How the judges line works

Group of people under and near a tent

It doesn’t matter how great an aerobatic figure looks from inside the plane, the pilot’s sequence is judged from the ground on the judges line. Here you will find sets of chairs spread out for each judging team and a central table for the chief judge’s team. Often there will be tents or shade devices set up, a port-a-potty nearby, and coolers of water, sports drinks and snacks. As a volunteer, you should bring sun screen, a hat, sunglasses, and protective clothing as you may be out on the line for several hours depending on the number of flights being judged. Volunteering for the judges line is a great way to learn more about the sport and what the judges are looking for in the flying.

At some contests, the line will be walking distance from the terminal. At others, there will be a designated area to meet to carpool out. The line switches every few hours, so stay aware of what is going on in the schedule and be on time. During a typical two-day contest, there will be three to four line rotations the first day, and two to three more on the second day. Lunches may be brought out to the line by contest staff to keep things moving, or there may be a set lunch break. Flying at West Coast contests usually begins at 8:00 to 8:30 am and ends late afternoon or earlier.

From a technical standpoint, the judges line must be located within a specified distance range from the boundary of the aerobatic box where the competitors are flying per IAC rules. For regional contests, this judging area usually remains the same over the contest flights, but at national and world-level competitions, the location of the judges line will change depending on wind, sun position, and weather, and it may be split onto multiple sides of the box.

The only personnel allowed on the judges line during a contest flight are the judges, assistant judges, recorders, runners and any others helping the chief judge. Pilots, their significant others and relatives should never approach the line when their category is flying to avoid the appearance of influencing the results. In this same vein, relatives of competitors are NOT allowed to judge and are discouraged from volunteering in other positions in those categories in which their family members are flying.

Hand holding up a sequence sheet in front of other groups of judges
Table top with radios, clipboard and pink paper
Score sheet with handwritten scores and notes

How it starts

Walk or carpool out. You’ll meet up with your judge normally at the main table where the chief judge manages everything. Usually the recorder, but sometimes the assistant, will pick up their judge’s clipboard and write the judge’s and assistant’s name and IAC number in the boxes near the lower right corner of “Form A,” the score sheet. Once everyone arrives, the chief judge will call out the order of flight and the names of the pilots will be checked in the lower right corner to make certain the score sheets are in the correct order. There often will be sheets of sequences (Forms B & C) in-between the Form A’s, so you have to page through them carefully.

The judging teams will then select one of the sets of chairs and sit down. The judge will usually sit in the middle chair and will request his/her assistant to sit on a specific side. The recorder takes the other side.

The runner and chief judge assistant(s) remain at the main table.

The Runner Role

A great first-contest position, the runner gets to watch how the judges’ line works. Your main job is to pick up the score sheets from each team after each flight. You then quickly look them over for completeness – Scores on all figures? Is there a presentation score? – and notice any “HZ” or “A,” which should then be pointed out to the chief judge’s assistant when you return. Hardest thing about this job is to know when you need to pick up the sheets; don’t get distracted by your phone and make them call for you.

The Recorder Role

The recorder keeps the clipboard with the Form A’s and passes copies of Form B or C to the judge and assistant. Which form is in use will be determined by the winds aloft and the judge can tell you which they need. For the Known and Unknown flights, there is only one Form B & C for all pilots in a category. But for the Free program in all categories and some of the Sportsman Unknowns, there will be many B & C’s on the clipboard as each pilot will have their own custom sequence.

During each flight, the recorder’s job is primarily to get an accurate score written down for each figure – “8.0” or “6.5” or “HZ” – and, secondarily, to write down constructive notes that the judge says which can help the pilot understand their score. Comments may include statements such as: “negative down,” “torqued over the top,” “e-shaped,” “under rotated,” and “over and back.” If the judge says “hard zero,” write “HZ” in the score column and the reason in the notes column – they’ll tell you. The judge may also “average” a figure because they missed part of it and this is noted as an “A” in the score column.

At the end of each flight, ask the judge for a “presentation score” if they do not give you one. It is written near the upper right corner. If you make a mistake on a score, please just cross it out and write the correct score nearby – do not try to correct it – and have your judge initial the new score after the flight is completed. If there is a break (and you’ll know it) put two vertical dashes on the line between the figures where the break occurred.

The Chief Judge Assistant Role

There may be one or two volunteers in this position. One assistant will communicate with the boundary judges via handheld radio to first note boundary infringements or “outs” as they occur, then confirm these outs at the end of the flight on the Chief Judge Penalty Form. The other assistant helps the chief judge with reading the sequence, keeping an eye on the judging teams for any prearranged hand signals for an “average” score or sun interference, and looking for traffic that might enter the box. One assistant will then take the judges’ score sheets from the runner, review them for notational errors, and organize them for the scorer.

The Assistant Role

The assistant’s job is to call out each Aresti figure before and, often, as it is being flown. A good practice is to call out the figure number as “Figure #”, describe the figure as a whole and in parts as flown: “pull-push-pull humpty, quarter (roll) on the up, nothing on the down”, and then say “end figure” when complete. This can help the judge know when to call out a score and helps keep the recorder on track. You have to be able to read the Form B/C AND watch the flight at the same time. You will also help the judge count “points” and verify directionality of flight.

The Assistant’s job can become stressful when the pilot flying misses a figure (or two or three) and you try to guess what is going to happen next. Sometimes the pilot will realize their mistake and wag their wings to indicate that they are taking a break. But more often than not, they continue flying the sequence and it is up to you to tell the judge what is going on, including if the figures are being flown “backwards” or in the wrong direction across the box. Or maybe a pilot will mistakenly fly a half roll when the figure required a quarter roll and they are now on the wrong axis – the assistant should have called “quarter roll” and the judge should see the mistake, but it helps to have two pairs of eyes watching.

View the overview video on how to read Aresti below. Yes, learning how to read and speak a new language can be complicated, but have no fear, the assistant position is usually given to someone with prior contest experience or those looking to complete regional judging requirements to become a judge. A pure beginner will rarely be put in this position.

by Susan Bell, IAC #438132