That wasn't an accident. In the year 2001, I estimate that Nathan and I shot over 60,000 autos. Most of them for a dollar each. I think I came out ahead that year by maybe $300, but since then, we've pretty much broken even. Nathan is just as competitive as I am.
One Saturday in the summer of 2001, we met up in Houston and went to a school yard. It was over 100 degrees that day. We painted our 5 inch square in the grass and proceeded to burn 4 full gallons of fuel, doing nothing but autos. We had quite a few tanks where neither of us missed a single time. I think one of us came out about $4 up that day...I don't remember which of us it was.
The moral of the story is this:
Shooting a couple autos every tank isn't going to get you in the winner's circle. You have to dedicate some practice time, specifically to shooting autos.
I like to carry a can of Orange paint with me so I can always have a good target. You could use a paper plate or something similar, but be sure it's nailed down. Try to pick a fairly smooth area. If you can, practice on grass, concrete and asphalt. All of them require different techniques, and you never know what surface the person running the contest is going to paint your target on.
You can make a template out of a piece of cardboard. A 5 inch square is just about perfect to start with. After you paint the square, put a coin exactly in the center. Believe it or not, eventually, the coin, not the square, will be the target.
This is very important, but not mandatory. You will learn faster and have more fun with a friend. You can make up games, or shoot autos for dollars like Nathan and I did. Or, you could shoot autos for dimes. The important thing is to have some reason to make every attempt important. The nice thing about doing this with a friend is that you'll be used to competition and you won't fall apart in a real contest.
Be ready for whatever they are. I go to a lot of funflys and I never miss an auto contest. It seems like, no matter where you go, there's someone who wants to change the rules. The thing to remember is that you all play by the same rules and it doesn't really matter what they are.
Some of the guys want to measure from where the model first touches the ground. How would you judge that? We're talking fractions of an inch between winning and losing...impossible.
Some guys say you can't move the model after it touches the ground. Again, how are you going to judge that? If you want to stifle "ground handling" the event director can require skid stops to be installed. I don't recommend this because it will cause some unnecessary wreckage.
Some guys want to measure to the mainshaft. That would take forever and it's not very accurate because, again, fractions of an inch are important.
Here's a set of rules that work:
An alternate method that has been quite popular recently is the "Flemming Rules". We use an auto disc and paint a 12" circle around it. Anyone can enter, but to qualify for the finals, you have to shoot 3 out of 5 autos so that the nose of the helicopter ends up inside the outer edge of the painted circle. Once the qualification round is over, qualifiers shoot 3-5 autos for score. Whether you do 3 or 5 depends on how many people qualified and how hot it is out there. The score is as follows: outside the painted circle gets 1 point. Gravity will ensure everyone gets at least 3 points. Over the circle but outside the disc gets 3 points and over the disc gets 5 points. The judge must stand EXACTLY over the nose of the model to determine the score. If the blades need to be stopped, the pilot must stop them and the score is determined after the blades stop. No monkey business is allowed. If after all is said and done, there is a tie for first place, the finalists shoot 3 autos and each one is measured. The low total wins. These rules make for a fast and fun contest.
I encourage everyone to get good at autos.