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3D RC: Smaller Scale but Very Extreme

19-year-old Ashleigh Heath is taking the radio-controlled aerobatics sport by storm

By Randy Dufault

July 24, 2018 - For a girl, the challenge of establishing yourself in an area of aviation dominated by men and boys can be difficult and, in some cases, impossible. Early on in life, 19-year-old Ashleigh Heath of Milford, Michigan, accepted that challenge and now is an established expert in the sport of radio-controlled 3D aerobatics.

Flying RC 3D aerobatics is similar to full-scale aircraft operations in that it includes traditional maneuvers that appear in many aerobatic routines. Where it differs is with the tricks a human-occupied craft will find impossible to do because of the limits of the aircraft or the limits of the human.

“[Our RC planes] have very high power to weight ratios so they are able to perform very intense maneuvers as well as slow, low g things like all the high alpha stuff that we do,” Ashleigh said.

Typical routines include hovering the model on its prop and transitioning to other tricks with names like rolling harrier, pop top, crankshaft, and no name.

“We’ve had some full-scale pilots come and ask us how we do what we do. Pretty funny,” she added.

Ashleigh will fly a routine during Twilight Flight Fest Thursday and Friday. The show, located in the Fun Fly Zone, starts at 8 p.m. each night.

For the routine, Ashleigh is flying a 35 percent scale Yak-54 model with a two-cylinder, two-stroke, 120-cc engine. Even though it is a model, it is still quite a large airplane with a wingspan in excess of 9 feet.

“If you get into the 40 percent or 50 percent size range, those planes get up to about 50 pounds and can be harder to control,” Ashleigh said. “Thirty-five percent scale is really the sweet spot where you can do all the maneuvers without a problem.”

Her interest in aviation started with flights in the family Cessna 172. An RC flight simulator called RealFlight helped her learn how to control a model and, at age 11, an easy-to-repair foam Super Cub RC replica helped her transition out of the virtual world.

3D aerobatics came into the picture through a girl who is a 3D RC flyer and who Ashleigh met in a multiplayer feature of RealFlight. An offer to meet up at a large RC event and fly a 3D-capable airplane when Ashleigh was 13 sealed the deal.

Developing a competitive 3D routine is a lengthy process. It starts with creating a mix of music and planning a matching set of maneuvers.

“I start with the simulator,” Ashleigh said. “That helps to get the muscle memory down and helps develop a freestyle routine to the music. When you think you know what you are doing, you take it out to the field and practice, practice, practice, practice.”

Ashleigh just finished her first year in the aerospace engineering program at Western Michigan University. When asked what career aspect of aerospace interests her the most, she immediately went to what she knows best.

“I’ve thought about going into something with drones because that is what I am familiar with, because of how much they have been progressing over the last couple of years, and how important I think that they are going to be in the future.”

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