Fig. 1                                                                                        Fig. 2


For example, a Bowtie figure, Figure 1, will generally score better than the similar Goldfish, Figure 2, even though it has a higher K value. 

Similarly, try not to use full rolls, or any full 4 or 8 point rolls, as repeating exactly 4 or 8 points will rarely occur.  If the rules require a 9.4 (4 point roll) figure, that does not mean an entire 4 point roll is required.  Two points of the 4 point roll, or 2x4 in the new terminology, meets the requirements.  Remember that the initial portion of any looping or rolling figure sets the stage and the rest of the figure must duplicate the first portion.  Eliminating these "duplicated portions" eliminates downgrades.  Many first time Freestyles, mine included, have had fancy figures such as an Avalanche or full lay down 8 because they are fun to fly, but they score horribly, so keep it simple.

OK. so now we know a little about what not to do.  Next, are you flying a fire breathing monoplane, high-end biplane or something with a little less power and performance?  This makes a huge difference in the style of Free program you design.  Higher performance aircraft can fly rolls on the vertical lines to increase the K as needed, while lower performing aircraft require rolls on horizontal or 45 degree lines.  This is not all bad for the lower performing aircraft, as they have more time flying across the box than higher speed mounts.  This won't work 100% of the time, but gives a great place to start the initial base figures.

To start a Free program, always make the first figure a high energy figure near the center of the X axis, right in front of the judges.  This lets the pilot make a high speed entry so the judges can aurally and visually acquire the aircraft.  This also provides a perception of aggressiveness that judges like.  Placing the first figure near the center of the box also allows the pilot to determine what the wind is doing in the box.  It is my perception, admittedly subjectively, that the first two or three figures prime the mindset of the judges about the remainder of a flight.  Make sure you nail these first figures.  As discussed in previous articles, make Figure 1 into 1B.  Figure 1A should always be your entry.  I start my entry figure on the base leg just outside the edge of the box 1,500 feet above my planned start altitude.  I slow to about 80-90 knots, and then roll to about 135 degrees and pull the nose around to the point I picked on the opposite edge of the box while accelerating on a 45 degree down line. 

During my dive into the box, I make my 3 wing wags signaling my intent to start my sequence.  Make your wing wags distinctive.  I roll 90 degrees toward the judges, pause, roll wings level still on the 45 degree down line, and repeat this two more times.  Your wing wags should look aggressive like the rest of your initial Figure 1A entry.

I accelerate, using throttle as needed, so that I reach my target altitude at Vne.  Basic geometry states that in flying a 45 degree down line losing 1,500 feet vertically, I will also travel about 1,500 laterally.  Since I started just outside the box, I should now be very near the center of the box on the X-axis. A quick three count straight line after the dive puts my first pull very near the center of the box.  Winds will affect this line, as they will affect my starting point along the Y-axis, but wind correcting is a subject for another article.  I practice the entry with every flight, just as with any other figure.  For newer pilots, if you don't like your start altitude, airspeed, box position, or anything else, just don't start any aerobatic figures and you are OK.  Just turn around, climb back to altitude, and restart, with wing wags, again.  There are no penalties for not starting (though you may begin to annoy the judges if this goes on repetitively).
As a reference point, in my Pitts S-2B I generally started Figure 1, after the entry, of a Free program at around 2,500 feet, with a climbing & descending figure; a Humpty, Hammerhead, Wedge or similar that transitioned the energy gained in the entry dive to an aggressive, well flown figure.  I always tried to put any vertical up rolls I wanted in the sequence in this figure as I had the energy to make the lines and rolls look good. 

All Freestyle programs require a spin, and in the Pitts, I tried to put the spin early in the sequence while I was still relatively high as the spin generally loses more altitude than any other figure in that aircraft.  Always put the spin entry going into the wind.  The stall break will appear cleaner, and the forward motion left at the stall will appear to be nil, showing a much better scoring entry.  Downwind spin entries appear to settle, have soft breaks, and the appearance of forced entries because of the tailwind and residual forward motion of the aircraft.

In higher performing aircraft 45 degree lines will use a lot of box so be very careful with these lines, especially on down lines where the aircraft is accelerating.  Never have one figure end with a descending 45 and then have another climbing 45 line, or vice versa.  A good rule of thumb is that a descending 45 line requires about 2/3 of the box; a climbing 45 line requires at least 1/2 of the box, so this combination of lines, 2/3 + 1/2, is larger than the box.  In windy conditions, it is difficult to determine when to pull for 1/2 Cuban 8s or reverse 1/2 Cuban 8s.  If you pull too early on the upwind line for a 1/2 Cuban 8, then the 45 down line will be rushed, especially if there are multiple or opposite rolls on the line.  It would be better to fly a wedge or sharks tooth figure so the pull or push to vertical can be made right at the edge of the box.  Higher performing aircraft can have a difficult time keeping 45 lines in the box, so it is best to eliminate them if at all possible.  Alan Cassidy of Great Brittan designed a nice Advanced Free for the 2006 AWAC with no 45 lines at all.  He did have several pushes, but he had no issues with the edges of the box, even with a wind blowing. 

