FAI Aeromodelling Commission (CIAM)

F3 - Radio Control Pylon Racing

What is F3 Radio Control Pylon Racing?


RC pylon racing started during the early 1960’s in California and soon spread to the rest of the World.

By the late 1960’s RC pylon racing was firmly established on both sides of the Atlantic and from the early 1970’s rules existed within the FAI to govern International pylon racing using .40ci glow engines. World Championship events were held from the early 1970’s, although at this stage FAI pylon racing was still not an official World Championship event.

In the early 1980’s there was a merging of the scale type pylon race models from the USA with the European style engines with tuned pipes. This combination proved to be a great success and the first official World Championship for FAI F3D pylon racing was held at Westover AFB, Massachusetts USA in the summer of 1985. The great success of that first official World Championship continued through the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s. Many countries were now taking an active interest in F3D pylon racing thus showing that the event was truly a World Championship. In the early 1990’s electric pylon racing became popular and the first World Championship for F5D (now F3E) electric pylon race models took place in 1994.

At the start of the 21st century, two further classes of International pylon race models were added to the FAI rule books. These were F3T which is based upon the AMA Q40 class and a multi formula F3R class which is based upon Q500 race model. These classes are only for World Cup events, not full World Championships. From 2019, F3D and F3E pylon race models have flown at the same competition venue for World championships.

The race

The main goal of F3 pylon racing is rather simple: each pilot has to fly as fast as possible for 10 laps around a 400 meter triangular course. The triangular course is clearly visible due to the presence of three 5 meter high solid pylons. During each flight, several penalties or disqualifications can be awarded if the aircraft does not complete the full course on any of the 10 laps. The competitors score is expressed by the amount of seconds that their race time took. Each competitor has to fly between 6 and 16 flights, depending on the type of competition (local, international, World Cup or World Championship). The final competitors score is an average of their best flight times and the competitor with the lowest score is the winner of the competition.

Official Categories

F3D: The pinnacle of RC pylon racing is the F3D class. The models are powered by a 6.6cc (.40 ci) glow plug engine, have a maximum wing span of 1800 millimeter and a minimum weight of 2250 gram. This class has a few rules concerning intake and exhausts of the engine, and therefore the rules are very open. This allows competitors to experiment a lot with the engines, propellers and exhaust pipes, but also with the aerodynamics of the planes as there is no need for approval or commercial availability. The F3D airframe conforms to a detailed set of design parameters but also has design freedom within those parameters. This combination makes for a true thoroughbred racing machine and the sight of three F3D models in competitive flight during a competition is a something to behold.

The most challenging part of this class is to get a good feeling for the settings of the engine in combination with the right propeller and exhaust pipe, which also depends on the type of weather. The top speed of F3D planes is about 340 km/h and an excellent flight around the 4000 meter track is considered to be below 60 seconds. The current world record is 55.27 seconds, flown by Randy Bridge (USA) at the World Championship of F3D pylon racing 2019 in Maryborough (AUS).

F3E: The electric powered version of the F3D class is F3E, also known as the old F5D class. The models are powered by an electric engine, have a smaller wing span than F3D planes and a minimum weight of 1000 grams. Similar to the F3D class, the rules are very open and therefore the competitors can experiment a lot with the engine and propeller settings. For example, different setups include direct drive engines with small single or double blade propellers at a relatively high RPM, and electric engines with a reduction gearbox with big double blade propellers that drive at a relatively low RPM. Like F3D, the event is a prototype formula with no commercial requirements on the equipment used. All aircraft have to be fitted with a performance limiting device (1000w/min). 

The most challenging part of this class is to find the optimum between the engine, propeller and the limited amount of power (1000w/min) a competitor can consume during a flight. For example, a small control mistake during the race results in a longer flight path and so the engine will shut off earlier in the course than the pilot had intended. Flying optimal, close and consistent around the pylons is therefore a win-win situation in this class. The top speed of F3E-planes is about 330 km/h and an excellent flight around the 4000 meter track is considered to be below 60 seconds. It is interesting that, depending on the type of weather, F3D or F3E is overall the faster class during a competition. The current world record is 52.93 seconds, flown by Ondrej Hacker (CZE) at the World Championship of F3E pylon racing 2014 in Turnau (AUT).

