Welcome to the beginners area and indeed welcome to model flying.
Please note that this article is in the process of being updated.
Just below are the links to our free training checklists, below that you'll find a guide to getting started in model flying.
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The number of model fliers in the UK could be estimated at anything between 35-45,000, perhaps more. Sounds a lot, but it could be argued this isn't very many when you consider the sheer range of flying options available, and the many benefits our hobby has to offer. Maybe the reason lies in the fact that many people want to fly R/C model aircraft, but never fulfil their ambition.
It's easy to get a little frustrated when you start out, for this is a hobby where uncertainty and a lack of direction can easily add obstacles. All of which neatly leads me into saying, if youre thinking of flying radio control aeroplanes, then welcome to this beginners section which is aimed at guiding you through your first tentative steps: what to buy, how to put it together when you get home, and how to start flying.
WHAT'S THE POINT?
Why do we fly R/C model aircraft? Ask ten fliers, and youll get ten different answers. The appeal often varies a little according to the types of model flown, although some will admit to enjoying the social side of things just a much as the flying itself.
R/C flying and modelling demands and develops a variety of skills, from building, engineering, painting and finishing through to the flying skills. Look along the flightline at any club and youll see a variety of people, all getting different pleasures from the hobby.
Take, for example, a sport flier putting his Extra 300 aerobatic model through its paces; he may be practising some new manoeuvres, during which the sheer determination to get it right, coupled with his concentration and the spectacle of a model weightlessly gyrating high above, provides a real adrenaline rush. His aircraft will doubtless be hurtling around the sky, and he wouldnt have it any other way. This modeller quite likes building, but for him, workshop time is a means to an end.
Next to him on the flightline, another flyer might be putting a graceful and beautiful glider through its paces. He finds soaring far more relaxing than powered aircraft, and he knows that while gliders are easy to fly, they're not easy to fly well, so he enjoys challenging the elements and tries to coax every bit of lift from that passing thermal, with the bonus of considerbly extended flights.
Then again a scale modeller may derive pleasure from building and flying a model so that it reproduces the characteristics of the full size original. Flying a scale warbird is still the ultimate goal for many.
Then, there are those who just turn up at the field with a model, spend the whole morning chatting with friends, and sometimes go away without having flown at all! In short, model flying has something to offer every age group, all brought together through a common interest in aviation. Okay, let's take a step-by-step approach to getting started.
Well assume you've decided to get involved, and need to make the first move. Whatever you do, don't spend any money yet! Research and observation is the name of the game to start with.
Begin by picking up the telephone and calling the British Model Flying Association on 0116 2440028; if you tell them where you live, they'll give you the whereabouts of your nearest model flying club, along with telephone and contact details (alternatively, visit www.BMFA.org and view the list of member clubs and contacts). You'll probably be given the secretary's number, and it is he or she who will know whether there are vacancies in the club. Ask if you can attend a regular flying session, go along on the day in question (don't be put off by the weather - you'll be surprised how bad it gets before the flying stops), introduce yourself again, and get chatting.
Talk to the club members, and don't be afraid to tap their knowledge. Find out exactly what they do to make an aeroplane fly - what engines do they use? What radio gear do they like? Does their wife or love-bunny mind very much if they stand in a field every Sunday morning? That sort of thing.
I know it's hard, but hang on to that cash for just a little longer. Keep visiting the flying site, keep talking to the members, and make sure you read as much as you can, then a little more. Books and magazines (RCM&E for instance!) articles are the best source along with internet sites like this one. Even if you dont understand everything initially, keep reading, and youll start to pick up the threads, while developing a knowledge base from which you can make informed decisions about your initial purchases.
By regularly visiting a club, you'll start to lay the foundations of your flight training. As youll quickly appreciate, model flying is a social sport, and one in which helping others and being a valued part of the club scene is just as important as the flying itself. Please don't assume that you have a legal right to be trained by the club instructors; be nice to them, and they'll almost certainly oblige.
Also, be helpful to other fliers. Show interest and enthusiasm, and the club will ensure that someone takes you under their wing, and starts your flying induction. The vast majority of clubs offer free training by the way. By joining an affiliated club, you'll automatically become a member of the BMFA, allowing you to benefit from the automatic insurance cover thats required before your aeroplane soars into the wide blue yonder.
At one time there was just one route you could take towards getting your wings but now there are two routes into R/C flight. The first is the traditional route - an i.c. or electric powered, high wing, approx 60 span, training aircraft employing the services of a club instructor.
