An Introduction to Flight Coach for F3A Pattern - A New and Brutally Honest Coach

This article is written by valued CKAero contributor Earl Haury

Feedback is essential to the progression of pattern skills. It’s also something most pilots don’t get during their practice sessions. Often the only feedback is the scores received in competition without any indication of what resulted in downgrades. So most of us practice what we perceive to be correct and hope that we’re on the same page as the judges. Often that’s not the case!

Lots of effort has been put into judge training and certification over the years. Rules have codified how maneuvers should be flown and what criteria is to be applied when judging. As pilots man the judge chairs, this information influences an individual’s flying to some extent. Yet most pilots practice without a coach as finding someone qualified willing to observe, even occasional, flights is difficult. Getting specific feedback on individual maneuvers after a flight is extremely difficult.

Enter Flight Coach. A small device in the airplane records a flight in detail onto a microSD card. The device contains GPS, compass, and baro sensors that record position, speed, and altitude. Inertial Measurment Units (IMU) record movements in pitch, roll, and yaw. A computer app Flight Plotter (flightcoach.org) translates the data resulting in a ribbon diagram of an entire flight. P23 looks like this:

Flight Coach P23The airplane icon will fly through the sequence and the ribbon changes color with roll orientation. Obviously not easy to follow – but hang on!
Flight Coach Top ViewFirst let’s take a look from the top view. The green panel is 150m, the red 175m, and each grid box 25m. This provides info on both distance and track.
Flight Coach Top Hat Side ProfileThe real beauty is that each maneuver can be displayed individually! Both Mid View for true geometry and Judge View (shown) for judge perspective are available. Now it’s easy to see how radii compare, centering, vertical track (actual track, not attitude), entry/exit altitudes.
Flight Coach Top Hat Top View
The same top hat viewed from the top
Flight Coach Top Hat Side View
And viewed from the side

Flight Coach P-23 Cross-Box Figure M From The Side
A P-23 Cross-Box Figure M Viewed from the Side

Flight Coach Horizontal Rolling 8 View from Side Flight Coach Horizontal Rolling 8 View from Top
F23 Horizontal Rolling 8 w/ 2 Rolls, View from the Top and the Side

Flight Coach Horizontal Rolling 8 From the Side - More Typical
A "more typical" rolling 8 probably looks like this!

Flight Coach Rolling Circle From Above
A rolling circle from above

Flight Coach Maneuver Comparison

Every maneuver can be scrutinized and there’s even a template of a correct maneuver for comparison as seen above.

These static views are only the tip of the iceberg! Roll, Pitch, and Yaw (PRY) data are available through each maneuver and may be displayed dynamically or in stop action.

Flight Coach Program View
In this screenshot the images on the left depict the PRY of the airplane stopped just before the first quarter roll of the Top Hat upline. Note the P attitude to compensate for wind.

Flight Coach Snap Roll
Curious about your snap rolls? The attitude images displayed as the airplane moves through a snap will leave little doubt. Want more data on a snap? Turn on more data on the bottom of the screen. Hmm- not much pitch or yaw evident.
Flight Coach Good Snap Program View
A snap that leaves little doubt! Definite pitch before roll and obvious yaw throughout.

Flight Coach Constant Speed Analysis
Interested in speed? Constant speed? Right!

All this and more. If the coordinates of the pilot station and center pole are entered into the Flight Coach database your location will automatically be entered for each flight, a real time-saver. Total flight time is recorded as Take-off to the end of your last maneuver, as well. The plotter runs from your browser cache, so no internet connection is needed. It will run just fine at the field from an iPhone, iPad, or PC. For the phone/iPad a microSD card adapter is needed.

Trimming applications? Sure, PRY data are displayed in 0.1 deg increments making for the best tool ever to set downline mixing (Check out the Jan '22 K-Factor article) or knife edge pitch/roll or whatever else you need. Super useful for checking the effects of trim changes at the field.

The system is based on repurposed drone controllers and an app that displays flight data. Comprehensive details of what and how are available at: Flight Coach . There are a few good places to find discussion on Flight Coach as well: ZaWaZaWa (Japanese Community) and The Flight Coach FB Group. The development team have done a superb job on this project and continue to add features. Initially, hardware was hard to obtain and there was definitely a learning curve. Systems could be built from parts, but not easily. Systems are now becoming more available with the Pathfinder unit being popular. Jason Arnold at Precision Aero Products is selling a turn-key unit, The Precision Black Box, as well, available for North America exclusively at CKAero.

I’ve been involved in pattern for quite a while and this is the most powerful tool ever! BE WARNED, your flying is not as good as you think! Info gathered with this system can be BRUTAL to one’s ego. However everyone can now have access to a “coach” which will likely improve scores.

There are plans being laid to use the Flight Coach as a judge training tool. The process will likely involve recording a flight which is scored by a set of student judges. The flight will then be displayed and scrutinized on a big screen with defects discussed and compared with scores awarded in real time. I’ve recorded quite a few of my own competition flights and compared the record with the awarded scores. My assessment is that the judges are pretty good generally. Typically some errors are missed, resulting in a higher score than deserved. Suffice to say that this data is consistent with judge performance and can only make the judge pool better.

 

CompetitionEarl hauryFlying tips

5 comments

CK Aero

Stephen,
The accuracy is dependent on the hardware you use to record your flight for flight coach. The Precision Black Box that we sell has a GPS unit accurate to about 3 meters, but you have to remember that the aircraft position is also calculated many times per second in relation to where you came from using the sensors on the control board. In practice, this is what we really care about as it allows us to see how straight our lines are, whether we’re flying parallel to the flight line, the length of our lines, etc.

Stephen Green

In metres or feet how accurate is system horizontally?

CK Aero

No kidding Bill! We are all still working on that!! Flight Coach makes it hard to convince everyone else that the line was actually straight 😂

Denkado

Thank you for introducing BBS (ZaWaZaWa).
This bulletin board uses nicknames.
Please also announce your flight results.
I think it will be useful for practice and will increase the fun.

Bill Polits

Great-I just want to fly a straight line!!!!

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