguments for and against. In most of these cases it is not a question of what is right or wrong or, black or white. You balance out what you think are the advantages and the disadvantages and you elect to go on some course. After these decisions were made, in each case at this meeting, then it becomes the job of the Rules Committee to go back and write the words that will try to implement these decisions in a fashion which can be worked in a contest.

I think that since I am no longer on the Rules Committee, this gives me a freedom to speak more of what I feel myself, rather than speaking for the Rules Committee. Always before I have felt that I had to talk with two hats, one with what I thought myself and the other, why the rules were the way they were, which in many cases represented a compromise with which I personally-did not agree.

I think with that we should go ahead with the questions.

Question: (Gren Seibels) Paul, would you summarize briefly the thinking of the Rules Committee in deciding that the 301-B Libelle would not be allowed to enter Standard Class competition in 1971.

Answer: (Bikle) Gren, I think that was a good example of what I was trying to explain. The Rules Committee didn't make any such decision. In this policy meeting that we had, we did discuss Standard Class at great length and for a variety of reasons there were big pushes to go to 15-meter class and there were pushes to do various other things. It was basically decided that the primary reason for the FAI Standard Class being recognized as it was, and since it is so recognized, then we should follow along with their definitions since we are part of the FAI. The only decision which was made was that any ship, in order to be allowed in any FAI class competition, would have to comply with the CIVV regulations. And we recognized that those were in the process of being changed and this is beyond your control.

Question: (Leo Buckley) There is a rule 2.2.8 about unsportsmanlike conduct and I noticed in the Internationals we had team flying with use of radios. Am I to interpret that in our nationals and regionals that team flying and radio communications of this nature are considered unsportsmanlike conduct.

Answer: (Bikle) There are many things that are not covered specifically. I think that the only thing that tends to rule it out is the part in the rules that tells you what radio conversations must be limited to. In view of all the garbage that goes on over the air, I hardly think anyone team flying would be noticed. I don't think we have ever decided that we particularly wanted to rule our team flying out. We felt that individuals, being individuals that they are in this country, that it wasn't too likely to happen.

Question: (Steve DuPont) Here is a question that is oftentimes asked me. If I am in two regionals, am I taking away somebody else's chance to be in the Nationals, or is my win only counted once in the priority or seeding arrangement for the Nationals.

Answer: (Bikle) That's one of these things which I think hasn't been brought up. Actually that's not in the rules and would be a decision that would be made by the chairman of the Contest Board because it gets into the seeding procedure. Certainly, as far as the rules are concerned, if you placed in two regionals, you would get the medals and the prizes as winning two regionals. Now, how this would cut anybody else out in the seeding procedure, I'm not sure just how the chairman of the Contest Board would rule. I would suspect that he would rule that you were qualified by reason of your winning the first regional and as is the case of people who are qualified in the higher categories, you would then be dropped on the second regional and the next highest guy would be seeded.

Question: (Captain Ray Young) Did the Rules Committee in the discussion of the re-light problem differentiate between landing back at the airport against coming in from an off-field landing by trailer.

Answer: (Bikle) Negative. It was decided to leave it as it has been so that you can re-light from either one. The point about differentiating was, of course, brought up by many of the people who are in this room.

Question: (Tom Page) George indicated that there was one modification of the Bikle Basket that he does approve of. I don't think many people here know exactly what that modification is. I understand that it is in the rules this year. I would like to have both George and Paul comment on what it is because it is unfamiliar.

Answer: (Bikle) It was in the rules last year for the national contest, and on at least one occasion it was approved for a regional contest. Actually, there are several modifications, but the one that George is talking about is that you now have an opportunity to select one of three applications of the prescribed area task. The one that we feel is the best application, I suspect, would not be chosen by regionals because of the 'extra work involved. That is, however, the one that George is talking about. What it primarily recommends is that you establish a lot of turnpoints (like 18 or 20) around the arc of a circle, roughly 100 miles out from your contest site. The maximum in the task is 150, but I would think back here in the East that 100 would be more appropriate. When you do this, you've got an area to fly in that is sufficiently big that you have all kinds of choices to make as to where you want to go. You also have enough points around the arc of the circle so that if you head for one point and it happens to be socked in, then it's only a minor deviation to the next point closest to it, especially if you made the choice a little ways before you get to the first point. The only restriction on where you go in this application of the task is that you can only claim two turnpoints during the day. But, when you think that this gives YOU a circle of some 300 miles across (or maybe 200 miles around here), this gives you the possibility of flying maybe 500 miles even back here. You can go to as many points as you want, and then if you decide it is to your benefit you can just discard the one you've been to and go to another one. But at the end of the day you can just claim two. Now, on a poor clay, you might have a situation where nobody even reaches the turnpoint, and, at least in the philosophy of the task, this would be maybe a rather ideal application for those who look at distance tasks as having some virtue. It would give you all the benefits, as those people see it, of a free distance day, and take none of the risk on far out retrieves.

Question: (Steve Silverman) In a recent issue of Soaring Magazine a new type of task was proposed which includes an out and return where the pilot picks the point. Has this type task been formally discussed by the Contest Committee?

Answer: (Bikle) Yes, quite a bit, and we have had a number of applications from regionals to try this task and I might just give some of the background. That is a task that was set up by Carl Herold and others out in northern California. They talked to me some about it and I suggested that they try it in one or two of their local contests and get the pilots' reactions, and if they wanted to use it in their regionals, to work out enough of the details so that it could be innovated into the rules. The general philosophy is described in the article in Soaring, but there are any number of detail questions that need to be decided.

