The Bwlch Mountain in South Wales where the Welsh Open F3F event has been held for the last 25+ years. It’s not hard to see the attraction.

Welsh Open F3F 2021

The latest edition of the most attended slope racing event ever.

Kevin Newton
The New RC Soaring Digest
9 min readOct 3, 2021


F3F is slope racing against the clock, covering 10 legs of a 100m course. It is flown one up, rather than man-on-man, which has pretty much died out across the UK due to the attrition and associated cost and time. F3F planes and pilots need to fly fast, turn faster and adapt to changing conditions immediately before and during their run. It’s an easy thing to do but a hard thing to do well.

The Welsh Open F3F has been run every year for over 25 years. The entry is limited to 55 pilots and is usually over subscribed. Relatively easy access to the UK, slopes with roads to the top and a good track record of completing events make the Welsh Open a great festival of sloping with pilots from many countries taking part. In fact, the maths of so many competitors attending over so many years may make it the most attended slope racing event ever — flame suit on!

All slopes across the world have their own nuances so getting to know a hill you haven’t flown before the event is a wise move. Common sense and courtesy ensure adequate practice time with no bureaucracy.

This year, COVID restricting travel and an unfavourable weather forecast meant a number of overseas competitors dropped out at the last moment. Disappointing but understandable. Thirty-three high quality competitors remained from across Austria, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the UK, so all we needed was the weather to play ball.

Day 1 — Friday 17 September

The forecast for Day 1 was for decent wind on the ‘Back of the Wrecker’ slope — also known, not very affectionately, as El Bastardo as it’s probably the least favoured slope and has no land out options when conditions are light.

At 9:30 on Day 1 there was some low cloud (‘clag’) but the organisers dragged everyone across to the slope as the relatively high temperatures and favourable forecast suggested it would quickly clear. It was important to get as many rounds in as possible as the forecast for the following days was not good.

The course was quickly put up and once visibility and conditions were stable we were off! It is a strange fact that often the fastest flight of the day tends to happen early in the day. And thus it came to pass that Andy Burgoyne in only the ninth flight of the day set the fastest time of the whole event with a well executed 35.88 using his trusty Freestyler 6. Second in the round was Peter Gunning with a Freestyler 6 in 36.75 and third was Mark Treble with a Pitbull in 37.20.

That was the early indication of an interesting trend — there are many variations on the theme but there are arguably three main styles for flying F3F: energy management (EM), reversals and bank-and-yank. Sometimes, in a crosswind, a combination of different styles can be most effective.

Generally speaking the EM style can generate greater speeds but at the same time tends to cover more ground as the turns are wider and the trajectory less direct. Some slopes respond really well to this, making EM noticeably more effective overall. On some other slopes the extra speed versus more distance neutralises itself, meaning there is little overall advantage to either style. Other times EM just doesn’t work on a particular slope or in a particular wind direction or strength.

On El Bastardo, on Day 1, the equation seemed to be that EM was faster but that speed didn’t quite cancel out the extra distance. The two videos below go someway to illustrating the point. Clearly though there are other variables than just the styles used in determining the times achieved in these two examples. However over the course of the next few days I think it’s reasonable to say that even brilliantly flown EM offered no perceivable advantage over reversals or bank and yank. Of course on other slopes, or in different conditions, the situation can be totally reversed; it’s no coincidence that so many records have been set using EM!

This is Andy Bergoyne’s flight predominately using reversals. (video: Riccardo Kuebler)
This is Thorsten Folkers’ flight using the energy management technique.

By the end of Day 1 we’d completed nine rounds, which was near enough 300 competitive flights. Peter Gunning (Freestyler 6) was leading from Stefan Fraundorfer (Mamba) in second and Mark Redsell (Freestyler 6) in third.

Five rounds were won by Freestylers and one each by a Mamba, Vantage, Ultima and Caldera.

The Caldera used by Mark Abbotts to win round 2 in 36.65. I maintain this is the prettiest plane the world has seen, hence having one on my living room wall!
Manuel Rath prepares to launch Stefan Fraundorfer’s Mamba to win Round 7 in 40.32.
The Vantage flown by the author to win Round 4 in 37.63. (Photo: Paul Fram)

Day 2 — Saturday 18 September

The forecast was for light winds to swing from east to west. This was a pretty hopeless forecast so the organisers decided to stick with El Bastardo (southerly facing) as the wind might settle that way for a while as it can sometimes pick up a bit of a sea breeze coming in from the Bristol Channel.

As the slope land out options are nil the minimum safe windspeed is deemed to be 4m/s. After some careful positioning of the windmeter (always a contentious topic!) we just about managed to record sufficient and consistent wind to get underway.

Thorsten Folkers prepares to launch a Pitbull 2

John Phillips, keeping all entertained with his most excellent and exuberant style won two rounds with his Freestyler 6 and Manuel Rath won one with his Freestyler 6.

