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The Race Brief
Before presenting the brief be sure and thank your field for coming to the race.
Many of them traveled great distances with no expectation of reward - just to see old friends, run the race and have a good time. If they place and rack up some points, all the better.
The brief sets the tone for the race. If you run a professional brief, the participants will be likely to respond in kind.
Stay in control.
Be courteous but demand their full attention. No conversation in the back of the room. Your racers deserve better and it’s up to you to give it to them. Every bit of information you are about to impart is critical for their safety and successful completion of the race.
It’s best to have a marked-up course either on a dry-erase board or what we have found to be a good field-expedient substitute is a 4x8 sheet of foam insulation. These usually have a plastic coating onto which a Sharpie-type permanent marker will write very well, and mistakes can be erased completely with lacquer thinner.
Draw the course as large as you can, ignoring scale if you must. Make prominent the take off and starting points, if different, all turns and the finish.
Annotate any landmarks such as lakes, large roads (four-lane divided) and airports.
Especially mark any airports along the route, whether they be used as turn points or simply to be aware of in case of emergencies.
Mark the turn points and if they are airports, include elevation and CTAF frequencies.
Demarcate radio frequency zones, if the race is to use more than one race frequency.
Try and use no more than two frequencies during the race so changes can be done with a flip-flop switch thus attention need not come inside the cockpit while at low levels and high speeds.
Start your brief with the starting order, given from last to first. This way each person can listen for the name/race number after his as the aircraft he needs to follow.
Proceed to the starting (ground) procedure. If you have ground handlers, this is a good time to introduce them. Hopefully your ground handlers will have orange safety vests to identify them as people the racers should pay attention to on the ground.
Go over your taxi instructions, particularly if using a multi-taxi way airport. If necessary, take your fastest aircraft pilot (who will start the race) aside and make sure he knows how to get from the parking area to the runway for the start – everyone will be following him.
Review the starting procedure; how the starter will flag off each racer and at what intervals.
Be specific about what you want from the racers as the aircraft in front of them takes the runway. Do they hold short at the line? Or if the hold short line is too far from the runway, have a handler bring them to the junction of the taxiway and the runway.
You want a smooth procession from taxi to takeoff. Ask your racers to perform a rolling (taxi) takeoff check including their runup, if possible. You want to avoid each aircraft coming to the runway and then performing a lengthy run up.
Your launch intervals should be between 15 and 30 seconds. When they get to the flagger, they must be ready to go!
After briefing the launch, talk them through the process of getting to the start line, where it is and how to identify it.
After the start, brief them around the entire course, including any hazards along the way. If a turn point is at an airport and your race rules specify the turn be made above the Traffic Pattern Altitude for that airport, give the altitude in feet MSL. Ensure the race aircraft have access to current altimeter setting before they launch, and specify the same setting be used throughout the course and race.
Use the Turn Observer brief to add any details you find relevant.
One such detail might be the SARL standard of “The less radio traffic the better”, which is to say racers should not expect and should not be given turn call acknowledgements. Racers will call inbound to each turn with, for instance,
“Race two-six, turn two”
This call advises other racers where Race 26 is, and if another racer is at Turn 2 a follow up call is warranted “Race two-six, race three-six is on top turn two ” or something like that.
For safety purposes the race aircraft MUST talk to one another, and having a turn observer acknowledge each turn call adds unnecessary clutter.
An important safety exception is in the case of a turn at an airport. If here is local traffic at the airport or the observer knows of some inbound traffic, they should reply to all turn calls with something like “Race two-six be advised there is traffic on left downwind to one-eight at turn two” as long as the non-race traffic is in potential conflict.
If the finish line offers any specific challenges, bring those up now. Be sure to identify the finish line well, referencing landmarks natural or man-made, or any special markings you have made to identify the finish.
Stress that any passing is to be done on the outside of a turn. In the case of a course that changes turn direction, this will change where “outside” is. In the inevitable case where a racer asks if they can pass on the inside if they are 1) well clear, 2) have a high overtake speed or 3) any other dreamed up justification, remind the field that the passing aircraft has the responsibility to maintain sight of the aircraft being passed. As we all mainly fly low-wing aircraft, there is no way a pilot can maintain sight with an aircraft he has put to his belly.
Such a case transfers responsibility of remaining clear to the aircraft being passed – and he may not even be aware of his situation, therefore may not know what directional changes he can make and still avoid a mid-air.
ALL PASSING WILL BE DONE ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE TURN. There should be no exceptions, except, perhaps, passing on a straight section of the course where the passing aircraft will be able to keep the aircraft being passed in sight at all times. How absolute this rule is, is up to you, the Race Director.
Each race should have a Race Frequency declared. Where airports are used as turn points, planning should be done to make the turns at airports which use the same CTAF frequency. Everything should be done in the planning stages to prevent pilots from having to use more than two frequencies so that they can flip-flop between them.
The Race Frequency should also be the emergency frequency. Transmitting on 121.5 may be the proper technical thing to do, but when all available local help is on a different frequency (Race Frequency) it’s a poor choice. Stay on race frequency, declare the emergency and location on the course, and then deal with it as able.
In the event of an emergency on the course all race aircraft either assist as able or get out of the way of those who can.
Plan your brief well and use notes or briefing cards to make sure you cover everything.
This is where all your event planning and preparation comes together.
Make it count.