Thursday 23 July 2009

La Muela 2009

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La Muela is huge tooth shaped hill that’s around 90 km north east of Madrid. Whilst I dare say La Muela isn’t unique, I’d like to get to learn about any other hills that have every wind direction covered, great DS, amazing scenery, a road to the top, perfect landing areas and – wait for it – a bar on the top.
Every year for the last 10 years or more UK pilots have travelled to La Muela at Easter to start off the F3F season with a bit of sunshine and to catch u p on all latest gossip with friends from around the world.

Whilst the competition is great fun, it’s the sport flying, camaraderie and general foolery before and after that make the trip unmissable. Hence what was once a long weekend has turned into two weeks for most of the Brits.
This year myself, Mike Shellim, Mike Evans, Vic Eldridge, Tony Robertson and an assortment of wives made the trip. As usual most took the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao followed by a 200 or so mile drive down to La Muela. We generally give ourselves a week before the event to acclimatise to the beer, wine and good food, followed by a week afterwards just in case the week before wasn’t enough.

Essential kit
Over the years we’ve come to arrive at the perfect range of essential accessories. Firstly you need just about every item of clothing you own – from shorts and T-shirts to full waterproofs and arctic underpants. You need a windbreak to change a cold day into a tropical one. A BBQ, a picnic rug and of course a camping gas stove for essential slope side tea – we are British after all.
On the flying front you’ll need a foamy for the inevitable combat sessions. An electric – the Multiplex Easy is ideal – for mornings on the windless days when the thermals haven’t quite become guaranteed. An old, beaten up 3m model for when there’s still no wind but the thermals ensure success 95% of the time. Something aerobatic – a Voltij is always a giggle as is a Multi-Fun. Finally you’ll need one or two F3F models for the competition.
It’s also worthwhile stuffing the nooks and crannies of your car with the usual selection of sensible spares – receivers, servos, CA, carbon, cross weave tape, Dremel etc. Since they stopped making the MPX4000 transmitter I acquired a spare and always take that along as well just in case.

The weather around Easter is always quite varied. It goes from really hot to fantastically freezing if the sun goes in and the wind really picks up. We had an ideal mix before the competition with some superb sun and light winds to relax in and enjoy some thermal soaring as well as some 20+ mph blows to get in a bit of practice and dynamic soaring.
The day before the competition concentrated the minds of the British camp a little more than was appreciated. It started off with the aileron potentiometer collapsing on Mile Evans’ MPX 4000. Of course one of the beauties of the 4000 is that it is completely modular, so we simply removed the stick unit from my spare transmitter and plugged it into Mike’s transmitter.
The whole process only takes five minutes. Or rather it would have if Mike hadn’t studiously removed the wrong stick unit from his transmitter! Not content with that he had another trick up his sleeve… So that I can switch between modes I don’t fly with a ratchet on either stick, meaning Mike had to put the ratchet back on the throttle (crow) stick. As if spurred on by our encouragement when he’d removed the wrong stick unit he excelled even our expectations by proclaiming success after a few minutes fiddling to get the ratchet working, only to turn the transmitter the right way up to discover he’d ratcheted up his elevator stick right nice!
Having sorted out Mike Evans’ transmitter, Mike Shellim walked back into our pit area having managed to snap a tail joiner when he landed his Skorpion. It wouldn’t have been an issue except the joiner had been factory glued into the fuselage. It never takes me much of an excuse to fire up the Dremel and it was whipped out of my glovebox and screaming its little battery powered head off within the blink of an eye.
Barely half an hour later we were covered in Skorpion dust and the joiner was repaired with a carbon rod inside the joiner tube. There’s a certain creative joy in hill top repairs that I really enjoy, especially when it involved other peoples models!

Competition - day one
The day started with rain so hard it could have been imported from Wales. Around lunchtime it cleared leaving us with around 20 mph on the excellent southerly face.
A few problems with the very advanced Spanish timing equipment led to a lot of reflys, including two for me. It seems as though that extra practice paid off though as my third attempt saw me leapfrog straight into the lead with a 43.79.
Almost exactly half way through the 55 competitors the wind swung to the equally good westerly slope. The organisers used the now standard approach to such occasions, which was to split the first round into two groups. I lead the first group and Pierre Rondel went on to lead the second group with a very nicely flown, thermal assisted run of 38.21.
The next round was won by Remi Girard flying the Martinet that he’d maidened the previous day. Behind him it was pretty close, which left Pierre 2 points ahead of me as the overnight leader and the rest of the field a few hundred point behind us but very tightly bunched.
The banquet that night involved the predictable never ending courses of fantastic Spanish cuisine. However, with a good weather forecast for the next day the usual shenanigans and revelry were noticeable by their absence and most were tucked up in bed by midnight.

