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Rare birds to fill Shelby County air

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An international glider competition lands in Shelby County for third year.

By Todd Martin

About 85 pilots will fill up the airspace over Moody Pike this weekend with aeronautical feats as high as 200 feet in the air and plummeting toward the ground before pulling up just feet over the grass.

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Of course, these pilots will be grounded for the entire third annual The Bruce F3K competition of discus launch gliders.

The competition is the largest in the world, and the brainchild of Bruce Davidson, who lives on Moody Pike at the site of the contest.

Davidson, who owns Sandy's Pet Shop in Louisville, moved to Shelby County in 2003 with the idea of having room to fly his hand-launched planes.

"I've been doing this and competing in it since the ‘70s," he said. "Moving to Shelby County was part of the plan so we could have a field big enough to fly in."

This is discus launch gliders (DLG), radio controlled model sailplanes that are launched into the air with a twirling, discus-like throw. The planes themselves are no more than 1.5 meters long and weigh as little a 9 to 10 ounces.

"The hobby attracts aeronautical engineers," Davidson said. "You have to read wind directions and analyze the microenvironment around you. If you visualize the air like a fluid, and how it rolls through the area around you, once you get a plane in it you can really see how it moves."

Pilots use RC controls to control the aileron, rudder and elevator, which keep the plane in flight and can cause it to go higher, turn, dive, spin and do anything that airplanes can do.

The goal is to keep the planes in flight for certain tasks.

"It may be five 2-minute flights in a 10-minute window," Davidson said. "Or maybe do each of a one, two, three and four minute flight in the window."

The planes get as high as 200 feet and soar faster than 70 mile per hour, moving constantly to take advantage of the thermal currents of air, which allow the planes to sustain flight, and what Davidson named his Thermal Farm after.

With 21 acres, Davidson had plenty of room and has cleared a 100-yard-by-100-yard area for the competition.

"About 15 guys fly at a time, and you get judged out of your group," he said. "There will be 10 rounds, and then the top 10 will go into a fly off."

The event will start with practice on Friday, competition on Saturday and the finals on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The event, Davidson said, is really a DLG community event.

"This is coming right on the heels of the world championship (in July) in Sweden, and the entire podium will be there. The winner was from New Zealand, second was from Arizona and third from the UK and lives in London."

Davidson said there is no cost for spectators but warns there is very little space for parking.

"Moody Pike is a very small road, and if 20 cars, show we'll be in a pinch," he said.

A big part of that is because many of the 85 competitors and their families and crew will camp at the Davidson's farm. The contestants will come in from 26 different states and five different countries.

"I think about one-third of the group will camp and there's a few RVs coming," he said. "A lot of people enjoy the after hours activities, and it's really jut a lot of fun. But on Saturday, the competitors will be pretty focused."

There are awards for first, second and third in the preliminary rounds that are modeled after Davidson's donkeys, and a standing trophy for the team champs.

Several sponsors will also have awards for middle of the pack and bottom of the score sheet pilots.

Davidson has even attracted sponsors from all over the country, ranging from Frankfort to Atlanta and California.

"It's just kind of grown," he said. "After that first year [in 2009 with just 49 competitors], we figured we better come with a name for this thing, and the community responded with 'Just call it The Bruce,' so I did," Davidson said.