What to do and where to be…

Three volunteers laying box markers flat in hangar

If you’ve never been to an aerobatic contest, it can seem like a foreign world when you first volunteer. There is a language you may have never heard of before called Aresti. There are officials with titles such as Chief Judge and Starter. Pilots break out into strange dance routines, moving their hands and spinning about, lost in their own world. Everyone keeps talking about “the box.” And the aircraft themselves are colorful and exotic with less in common with the humble 172 than a sports car.

But this strange new world needs you! IAC contests cannot take place without an army of volunteers. Some are pilots interested in the sport, others just want to lend a hand at an exciting event. Many are, or were, competitors themselves, often serving as judges.

What does a volunteer get out of all this? Eternal gratitude from the chapter! And very likely a free t-shirt or other memento, and often free food. Plus, the chance to learn more about aerobatics and meet some really cool people. You may find contest volunteering is not your cup of tea, or you may realize that you really enjoy watching airplanes roll and spin about the sky and will think about volunteering again.

Group of volunteers under a tepee-like tent

How to Do the Job

There are numerous volunteer opportunities at an IAC contest. A day or two before the competitors fly in to the host airport, supplies and equipment must be moved on-site and clipboards prepared for every flight rotation. If the airport does not have a permanent marked aerobatic box, the contest box must be surveyed and markers (often made of wide vinyl strips) staked into the dirt at each corner and center axis – the box alone can take half a day of work if done by just one or two people.

The contest begins with a registration and practice day. Pilots fly in, complete their registration paperwork, have their aircraft inspected for safety, and then will sign up for a 10 to 15 minute practice flight in the box. On practice day, an experienced volunteer will be the Box Monitor, acting as a controller to the pilots practicing, letting them know when their time is up and alerting the next pilot who is often in a holding pattern. Only one pilot may ever be in the box at any time for safety. Other volunteers may be stationed on the corners of the box to monitor traffic on the ground (cars, people) if required by the FAA contest waiver.

The actual competition flying at a regional contest is usually spread over two days. These are the days we need the most volunteers: on the judges line as assistants and recorders, on the box corners as boundary judges, as runners and sometimes in the office. A single judges line requires a minimum of 12 volunteers, including the IAC judges, and may require up to 20 or more. At the same time, the boundary judges have an important role as they determine if the pilot is staying inside the box boundaries up in the sky, as well as watching for intruding aircraft or vehicles.

And, of course, a few volunteers are helpful the day after to help pack everything up.

What to Bring

You’ll be outdoors most of the day, so wear appropriate clothing for the weather (and in our California deserts, this often means cold temperatures in the morning and heat during the day). Other items to consider include sunscreen, lip balm, insect repellent, hand sanitizer, sunglasses, and a hat. There will be plenty of water on hand and often food… and dust and dirt and maybe mosquitoes. If you bring a car, be prepared to help ferry around pilots who flew in and don’t have a way to get to their hotel.

Most activities begin early in the morning, so do check when you are expected to arrive. At our West Coast contests, there is a mandatory morning briefing that usually takes place at 7:00 am on the two contest days. You’ll need to ask where this will be held as location can vary from contest to contest. Volunteer positions for the first few categories are announced at the briefing, and positions later in the day will be posted in a central location at the airport.

Contact the contest director (CD) if you have any questions before you arrive. At the contest, often the Volunteer Coordinator (VC) will be your point of contact.

by Susan Bell, IAC #438132