A good few years ago now, as the groundswell of the ARTF craze swept across my flying club (Tyldesley MFC), we had 36 novice fliers listed on our books out of a total membership of 76. This novice influx came thick and fast, and it was a job for our limited resource of instructors to keep pace with them as they slowly progressed through their training. The sheer numbers that we had to deal with became overwhelming and some trainees were impeded due to a lack of continuity from one instructor to the next. In addition, some individuals were 'running before they could walk', reaching certain stages of their training well in advance of other stages. For example, they might well be able to take off, but not have the basic knowledge of what to do when they'd actually got the model up there!
In an effort to alleviate these issues I collated a full training package for our pilots aimed at teaching novices how to fly their models safely and give them a basic understanding of their equipment and its limitations. This scheme was designed to take them through the fixed-wing BMFA 'A' certificate and, for the purposes of our club, slightly beyond to a specific club flying test. I also produced further notes aimed at the unsung heroes doing the teaching. This 'instructors guide' proved so popular that the British Model Flying Association's own Achievement Scheme Review committee adopted it for national use, making the document freely available for any of their affiliated clubs.
As time has progressed we at the TMFC have made various changes to our training package as trends dictate, and a further re-worked version appeared in serial form in RCM&E 2007-2008. If you're a novice pilot, club instructor or club official, there'll be interest within. If you feel it's something worth implementing at your own club then feel free to take it up; the plan is to present a training syllabus plus documentation and guidance notes that can be used as a benchmark for clubs to amend and / or tailor to suit their own requirements.
A key part of this programme is also to guide the instructor through the pitfalls often associated with teaching people to fly R/C model aircraft. Making these notes available to the trainee also breaks down the barriers between what's taught and how it's taught, for the benefit of both. The training is broken down into simple key stages with exercises that are proven to achieve results. Mind you, that's not to say that there's no room for improvement, and as you work with the scheme you'll doubtless develop your own methods around the base ideas. We'll begin the journey with a full overview of the programme...
The training scheme consists a series of 13 progressive stages, at the end of which a pilot should be able to undertake the A certificate as if it were just another casual flight at the patch.
Progression through each stage is monitored on the Flight Training Record (downloadable at the end of this article) which should be kept in the care of the trainee. A further document, the Flight Log Book (also downloadable, see below), is to be completed by the trainee's instructor at the end of every session. These two documents assist other instructors in assessing the ability of a trainee and serve as a guideline for both pupil and instructor alike, allowing them to chart progress whilst at the same time highlighting areas of excellence and areas where more work is required. The grading structure for the scheme is as follows:
A: Does not require supervision; student is very proficient in performing this manoeuvre.
B: Needs very little supervision; student is usually proficient in performing the manoeuvre.
C: Additional practice needed; student is sometimes successful but inconsistent in performing the manoeuvre.
D: Training required; student cannot perform the manoeuvre.
As you read through the log books you may at first consider that it's unnecessary to be taught the simple aerobatic manoeuvres included. These, however, are there to allow a pilot to get the maximum enjoyment from his flying, but also to enable him to revert back to what he's learnt throughout his training to safely avoid an emergency situation, should one arise. This could happen of course when there's no longer an instructor by his side to advise him of the action to be taken.
Throughout the training the novice should also be shown many other aspects of the hobby, such as basic pit safety, engine care and various ground training exercises (progress again being recorded on the personal Flight Training Record and signed off accordingly).
Note that with the exception of stages 1 and 2, which are progressive, an individual should not have a stage signed off by the instructor or move on to the 'A' certificate until they are repeatedly getting grade B marks in the relevant items on the Flight Log Book.
Simple aerobatics may be taught throughout the training course at any stage deemed suitable by the instructor. For example, the inclusion of loops and rolls whilst practising circuit flying can only serve to alleviate boredom and give the novice a greater sense of achievement. It's not unusual for a pilot progressing to stage 9 to be fully proficient in most of the basic aerobatic manoeuvres. Stage 11 is included as a consolidation exercise for the manoeuvres learned up to this point.
You should also be aware that whilst some steps of this syllabus may be completed in one flight, this doesn't set a precedent for the others. The time a trainee spends at a particular training stage is, of course, dependent on many factors: ability, type of model, attendance, weather conditions, instructor availability etc. Any trainee unhappy with their rate of progression through the programme is encouraged to take the matter up with their instructor.