The second route has opened up in just the last few years, the self-taught approach. A host of off-the-shelf ready-to-fly models now make instant flight a reality and many flyers are now self-taught by flying these types in a local park or other large space perhaps before joining a local club. Whilst teaching yourself will inevitably result in more thrills and spills (particularly spills) there's nothing wrong with this although some flying insurance cover via BMFA membership is advisable before you start.
RCM&E's suggested route is via a local club although we appreciate that time, family commitments, your budget and indeed your location will have a bearing on the decision.
Okay, the time for that credit card bashing is fast approaching, so make sure you know how much you are about to spend. The good news is, there has never been a better time to enter the hobby. R/C products have never been so cheap, and the quality and choice has never been higher. For now, I would advise a budget of no more than £300 - £400 to meet the cost of a model, radio gear, engine and sundry equipment. In practise, you probably wont need to spend this much, and just £250 will get you airborne via the i.c. or electric route, perhaps just £50-70 through a ready-to-fly park-fly model. Well have a closer look at what to buy a little further on. Start to look at the magazine adverts to gauge costs, gather tips from club members, and make a list of what to buy.
One important point though - it's easy to go too cheap and small. Buy a model that can cope in a breeze with good servos that can be used in other models down the line. Likewise the R/C gear. It's why models such as E-flite's Apprentice with it's bundled Spektrum DX5 Tx are so popular - the DX5 can be usd with many other Bind'n'FLY (BNF) models from E-flite and sister brands Hobbyzone and Parkzone.
Stay away from that scale Spitfire or fast aerobatic model; aircraft such as this are expensive to buy, and for a beginner, extremely difficult to fly - you'll will destroy the model before having to start all over again. Warbirds are a big pull but, realistically, they'll be a year or more down the line for the average beginner.
If you buy a fast, unsuitable model, then it's unlikely your new clubmates will take you seriously, and you'll find instructors unwilling to teach you. If, despite all this, you do manage to get anything other than a trainer in the air, then the skills required will slow down the learning process considerably. Even full-size aircraft pilots learn on a trainer, so please buy nothing other than a basic high-wing model thats designed for the job.
Incidentally, 'high wing' doesn't mean the model is a trainer so forget Piper Cubs, Cessnas, Maules and other scale types. They're not designed to be R/C trainers and won't be so easy to fly. Cubs for instance are notorious for their adverse yaw effect which simply stated means that when you apply left aileron the model will try to turn right!
Youl'l notice that models can be powered either by internal combustion (i.c.) engines or electric motors. Electric powered aircraft have seen more improvements than any other branch of the hobby in recent years so that now they offer a viable alternative to internal combustion (two or four-stroke) engines. For beginners they're my preferred solution offering clean reliability at a time when engine tuning skills are still being honed.
With this in mind, your shopping list should be:
Don't forget that if you're following the i.c. route youll need engine starting equipment: A gallon of fuel, rechargeable glow stick and charger, glow plugs for your engine, a 12V electric engine starter, battery and charger, spare propeller, a flight box to carry it all around in and a manual fuel pump.
Electric powered models require less field equipment although you will need a battery charger along with one or two spare battery packs.
In both cases some basic tools too will come in handy too.
There are many excellent mail-order model shops that advertise on this site and in RCM&E, but you may prefer to visit your nearest outlet to see for yourself what's on offer. This latter route will allow the shop staff to answer any questions you may have, whilst providing your local with the business they need to ensure they are still there when you next need them. Right then, lets take a closer look at the individual items on our list.
Choice here is simply huge. It seems that producing a trainer is something of a virility test for all red-blooded distributors and manufacturers, so the difficulty will come in choosing which model to have. First question you should ask yourself is, do I want to build my own model from a kit or a plan? Or, do I want to take the ready-built route?
Undoubtedly, building your own model is ultimately more satisfying than assembling an Almost Ready to Fly (ARTF) kit, but ARTFs have their uses and youll certainly be in the air far quicker with this type. ARTF models allow fliers to build on the kitchen table, with little mess or dust being generated. They have the added bonus that most engineering problems have been sorted by the designers; you simply open the box, and with the aid of some simple instructions, a few basic tools and some glue, youll be able to construct your first model in just a few hours.