F3T: Not all competitors want to build and fly machines such as the F3D/E models and enjoy more close and tight racing with other competitors. The F3T class is especially designed for these people and is closely based on the hugely successful Q40 class from the USA. F3T stipulates only four different commercial 6.6cc (.40 ci) glow plug engines that may be used to power the aircraft which have a heavy resemblance to full sized pylon racing aircraft from the well-known ‘Reno Air Races’. The airframe designs have to be approved by the F3T approval committee to be legal for competition, or be on the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) list. The planes have a maximum wing spang of 1422.4 millimeter and a minimum weight of 1800 gram. Important documents concerned with this class can be found in the following bullet points:

The most challenging part of this class is the ability to fly really consistent and close around the pylons since all competitors are flying at approximately the same speed. Racing in this class is extremely close and tight! The top speed of F3T-planes is about 320 km/h and an excellent flight around the 4000 meter course is considered to be around 60 seconds.

F3R: This is a class defined for pylon racing at a limited level of technology in aircraft aerodynamic design, aircraft construction and power plant combined with maximum safety. The planes have a maximum wing span of 1320 millimeter and a minimum weight of 1700 gram. It is considered as the easiest class of the four mentioned classes above and is therefore a perfect class for beginners in pylon racing. Although based upon the Q500 class from the USA, F3R allows for local variations on fuel and power plant specifications.

The most challenging part of this class is similar as for the F3T class since the speed of all the F3R planes are approximately equal. The top speed of F3R planes is around 250 km/h and an excellent flight around the 4000 meter track is considered to be around 75 seconds.

More (technical) information on all four classes and additional material on pylon racing in general can be found in the FAI Sporting Code Volume F3 Radio Control Pylon Racing Model Aircraft.

Different Championships

World Championship: The World Championships run for the F3D and F3E classes and are held in all odd years since 1985. Competitors have to be selected to fly for their nation at a World Championship, and each nation can enter with a 3-person team. On top of the 3-person team, each nation can select in addition a junior and/or female competitor. Medals are awarded for individual competitors, teams, juniors and females. The individual world champion in the F3D class receives the Sopwith Trophy as a challenge cup for two years, the individual world champion in the F3E class receives the British Electric Association Trophy as a challenge cup for two years.  The individual junior world champion receives the Emil Broberg cup as a challenge cup for two years if more than 5 juniors are present on a World Championship. A complete list of all World Championship results over the years can be found in the following two bullet points:

To get a feeling of the atmosphere at a World Championship, see F3D World Chamionship 2007F3D World Championship 2015 and F3D/E World Championship 2022 for some video footages.

World Cup: The World Cups run for all four F3 pylon racing classes. The F3 Pylon World Cup Racing started in 2021 and is a series of international competitions. This allows competitors ranging from the highly experienced and successful fliers through to those in the mid-field who are working their way up the rankings, along with those who are just moving into international competition. More information on World Cup racing can be found on the F3 Pylon World Cup Racing webpage, and results of all World Cup races for all classes over the years can be found at the mentioned link.

Euro Cup: From the beginning of pylon racing, F3D has always been the most dominant class in Europe. Several European clubs and competitors introduced in 1991 the Euro Cup. It is a yearly ranking based on the best 3 or 4 results from Euro Cup competitions that are flown in Europe. Since the flying times in the F3D class depend heavily on the type of weather at a competition, a specific scoring system was introduced. The winner of each Euro Cup competition earns 1000 points and the other competitors earn points relative to the flown result of the winner, see F3D Euro Cup rules for more information. Results of this championship over the years can be found in the F3D Euro Cup results PDF.

Social Media

There are many general social media platforms dedicated to Pylon Racing:

Many videos of RC Pylon Racing at World Championships, World Cup competitions, local competitions and training flights can be found on YouTube, especially on the YouTube Channel of Team Lentjes.

Getting started & contact details

If you are interested to get started with F3 pylon racing, please have a look at the websites or mentioned Facebook groups of your country of interest. Try to get contact with anyone that is associated with F3 pylon racing via these platforms. Most of the F3 pylon racing pilots are very open and helpful to help you get started with this type of aeromodelling. If your country of interest is not on the mentioned list above, the F3 Pylon subcommittee is very keen to welcome new countries into the fascinating and exciting world of RC pylon racing. We can advise National Aero Clubs and specialist interest groups within those clubs on the best way to get RC pylon racing being flown in their area. Contact the F3 Pylon Chairman lancia038@hotmail.com (Barrie Lever) if you wish to discuss starting RC pylon racing in your country.