Instructors should also take account of regression if it becomes apparent that, due to an absence from flying, the trainee can't perform a flight stage for which they've previously been signed off. In this instance it's quite permissible to impose a regression on the trainee, but for fairness you might like to agree this between yourselves or in conjunction with another instructor.
Ok, so now you know what we're aiming for, let's have a look at each of the 13 stages...
Stage 1 - Pit safety
The instructor will demonstrate the principles of frequency control, model set up, engine starting, layout of the pit area, airworthiness check and also introduce the trainee to local safety rules and the BMFA's national safety codes. He will also allow the trainee time to read chapters 5 and 6 from the BMFA's approved 'Up and Away' training manual (available from the BMFA's head office).
Stage 2 - Introduction to flight
The trainee will be introduced to the basic principles of flight. The instructor will demonstrate the basic components of a turn, straight and level flight, cruising speed, the effects of increased / decreased power, the functions of the basic controls and the extents of the available airspace. The trainee will learn the correct way to hold the transmitter and be introduced to the concept of proportional control.
Stage 3 - Trimming, basic circuits and figure 8s
The instructor will introduce the trainee to the concept of trimming the aircraft for straight and level flight and performing basic circuits, left and right. The trainee will learn the principles of the effect of wind on a model and demonstrate the correct use of the throttle. The trainee will also learn the correct method of flying figure 8 circuits and judge how to vary the angle of bank, dependent on the wind strength and direction, to hit certain key points within the circuit as previously defined by the instructor.
Stage 4 - Circuit transition
The trainee will learn varying methods of transition from one direction of flown circuit to another, learning to alternate between circuits at the first opportunity without height gain or height loss and whilst maintaining a predictable flight path.
Stage 5 - Climb, dive and stall
The trainee will learn the principles of height gain and height loss through the correct use of the throttle and elevator. By the end of the exercise the trainee will be able to double the height and halve the height in the same circuit. He will also learn the principles of slow speed flying near to and including the stall, learning to recognise an incipient stall and to effect the correct recovery from a fully stalled situation. The purpose of this exercise is to prepare the trainee for take-off and landing.
Stage 6 - Taxiing
The purpose here is to learn the basics of the first stages of take-off, from taxi up to flight transition. Utilising the throttle and rudder controls to effect a steady, straight taxi run, the trainee will develop the necessary ground handling skills to progress to the next stage.
Stage 7 - Take-off, climb-out and manoeuvre
The trainee will learn the skills required to transit the model from taxi to airborne and into the standard circuit, and positioning for a further manoeuvre. He will also acquire the knowledge of actions to be taken in emergency situations and the best means of recovery from them.
Stage 8 - Landing approaches and overshoots
The trainee will utilise the skills he has learned up to this point by performing accurate and co-ordinated landing approaches from various directions and situations. These will be aborted on the instructor's command and a full-power overshoot effected to return to a safe altitude within the circuit.
Stage 9 - Landings
A natural progression from Stage 8. Landings are usually performed from a perfect landing approach when conducting overshoot practice. This will then progress to practiced landing approaches from various directions, both powered and dead-stick.
Stage 10 - Solo flight
The trainee will perform a consolidation exercise of everything learned to date in their first solo flight. They will remain under the indirect supervision of their instructor, who will be watching nearby. This stage is a major milestone for any pilot, and model flying is no exception.
Stage 11 - Basic aerobatic consolidation
The trainee will consolidate and refine the basic aerobatics learned up to this point. These will typically be loops, rolls, Immelman turns, reversals and the stall.
Stage 12 - Advanced aerobatics
The trainee will be introduced to the concept of advanced aerobatic manoeuvres. These will include the spin and its recovery, stall turn, inverted flight, bunt, and consecutive manoeuvres. Not all aircraft can perform these manoeuvres, and this will dictate the actual content of the stage.
Stage 13 - BMFA 'A' certificate
In this final stage the candidate will be tested by an examiner to the standards set out in the nationally approved training scheme of the British Model Flying Association.
That wraps up the outline of the scheme, and there's enough information here to begin its implementation if you'd like to give it a try. This training scheme has seen many novices progress through it over the years, please feel free to tailor it to suit your needs as you see fit, but always keep focussed on the end goal: proper R/C model flight training, achieved safely. Next time we'll start to build the novice's pack with basic information of how flight is achieved plus a glossary of terms that are often overlooked in communications with new fliers.
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