Remember that all Free programs require at least one figure from Family 7, Loops  & Eights, and Family 8, Combination of Lines, Angles & Loops.  These families include the figures we are trying to avoid, but they also have other figures that meet the rules and will make the Free program fly better.  Still, you may have to have one of these figures in your Free.  Keep in mind that aircraft that move more slowly across the box can get away with 45 lines, but remember that it is better to start a 1/2 Cuban on a downwind leg, and a reverse 1/2 Cuban into the wind so that the 45 lines are into the wind, and don't take so much of the box.  Make sure that the figure after a 1/2 Cuban is an end box looping or vertical maneuver, so the 45 line does not have to be hurried.  Similarly, keep point rolls or opposite rolls in mind, and ensure they are flown into the wind whenever possible, again so that aircraft moves less distance across the box during these figures.

Use the maximum number of figures allowed for the Free program in your category.  By maximizing the number of figures, the total K of each figure will be lower, and thus less damaging if flown poorly.  Think of it as spreading the risk around so no one figure is a "Make or Break" figure.   I like to use a cross box figure every 4-5 figures, so I will have two separate chances for better box placement in a 12 or 15 figure Freestyle.  In the long run, every acro pilot should learn to place their airplane where they need it in the box for the next line of figures.  Having the cross box figures in the sequence makes this much easier and reduces pilot workload.  Cross box figures typically come in pairs, so that the flight axis can be returned to the X axis.  Don't put looping figures on the Y-axis because they won't look round, and won't score well.  If you want use a P-loop with a 1/4 roll as a cross box figure, just be sure the looping portion is on the X axis, so it will score better - if you fly it well.

I like to try to "balance" my sequences in that if I put a looping figure at one end, I try to put a looping figure at the other end, and the same concept goes for vertical lines.  I use no center box figures except the initial figure.  This used to be known as a California Freestyle, but more pilots are using this style across the country. 

The total K for each Free program is determined by the rule book.  Make your Free meet the exact maximum K allowed for your category. If the total K for your Free program is lower than allowed, you will never reach the maximum points or percentage available, which is how competitions are scored.  There is an IAC rule for a Free Point, which allows a free program to have 1 K over the allowable maximum.  This 1 K is deducted from the highest K figure in the program, to reduce the total K to the maximum allowed.  Other ideas to consider are changing a 1/2 roll to a 2x4 to add K, or change the 2x4 to a 1/2 roll to reduce K value.  1/4 rolls can be changed to 2x8 and vice versa to add or reduce K value by 1 point if needed.  Most of the time, changing the rolls as discussed above will make the sequence have the proper K value.  If not, a base figure may need to be changed, but don't worry about it; it will come together.  Sometimes leaving and coming back to the sequence gives a new perspective.

Lastly, intermediate pilots appear to be worried about the snap roll required in their Freestyle program.  The pilot needs to decide at what airspeed the snap should be done, and then set the figure or two before that so that the required airspeed is met.  The "traditional" 3 figure sequence is an Immelman, then the snap, and then a Split-S.   This violates the no center figures rule, and does not allow the pilot much time to set the snap speed or Split-S speed.  Typically, after the Immelman, the pilot must accelerate aggressively to get to snap speed and then decelerate hard for the Split-S.  A better decision might be to fly a wedge with a 45 down line keeping in mind the earlier caveats about 45 lines.  Then the snap can be flown at the proper airspeed with no rushing into the next figure.  Another idea might be a 1 1/2 snap or a 1/2 roll and full snap at the top of an Immelman.  Both of these figures allow the pilot to worry only about the snap, without hurrying the complete figure.

These are the ideas I have found that work.  The type of airframe you fly and the figures you are comfortable with will establish the basic style of your Free program.  After you draw the free on paper, it must be practiced to determine if the sequence can be flown safely and in the box without losing too much altitude. Then get some coaching from the ground for flow and presentation.  If your coach is happy, you are all set.  Don't worry if you decide to make small changes during the season, I nearly always do, and then I will have a Free program that is good for a few years until the next rule change. 

Final points:


Good luck designing and flying your first winning Free program!

Designing Your First Freestyle Program                                                                                                          
Steve Johnson, IAC 20081                                 
Gjunkie1@aol.com

There have been several recent articles written about how to fly the current IAC Known sequences, mostly Sportsman & Intermediate, because these newer aerobatic pilots have a desire for additional knowledge & skills that can be learned from these articles.  Though there is still no substitute for good coaching from the ground to make figures and sequences look correct and score well, these articles have provided valuable knowledge about the Known Sequences which must be flown as drawn.

But what about Freestyles?  Freestyles allow the pilot the freedom to design and fly a sequence that fits the pilot's skills and airframe performance.  These sequences must be designed by the pilot, or someone else, to meet the rules for required figures, which include specific rolls, spins, hammerheads, etc., and must be flown well by the pilot to be competitive.  A well designed Freestyle will help a pilot maintain a rank in the scoring, but a poorly designed Free will send a competitive pilot to the bottom of the list.  So what is required to design and fly a good Free program?  The information offered in this article will assist the newer pilot in designing and flying a Freestyle program that will become a competitive sequence.

The ideas and suggestions in this article can be used for any Free Program, but I will start at the beginning for newer pilots just designing their first Sportsman or Intermediate Free.  The concepts are the same, and if you have seen Joe Haycraft fly 90% scores in his Sportsman Freestyles you will have seen these concepts at work in the Sportsman level.  In a recent series of Sport Aerobatics articles (March & April 2009), Gordon Penner describes the full loop and other partial loops in the 2009 Sportsman Known, of which four are required.  As Gordon states, loops are very difficult to fly well, and rarely score well, so in designing a Free program, keep loops, goldfish, Cuban 8s and reverse Cuban 8s out of your sequence as much as possible.  Use family 1 lines and angles instead.