Competition day two
The wind was 30 or so degrees off the west slope and blowing at around 30 mph. With the odd thermal both increasing available lift and decreased the crosswind component it meant that we could expect some good times cropping up in amongst the mix.
Flying the course when no thermals were around was very satisfying in a technical kind of way. The secret was to gain height towards base B as the wind was breaking around the corner at base A meaning there was very little lift off the course. Gaining height on course was best followed by a careful, shallow downwind turn just clipping base A and coming straight back on course. I say careful as the air was pretty squirrelly and turning a shallow downwind turn into stalled flick with over a kilo of lead dragging you into the rocks was only ever a heartbeat away.
Once on course you would dive hard into wind towards base B, roll only to around 60 degrees and haul in the up which would kick you out of the turn gaining height back towards base A ready for the next dive towards B.
It wasn’t the super smooth, constant energy, F3F that’s the stuff of dreams but it was actually very satisfying to get right and certainly meant you could limit some of the damage done by the thermal recipients.
Two flights on day two stick in my mind for very different reasons. The first was Inaki Elizondo who had managed to shoehorn the best part of 2kg of ballast into his Radical just in time to hook the thermal of the day and set a new course record with a beautifully flown 32.09.
The other was our very own Mike Evans at the start of round seven. He’d had no luck with conditions all day and just to test his resolve once and for all the wind switched right off the hill seconds after his very expensive and very heavily ballasted Freestyler was committed to the air. Credit where it’s due, Mike did an excellent job of centring on a bubbling little thermal that was pretty low and way off the hill and milked it enough to get back and land at his feet. That flight however signalled the end of the competition; the wind didn’t switch back and it was too late to move the course and start another round.
After 6 competed rounds we all knew Pierre would win; he had flown superbly and had been the recipient of enough thermals to grab a 34.40 and several low forties. I’d had pretty average air all day but flew my fully ballasted Ceres to the right technical formula that did just enough to fend off Alexis Marechal in third.

The only new kid on the block was the Martinet designed by Jean-Claude Tourniaire and now being produced by Remi Girrard at CCM ( Any readers who peek at my website,, will know that the pre-production versions of the Martinet that we competed against in Slovakia late last year were very impressive. It seems that none of that has been lost in the move to mass production; indeed there are some very nice touches that have been added. The Martinet is most definitely worth a look, although you may have to email Remi as at the time of writing it hadn’t made the CCM website yet.
The Freestyler 3 from TUD ( remains a very effective weapon. It’s tremendously easy to fly and hence get the best out of. The price hits around £1,500 once you throw in ballast and wing bags. Whilst the quality is fantastic and the plane does exactly what it says on the tin, there’s a certain part of me that recoils at paying that sort of money for something when I’m going to fly it like I’m trying to kill it!
The Ceres from Baudis is my current plane of choice. For me it’s a rare combination of blistering pace, great handling and excellent quality, all for closer to £1,000. (
It’s also worth mentioning the Predator, which is one of a new breed of models coming from the Far East. There’s nothing that really sets the model apart from the rest, except one significant factor, the price, which starts at less than £600 at Slope Racer ( Whilst the quality may not be on a par with those that cost twice the price, it is entirely acceptable and Alexis Marechal who flew one into third place certainly proved that the design is capable enough.

Post competition
Flying in the week or so after the competition is without doubt some of my favourite time at La Muela. There’s no feeling of guilt if you’re not practicing, there’s no worry that if you dent a few toys you‘ll be stuck for weeks regretting it – there’s just a huge sense fun! Bizarrely most memories after the competition seem to involve Dynamic Soaring, extreme aerobatics or Multiplex Easys, which is about as diverse as you can get.
When there’s no wind and it’s too early for reliable thermals it’s great fun to all launch electric Easys at the same time and play chicken to see who’ll be the last to resort to the motor. It’s a fantastic game to play in its own right but on such a huge hill there are almost always a few bubbles of lift around and with an electric get out of jail free card you’ll develop thermal soaring skills that you’d otherwise be too shy to explore.
Another thing the Easy excels at is being a platform for air to ground video. Taking that to the next level, Vic and I decided to try some air to air shots of his Arcus. After several seconds of careful consideration we agreed that flying in close proximity would be key. Indeed if close proximity was the measure of success we’d be world beaters as barely two minutes into the flight both models were locked into a spiral embrace that couldn’t even be separated by me opening the throttle to maximum.
To add insult to injury it seems the otherwise excellent Kodak Zi6 that I was using to record the event buffers its data to RAM before writing to the SD card and as such its demise wasn’t even captured for posterity as the data leaked out before it got to the card, alongside a few of the more obvious parts it shedded. Not to worry, we’ll just have to try it again next year…

1 Pierre Rondel Freestyler
2 Kevin Newton Ceres
3 Alexis Marechal Predator
4 Iñaki Elizondo Radical
5 Cedric Grandseigne Ceres
6 Fernando Del Barrio Viking
7 Gerardo Plaza Freestyler
8 Raul Segnini Aris
9 Espen Torp Race M
10 Lennart Ardvinson Ceres