From a cost perspective, ARTFs have dropped in price dramatically in the last eighteen months. Good models from Seagull, Black Horse, Kyosho, ARC (to name a few) are available for £60 - 70, and at that price youll be hard pushed to build your own model, or purchase a traditional kit, for less. In fact, these days, youll be hard pushed to find a traditional kit at all, since they're being squeezed off the shelves by the ready-built alternatives. There are some around, thanks to distributors such as J. Perkins and Flair, but not all shops have them so be prepared to order. For the purposes of this article, well assume an ARTF trainer has been chosen, for that is by far the most popular route at present.
I've always taken a very simplistic approach when it comes to i.c. engines, and this philosophy has rarely let me down. Even after some 20 years of flying, I assume I know little or nothing about them (which is an accurate assessment), and get an experienced club-mate to help me set them up, whereupon I leave well alone. I don't fiddle or adjust them, other than to make small tweaks to the needle valve, and generally speaking they run very nicely. That said, I avoid budget motors, and have always paid a little extra to buy a good name such as Enya, O.S. or Irvine - though it has to be said, in recent years the SC range has served well.
It's important not to over-power your trainer, so please make sure you buy the recommended engine for the model youve selected. If it says '40 two-stroke' on the box, then fit a .40 two-stroke.
Electric motors require little knowledge as far as general flying use is concerned although an understanding as to how they operate and are matched to the other components in the electric power train will prove useful. Electric systems are comprised of the motor, an electronic speed controller (ESC) and the battery, the propeller is also of more significance on an electric model and must be included when we speak of the power train. Electric flight systems can be bought as a complete package or the components individually. In the early stages or if knowledge is incomplete, it's best to buy the system recommended for the model.
There is a fair chance that you will end up choosing a radio set which echos that of your club tutor. I say this because the recommended way to learn these days is by using a dual control method called the buddy system, here, your transmitter will be connected by cable to your tutor's set, and must be compatible. In this way, your instructor can take control in a split second when you get into trouble. (By the way, you WILL get into trouble, because we all do when learning to fly!).
The buddy lead that connects student Tx (transmitter) to tutor will cost around £10, and may well be an expense that youll have to stand if your mentor doesnt possess such an item. As I say, either way the R/C gear you buy must be from the same manufacturer as your instructors, so when you start visiting your new club, make a note of the most popular systems in use. In practise, this is likely to come down to Spektrum or Futaba.
Transmitters come in all sorts of shapes and styles, with a varying number of switches; most have LCD displays. Cosmetic appeal does influence the purchasing decision, as recent offerings demonstrate. Most radios are now computer sets. Computer sets have an LCD screen and provide a host of useful functions which most flers wouldn't be without.
As you progress in the hobby, you may want to move up to a Tx with some extra features, but your starter set will always be good to have in reserve, and should remain perfectly adequate for your needs early on. Buy a set with six channels (not four), so that it will still be useful in years to come and even you find youself flying more complex models.
Model shops are a gadget freak's paradise, and there will always be a few more bits and pieces thatll tempt you into making a purchase. At this early stage, I've listed the i.c. apparatus that will help you transfer fuel into your model, and enable you to start the engine. It's best to keep things simple, although my suggestions above are the bare minimum.
Some retailers will sell you an i.c. package containing a flight box, electric starter, power panel and fuel pump - and there's nothing wrong with this if your budget will allow. Always keep a few tools in your flight box, including small spanners, screwdrivers, Allen keys etc.; at first, you can always borrow what you havent brought to the flying site, and then make a note to go and buy the item for future use.
For obvious reasons, make sure you keep model fuel and Li-Po batteries in a garage or shed, and not in your house.
Having made your initial purchases, youll probably be staring at a large and colourful box containing the parts that will make your first plane. Okay, here we go then. Lets take a gentle stroll through the construction of that all-important first ARTF (almost ready to fly) trainer.
One final point before we get going. The new British Model Flying Association (BMFA) handbook has some good advice regarding ARTF models, and whilst some of their points are repeated here, make sure you read a copy.
GET IT TOGETHER
Right, let's lift the lid. The almost ready to fly model youre looking at has travelled far, having (in all likelihood) been made in China, Vietnam or somewhere in that part of the world. I'll assume that you checked the contents of the box in the shop, and that no damage has been sustained. In addition, well assume you checked that the build quality of the model is good, and that the structures are sound, built straight, and free from warps.
