IAC Chapter 78, the Minnesota Cloud Dancers, recently held our second “Play Date” of 2016 at the Cumberland Municipal Airport. “Sounds great”, you say, but then wonder “What exactly is a ‘play date’?”
As one of the newer members of chapter 78, I had this same question myself. I had attended a couple of contests (as a spectator) in 2015 and even volunteered as a recorder for one of the judges so was aware of some of the rituals and events. But how do you know your loops are round and your rolls are straight without the time, travel, and expense commitments of a contest?
That’s where chapter play dates (or 'practice days', 'play days', etc.) come in. The name varies slightly, but whatever the moniker they are low pressure learning events, where pilots of all categories are welcome to come watch, learn, fly, and have a fun time in a SAFE environment. Flying in waivered airspace just like a contest, you can fly your sequence or specific maneuvers (“figures”) with comments, hints, and suggestions passed up to you from people watching on the ground. Flying, it’s next to impossible to know if your loops are truly round for example but experienced pilots on the ground can easily see this and provide feedback in real-time. You don’t need an Extra; a Citabria, Cessna 150 Aerobat, or aerobatic RV will do just fine.
You'll likely see some things on the ground you've never seen before as well. If you see someone walking around doing what looks to be some form of ritualistic dance, take a moment and watch but don’t interrupt - the pilot is “getting in the zone” and visualizing the maneuvers they will be flying. This is done at both play dates and contests by accomplished pilots who are memorizing and honing their routine. You may also hear talk of "K factors" - this is essentially the difficulty level of a specific maneuver; a simple roll has a lower K-factor than does a hammerhead, for example.
The next IAC Chapter 78 play date is scheduled for June 11th, with the location to be announced shortly. We’d love to see you there!