The Contest Board has been corresponding with various regions about the possibility of including other tasks. What it involves is that the person who wants to run a new task must think it out and must show that he presently understands what the present tasks are, and secondly, that he understands what the impact of the new task would be. We can best ascertain whether he has an understanding by asking him to make his request for permission to use the new task in terms of specific changes in the existing rules. One other thing, for instance, that would have to be decided is that the existing rules call for minimum distances and require that at least 20 percent of the people fly at least 60 miles or you don't have a contest day. On this new type task, they are proposing that people fly out at least half the day and you don't get any points for that. Once you pick a turnpoint and start back then you start scoring. I would guess that there should be some change in the minimum distance that people should fly to make a contest day. There are many other aspects of this new task that must be studied.

Question: (Doug Gaines) Since this is a panel discussion, I would like to hear George and A. J.'s opinion of that task.

Answer: (Moffat) I think it is horrible. If we decided to do very much of this I think I would go back to sailing where at least I could get some competition. I felt pretty often that way about the distance tasks that we have now. My view, and in partial answer to a question mentioned previously, is that I like Paul's modification of the cat's cradle best of any distance task I happen to know about but I don't think very much of it either. The reason is very simple. If you want competition, you must have it so that people can compete against one another. It is extremely hard to compete when you are all going different directions. Furthermore, it's rather boring when you never see anybody all day long. I don't know about you but I kind of like catching up with people or being ahead of people. One of the things I have against all forms of cat's cradle is that they are boring to fly. I feel as A. J. does, that I like to know that when I see somebody I like to know that I an beating him or he is beating me. Specifically, I do think that this task has a very great many difficulties and to me it seems to be only a matter of going back to the old 1950 Of Pilot selected goal.

Answer: (Smith) I will preface my remarks by saying in somewhat different words the same thing that Paul said to me a couple of days ago. I'm not really in favor of distance tasks as such, but I have to admit that I enjoy them very much and I enjoy one aspect of them. That is, that it seems to me that it is true that there is a different kind of judgment to be exercised in a distance task. This aspect has always been very appealing to me. I never manage to do very well in this type at the outset but I have managed to improve and this has been very satisfying to me.

It still remains that under the present level of weather information and this sort of thing I am against taking these kind of gambles. If somebody can give me some assurance that the weather is going to be accurate for the assumptions that all of the pilots are going to make, then I think it's a fair kind of competition. But I feel that my assumptions are quite likely to be as valid as yours when I decide where I am going to go, but I might find myself in the unfortunate circumstance of not having the weather that somebody told me would be there and you might be lucky enough to have the weather that someone said would be at your turnpoint, and I don't think that's a fair kind of competition.

Comment: (Bikle) I would like to take this opportunity to answer some of those things that George has been saying about distance tasks and I want to answer it from my own personal feeling, just like I am sure he was talking about his own personal feelings. I think we are getting into a real fundamental difference of viewpoint between different people and I don't think there is any question that George does equally well on both type tasks and I don't think we are, therefore, talking about people looking for advantage. I think we are talking more about what people see soaring to be.

Although most of the top pilots do not agree, to me the essence of soaring has been one of competing against the elements that you are flying in and you are trying to do the best under the circumstances, and here is where we have the basic difference. To George it is competing against somebody else and in that sense, the closer you come down to running everybody down the same track at the same time, well the better it's going to be. It is sort of like in the Indianapolis speed race or a sailboat race. Now if you depart from the basic viewpoint that I had, the basic thing that you are competing against is the weather and this matter of not being able to get weather reports that are going to apply in detail all the way down the road is part of what makes soaring to me. I like to fly cross country even when I'm on my own and try to guess what the weather is going to be on the basis of what I see around me, which has its limitations, obviously. To me it's a much bigger thrill than beating somebody around a speed triangle or something like that. I just want to point out that there are many people around the country that feel this way about it too. They don't happen to be the people who speak out, mostly, and I haven't spoken out too much on it because I felt restrained by my being on the Rules Committee and I think maybe this is the first time I've really said what appeals to me personally. People say they come to a contest to fly and they use this as an excuse to have more speed tasks. I can think of contests, for instance, where you might have five free distance days and you would get in just as much flying as if you had five speed tasks. So I don't think that your purpose of coming to a contest to fly is seriously affected by these task selections.

I might add one more comment about my feeling on the prescribed area task. Although to a considerable extent, I am responsible for it, my responsibility has been in the sense that we were trying to gain for those people who see an advantage to free distance, whatever those advantages were, with as few restrictions as possible and still trying to limit retrieves since that seemed to be the major complaint against it at the time. I must say that I hate the task with a passion and I have done extremely poorly every time I have flown it. After you have come in 30th on one of the durn things it's kind of bad to get chewed out the next day for inventing it. Let me say that in every case I have not felt that it was the task's fault when I came out 30th. I just felt that I had made some very poor decisions and I haven't tended to blame the task for it.

If you really want to have a speed task, there is a very simple way to have it. It gets back to your racehorse start. We actually ran some out in southern California as part of our southern California competition to see how the rules could be worked out. You break the contest up into heats of ten, which is not too different from a lot of other sports. During the first few days you have 40 or 50 ships and you launch them all off in groups of ten and they race against the ten in the group. On the second day, rather like a golf match, you take the top two, three, or four out of each heat and they race against each other. The ones that fall out of the picture go into a consolation heat. If people want to have these kind of races, certainly they are practical and the rules could be worked up for them. It is a completely different philosophical basis than what we have been working on and I can see maybe where it would end up where we would have soaring races or sailplane races and we also have soaring contests in the old-fashioned context.

Copyright Soaring Symposia All rights reserved. Permission to copy this article is granted for non-commercial use, in its entirety, and with this copyright notice attached.