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Gladiators of the sky

December 5, 2015

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If you think that flying model aeroplanes is a gentile or leisurely pass time, then you've never seen the semi-contact sport of control-line combat aeromodelling.

The planes dart back and forth, buzzing about faster than mosquitoes. They're controlled by pilots standing with their rival in a two-metre circle, their planes whirring at 160km an hour around them on the end of a control line.

The aim is to cut strips off the four-metre tail of the other competitor's plane. There are points for staying in the air, and points for every cut of the tail. The champions say to get the best result there's sometimes some jostling for position in the circle where the pilots stand.

"You need to get supremacy in the air, but also on the ground," said Antonio Giandrini, the Italian team pilot and national champion. "The tactics change second by second, from defence to attack and back to defence. The best pilots fly their planes without looking at them, because they are busy looking at the rival plane to see how to attack it."

Ingemar Larsson, the competition director, said, "Flying your plane is only 25% of the skill, the rest is in the battle." Competitors and their support mechanics wear helmets due to the risks involved.

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If a plane is downed, one of the team mechanics has to repair it and relaunch it to avoid wasting valuable time and losing points. Pilots are only allowed one spare aircraft during each four-minute battle, and mechanics race to make repairs if either one is damaged. The engines run on nitro-fuel, revving at around 32,000rpm and screaming at a high pitch throughout the competition.

With the 16 best teams from around the world here for the competition, reigning double World Champion Ukrainian Stanislav Chornyy said that the field was wide open, and that both the Spanish and the Lithuanian teams were in strong form.

After an impressive training session today at the Palm Dropzone, the teams are ready for battle to commence. Italian mechanic, Adriano Molteni, summed up the mood. "We've all come a long way to be here. No one is here to play. We're all here to win."

By Andy Pag

Photos: Marcus King / FAI Media Team

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