Go Fast & Turn Left

The sport of Pylon Racing

John Little


You go to the field every week with your special model to enjoy a relaxed flight with no stress and no purpose other than to simply enjoy the beauty of flight and to nail that perfect landing.




Your plane stands on a rubber mat held by your caller, engine screaming, spinning a 10x6 prop at 15,000rpm. You have a little bit of right rudder and a touch of up elevator, watching intently until suddenly the plane to the left takes off, 1 second later your caller releases your plane. You try to steady the climb with not too many corrections. Then a roll to the left to put you in a knife edge waiting for your caller to yell “turn”. A tug of up elevator and your model snaps round pylon 1 and is now heading back at you on a knife edge. A touch of aileron to straighten for 1 second then another roll as you ready to take pylon 2 and 3 in succession before again heading for Pylon 1. Your altitude is just over 10 meters, your speed up to 180km/h and you have 10 more laps to do.


With the race complete, you wait for your score to be read over the radio. Pilot 3, 112.5 seconds. Not your best time but still good. Your brain racks as you wonder if I cut pylon 2 & 3 a little closer, tidy my flying and reduce the movements I can scrape another 2-3 seconds off.


This is Pylon racing. I fly Q500 or Sports Pylon as it is called. The plane is a 500 Square inch winged Viper with a V tail and no dihedral. Up front is a standard Thunder Tiger Pro 46 with no cowling. This out-of-the-box plane and engine will travel at around 180 km/h in a straight line. Other classes include F400 Nelson powered screamers and the F3D class with beauty only matched by their up to 300km/h speed.


Over the past few years, the Pylon racing scene has been growing under the NSW Pylon Association www.nswpylon.org. On a typical meeting we get around 20+ competitors for a great social and competitive days flying. As a racer you get 5 to 8 flights per day and usually you are a caller for another competitor. It is a full-on day, but very exciting.


This year the organization has held 5 events at Queanbeyan, Cowra, Woolongong, Nowra, and Pitt Town. Each of the country events is preceded the night before at the local RSL for some food and chat about the day to come.


Whilst flying around pylons at high speed sounds reckless, finesse in your flying ability is vital in getting consistent fast laps. The thought of flying at this pace and low altitude may be daunting. This is the case flying a Viper at my club WRCS with the flying field in a valley surrounded by trees where it is more like flying a bullet between two buildings. On the more open fields used to hold races, the task is not as difficult as it sounds. In fact the hardest part I found was the landing as I had no ridge or trees for reference. All too often I found I was landing very short. This taught me to land using the throttle more, coming over the threshold of the field at a steady descent before pulling the throttle back for a nice controllable touch down. I would have to say this seemingly reckless flying has in fact improved my overall skills.


The only problem with pylon racing is you fly only left hand circuits. Turning left is easy, turning right seems unnatural.


I suppose one question is “do we crash?”. It is not too often, perhaps 1-2 in a days racing but when they do it is spectacular. With the Viper being an ARF, the build time is around 6 hours. Most pilots carry a spare for the day just in case but really, it is a rare occurrence. Mid-air collisions also can occur but given that each race is 4 planes around a tight course, they are surprisingly few and far between.


So what about the plane? The first thing you notice is the V tail and the incredibly simple lines. More like a sleek “ugly-stick”. The fuselage is a box shape stopping at the firewall. The engine is uniquely mounted by a plate bolted directly to the back of the crank case. The 4oz fuel tank will allow you to fly full throttle (is there any other way) for around 4 minutes. The wing is mounted on the top of the fuselage and is dead straight with no dihedral or taper. The ailerons are only about half the wings length and up against the fuselage. The roll rate of a viper is fairly slow. The wing section is a little strange with the thickest part at around 50% of the wing cord. This makes it fast in top speed but does cause it to slow down more in a corner compared to a conventional wing. All the more reason to fly smoothly. The undercarriage is a tail dragger and has two disc-style wheels to reduce drag. It is very rare that you can taxi a Viper. The prop usually clips the ground in a landing as it is about 2cm off the ground when the plane is level. Even if the engine does remain running, any attempt to taxi results in doing doughnuts. Take-offs are always full throttle with a little up elevator and right rudder to compensate for the prop wash. Whilst a Viper is fast, they are surprisingly easy to fly, glide very well and are easy to land well as long as you don’t stall. They have a greater than 1:1 power to weight ratio, hence can climb indefinitely. With all that power, they can do aerobatics but these are always a very fast affair probably capable of doing the full Gold Wings scenario in under a minute if you could keep up. Flying a Viper as a “Sunday” plane at WRCS is not all that fun. 4 minutes of rush-rush, overtaking every plane in the sky many times followed by a landing that you will have to walk to retrieve. Vipers are made for one purpose, racing, and for that they are superb.

If you think you would like to give this variation of our sport a go, why not go to the web site www.nswpylon.org and check it out or come to an event. Feel free to drop me an email on jlittle102@optusnet.com.au or simply find me at the WRCS field where I fly occasionally, early on a Saturday morning. As with any modeler, I will bore you to tears about my passion. If you have even the slightest desire, bite the bullet, give it a go. The only danger is you may get hooked.