John Phillips launching Ian Mason’s Harrier.
Mike Shellim’s Pile Precision 2 getting up close and personal at Base B.

As we got toward the end of the day, not long into the fourth round of the day, the wind dropped to virtually nothing and shifted a fair way off the slope. The brave sport flew for a while but the wind stayed below legal and was cocked off the slope, directly reflecting the forecast. After the requisite 30 minutes of no competiton due to the illegal conditions the round in progress was lost.

Daniel Schneider’s Pitbull with a most excellent colour scheme.

With apparently no chance of any more rounds that day, and already feeling quite lucky to have got three in, we decided to call it a day. Utterly bizarrely, and beyond any experience, forecast or reason, within minutes of us calling it the wind came up and gave some tremendous sport flying. We considered reversing the decision but some had already left, keen for a bit of R&R after two long days. We probably lost a round, which was a shame but good decisions the previous day and earlier on this day meant we were still up compared with expectations.

Mark Treble was one of several Pitbull pilots and he found a great line on El Bastardo that consistently gave him great rewards.

After three rounds on Saturday and 12 in all, Peter Gunning was still in the lead, Mark Redsell had jumped to second and Stefan Fraundorfer had dropped to third.

Stefan with one of his Mambas.

Day 3 — Sunday 19 September

After a delayed start for rain and clag we were briefly teased with some flying on the westerly slope before the wind swung over 45 degrees off to the north. We lost the round in progress and made the bold move to the northwest slope, which turned out to be exactly the right thing to do.

Thorsten Folkers puts in a 48.59 with some incredibly accurate flying for fifth in Round 13.

In Round 13 Mark Redsell took several seconds from Pete Gunning, which was enough to snatch the lead. Joel West climbed to third after taking eight seconds from Stefan who had some unlucky air.

Mark Redsell snatched the lead with his Freestyler 6 in Round 13.

Round 14 and Peter hit back to regain the lead and poor Stefan lucked out on the air again and lost another place. So, at the end of Round 14 we had Peter Gunning leading from Mark Redsell, with Joel West in third, John Philips in fourth and Stefan Fraundorfer in fifth.

Most, other than Peter, were hoping we’d have enough time for Round 15 as that’s when the second discard of your lowest round score kicks in and with the variable conditions just about everyone felt that would benefit them more than the next pilot. As the final pilot finished round fourteen we were indeed three minutes ahead of the deadline beyond which we couldn’t start another round, so on we trotted to do it all one more time.

The author flying the Vantage to fourth in Round 14. (photo: Paul Fram)

As it turns out, the fourth pilot up in Round 15, Mark Treble, made great use of some abnormally good air to put in a storming 38.78. This trashed almost everyone else in the round making the fifteenth round most peoples’ second discard anyway! In fact just about the only change of position as a result of the final round was Mark leapfrogging me into sixth — grrr!

So there you have it, after nearly 500 competitive flights, Peter won, Mark was second and Joel was third, all three flying Freestylers. The full results are below in Resources.

Peter Gunning guided his Freestyler 6 to victory.


The standard of flying was high. Any good air was sure to be pounced upon and exploited. The range of styles was interesting and in general those pilots that were able to adapt faired better. I specifically mentioned ‘in general’ as you needed enough rounds of decent air to work with otherwise no amount of adapting would make a difference!

Left to right. Joel West, third. Peter Gunning, first. Mark Redsell, second. Huge thanks to MKS once again for their generous sponsorship.

Peter flew a tight course and had that knack of not looking spectacular but being blisteringly quick — very Jenson Button like for any F1 fans out there. Mark in second was always thinking, adapting, trying things and flys a very tight course. And Joel in third is always just damn fast!

It has to be said that the German and Austrian competitors flew with incredible precision but suffered from a scarcity of good air and from their preferred EM style just not clicking on the slopes in the prevailing conditions.


It’s never particularly wise to draw absolute conclusions about planes, not least as the margins are fine, personal styles and air can impact and very few people will spend enough time with a range of top planes to be able to make well informed, first hand comparisons.

There were five Freestylers in the top 10, including places 1, 2, 3 and 4! The rest of the top 10 was comprised of three Pitbulls, a Mamba and a Vantage.

Does that mean the Freestyler is the best? Of course not! Does it mean they are not the best? Of course not!

What I think is clear is that over the last 10 years or so design and construction has improved to the point where there are at least a handful of designs I wouldn’t hestitate to compete with and that has to be a good thing.

Interestingly, as we strive for more and more optimised performance I wonder if the days of a design for all conditions might be numbered and some might go for different airframes for different conditions. I’d have baulked at that years ago but I’m coming around to the possibility that the benefits may outweigh the downsides. I could, of course, be wrong.

And on that bombshell…TTFN.

©2021 Kevin Newton


  • Lots more photos and other F3F-related material

All photos and videos by the otherwise unless othewise noted. Read the next article in this issue, return to the previous article in this issue or go to the table of contents. A PDF version of this article, or the entire issue, is available upon request.