Competition Aerobatics Overview

In aerobatic competitions, every competitor flies a series of flights that are graded by a team of judges. The judges grade each individual figure flown, as well as how well the sequence is positioned within the aerobatic box. The figures are graded on such factors as:

> Precision of the lines and angles,
> Roundness of full and partial loops,
> Symmetry of figures, and
> Other factors as spelled out in the IAC “Official Contest Rules.” (You will be taken to International Aerobatic Club, IAC website. We follow the US system)

Matt Costello starting up his Pitts S1S

Each judge has a copy of the figures the pilot will fly. On these sheets the figures are graphically represented by symbols – a system devised by Jose L. Aresti of Spain. In addition to the graphical symbol, each figure is assigned a difficulty coefficient or “K factor” based on the difficulty involved in performing the figure. The judges, in turn, grade the figure starting at a score of 10, and then deduct from there based on perceived errors they observe (please refer to the rule book for more specifics). The K factor and grade are multiplied to derive the points for that figure. A computer scoring program then adjusts the totals to account for bias or inconsistency.

Chapter Contests

Within Canada, there are multiple competitions that run throughout the year. Within Ontario, there’s only one and it’s hosted by us. In the US, the International Aerobatic Club sanctions approximately 35 aerobatic contests annually that are hosted by various IAC Chapters. A complete Calendar of Events is available. Canadians are allowed to attend and compete at these, and it’s highly encouraged!


Known Compulsory. This is a set of figures published prior to the contest season. Every pilot flies the same set of figures.


Known Compulsory and Free Program. Sportsman pilots fly the Known compulsory three times, but are permitted to compose a Free Program of his/her own design for the latter two flights, subject to certain restrictions.


Known Compulsory, Unknown and Free Programs.

Intermediate pilots not only fly a more complex Known compulsory, they also must fly an Unknown compulsory that is distributed by IAC Headquarters to the competitors only a few hours before the flight and that cannot be practiced. The Unknown is a test of the pilot’s ability to fly a sequence that he/she has not flown before. Intermediate pilots also compose a Free Program of his/her own design, subject to certain restrictions.


Known Compulsory, Unknown and Free Programs.

Advanced pilots fly even more complex Known, Unknown and Free programs.


Known Compulsory, Unknown, Free and 4-Minute Freestyle Programs.

The Unlimited pilot flies the most complex and difficult sets of figures of all competition pilots. He/she also must fly an extremely high-performance aircraft capable of flying the figures which are required. The 4-Minute Freestyle program is often very exciting and entertaining for the audience and demonstrates both the technical difficulty level the pilot has attained, plus artistic performance.

The Competitors

There are five competition categories for powered aircraft – Primary, Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced and Unlimited, and four categories for glider aircraft – Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced and Unlimited. Each competition category flies a different set of sequences with varying degrees of difficulty.

What are the Requirements to Compete in an Aerobatic Contest?

You must be a member of Chapter 3 and Aerobatics Canada in order to compete. You must be a licensed pilot, or if you’re a student pilot, you must fly with a safety pilot and someone that is familiar with the aircraft type you want to compete in. Must also have a current medical and all dues must be paid in full.

The Buddy System

All first time competitors will have an experienced aerobatic pilot assigned to you for guidance and advice during a contest.

The Judges

The flying is judged by IAC approved judges. There are specific judging criteria for each figure. All allowed figures are specified in the IAC Contest Rule Book. Each figure is assigned a difficulty factor. The final score is then calculated from the score that the judges give for each figure (in the range of 10 – 0, working backwards), multiplied by the difficulty factor. The total score for a sequence is the sum of the scores for each figure.

To become qualified to judge an aerobatic contest, an individual must attend an approved IAC Judges School held at varying locations throughout the year, complete an IAC Judges Home Study course, and be an assistant to a grading judge in no less than 40 flights within an 18-month time period. To remain current a judge must pass a Recertification and Currency exam annually and have judged at least 30 flights during the previous year.

The Contest Volunteers

There are plenty of opportunities for non-competitors and non-pilots to be involved at aerobatic contests. In fact, the volunteer is the heart of IAC competitions. It takes several volunteers to run a contest. In addition to a Contest Director, there is an Assistant Director, a Contest Jury, a Chief Judge, an Assistant Chief Judge, Judges, Assistant Judges, Recorders, Boundary Judges, Deadline Judges, a Safety Director, Medical Director, Volunteer Coordinator, Technical Director, Registrar, Scorers, Starters, Runners, Box Panel Flippers, Social Coordinators, and Merchandise Coordinators.