* Why compete?
People compete for many different reasons. For some, it is the thrill of competing as a solo or team entry against some of the World's best pilots and machines. For others, it is a great excuse to tour around the country, extending flying boundaries, and having a great time meeting like-minded people. Whatever your motivation, there is no better way to improve your flying skills and learn the capabilities of your aircraft than to compete in it.
* What exactly is the Nationals League?
The BMAA run a series of competitions throughout the year, held at different airfields throughout the country. Held in accordance with the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) rules, the results of each competition are recognised throughout the world. The results from each individual round are calculated to give a League result at the end of the year, with trophies going to the top placed teams. The BMAA currently run separate championships for the classic classes (solo & dual, fixed and flexwing), and the foot-launched classes (powered paragliders etc.)
* What goes on at a Nationals round?
Each round is run by a competition director, who decides a series of tasks to be flown by the competitors. The tasks are designed to test each team's performance in the fields of Navigation, Speed, Economy and Precision flying. Usually flown over the course of a weekend, points are awarded for performance on each task, resulting in final positions at the end of the competition round. Trophies are usually awarded to the top 3 solo and dual teams, as well as a traditional Best Newcomer prize.
* What are the tasks like?
Navigation tasks often involve flying around a track, sometimes at a pre-declared groundspeed. Pre-flight planning is essential, as sometimes time or fuel predictions must be adhered to. The varied landscapes that competitions take place in will challenge your navigation skills, and GPS systems are banned from microlight competitions, forcing you to rely on chart & compass.
Speed tasks are usually flat-out timed races over a given distance, whereas Economy tasks test your team's fuel efficiency. Duration often depends on the pilot's soaring ability, with good opportunities for thermal and ridge soaring to make the all-important difference.
Finally, Precision tasks often involve spot landing in a scored box, sometimes at a pre-described time. Other Precision tasks include take-off or landing over a 1metre high tape, with points awarded for short distance from the tape.
* Isn't competition flying dangerous?
Not at all. The UK Nationals usually run with a number of safety aids to encourage novice pilots into the sport. Usually, fuel limited tasks are run to a 5litre reserve, allowing a pilot to return to the field if their fuel calculations are wrong. Also, on spot landing tasks, the pilot is allowed to leave the engine idling (as opposed to switching off), so the option of going-round is always available. If bad weather is forecast, the competition director will usually cancel or postpone a competition, and of course, the final decision to fly always remains with the pilot.
* Will I get a friendly reception as a novice?
Absolutely. Many of the regular competitors have been competing for years, and are always happy to share tips and help newcomers. We have a number of current and former European and World Champions on the British team, many of which are full-time microlighting instructors. There is a very good social side to the competitions, with the Saturday night party a big draw for most!
* Don't I need to have the latest hot-ship to compete?
Competitions are open to anyone with a legal microlight to fly in, and at least 50hrs as Pilot In Command. Many of the latest aircraft lose points on short take-off and landing, and the variety of tasks mean that even vintage microlights can perform well. Also, many of the tasks are biased towards fuel and time prediction, allowing an inefficient aircraft to score just as many points as the latest machine. Even if you don't fly yourself, you can compete as a navigator in a dual class, or come along and help as a marshal.
* Is competition flying expensive?
An entry fee (usually in the region of £15-30) is charged per team, to cover costs of marshalling, landing fees etc. Other than that, the only cost will be the fuel that you burn. A good competition weekend can see you in the air for up to 10 hours, and many people fly to and from the airfield. Camping is usually provided free of charge, although hotels are often within driving distance if you don't want to rough it!
* Can I compete internationally?
The BMAA selects an international team annually, based on current league standings and past performance. In order to qualify for BMAA subsidy to enter the international competitions, you must have demonstrated a good performance on the National league. Alternatively, if there is space on the British team, you can privately fund your entry. You will need an FAI Sporting Licence, and you can download in .pdf format here an application form, or else contact the BMAA.
* How do I get started?
First, register for the competition you want to enrol in on this website. It is also worth contacting the competition director directly. If you have any competition flyers at your local club, talk to them. Then just turn up and have FUN!