Here's a step-by-step approach of what to do, and how to do it:
Do make sure everything is in the box; most instruction manuals carry a parts list, so spend a few minutes ticking the parts off. Incidentally, your trainer may look a little brightly coloured, but this is for a good reason - it helps you see it when its in the sky. Anyway, more on this when we get flying.
I know this sounds a little obvious, but I was caught out recently when I didnt read a manual properly. Happily scanning the text without really paying attention, I thought I knew what I was doing, but in truth I wasnt taking any of it in, and nearly made a very expensive mistake. So, read and re-read the manual until you know the parts and various construction stages intimately.
The instruction manual supplied with your kit may list the tools you need, in which case, take note and make sure youre suitably equipped for the job. Years ago, I serviced my own car and frankly, it was almost impossible until I got some suitable tools - then it became easy. R/C modelling is no different; basic, inexpensive tools can make the world of difference. A good set of starting tools will comprise: modelling knife; screwdriver; drill (hand or electric); metal ruler; sandpaper (various grades); long-nose pliers / wire cutters; scissors. As you progress in the hobby and get more adventurous with your building, youll doubtless find that you can never have enough good tools - but for now, these will do fine.
Stage 4 - get the right glue:
Generally, modellers will use adhesives that can be separated into three main categories: cyanoacrylates (super glues), white wood glues (such as PVA), and two-part epoxy products, such as Araldite. In practice, it's unlikely youll need white glue for an ARTF trainer. However, with other categories of adhesive, there are various examples which you may wish to consider at a later date. For example, having a broad selection of cyanos with differing adhesion speeds can be very useful, as can cyano activator, which gives a truly instant bond when sprayed on setting joints.
Stage 5 - make a cuppa:
Yes, really! Dont rush. Many kits these days boast a short construction time, and your trainer packaging will probably promise a finished model in 10 - 12 hours or less. This is all very well, but it's not a race, so make sure you take your time and do a good job. We all want to fly a model we can be proud of, and even ARTFs can be spoilt by sloppy building. To this end, allow yourself two weeks of unhurried evening work, and the results will be better for it.
Finish one stage before moving on to the next, and always allow glues time to set. Check and re-check what youre doing before fitting a part, cutting away covering, or drilling holes in the structure, and always perform a dry-run with components to ensure you have a good fit before attacking with the glue.
Finally, before you start assembly, it's a good idea to cover your workbench with a towel or cloth, so as to protect wooden parts from hangar rash - they'll collect more nicks and dents at home than in the air, believe me!
Stresses and strains imposed by flight on a model aircraft wing are easily underestimated. Owing to its size, an ARTF wing will usually come packed in two halves, which means that an obvious weak spot is the join in-between. To overcome this, the area in question is strengthened with a plywood brace, i.e. a slightly 'V' shaped piece of wood which slots into a hole in each wing half. Said brace is hidden inside the wing, and can't be seen when the halves are joined.
Although an essential structural requirement, you probably won't be surprised to learn that the brace has been omitted by builders in the past, resulting in a wing collapse and expensive second trip to the model shop. Such negligence puts people and property, unfortunate enough to be under the model, in danger as it plunges earthwards.
Make sure the brace is the right way up, and that you apply plenty of epoxy to all surfaces before mating the parts. Excess glue can be cleared away with a kitchen towel dipped in white spirit and, to tidy things up, youll doubtless find that the joint line can be covered with a small piece of matching trim (usually supplied with the kit).
Ailerons, elevator and rudder may require a little work, although some trainers now boast pre-fitted control surfaces with pinned hinges, so you may not need to do anything at all. If some work is required, it will basically entail gluing the hinges in place and fitting the ailerons. Take your time here, follow the instructions carefully, and aim for secure, free-moving surfaces with a good amount of deflection. Whatever hinge system is used, try to avoid gaps between the wing and the control surface; likewise, don't fit them so close that movement is impeded.
It is likely the instruction manual will recommend gluing the hinges with cyano, in which case you'll need to make sure they are secure by tugging on each one after they have been fitted in place. Some fliers opt for belt and braces by pinning the hinges with cocktail sticks or something similar; here, the pin is driven vertically through the wing from upper to lower surface, passing through the hinge, which effectively locks it in position. Excess material is cut off flush with the surface, and hidden using a circle of matching covering film. If you are fortunate enough to have a model with pre-fitted moving surfaces, then make sure they are secure - take nothing for granted.
Whilst we're discussing the wing, do check to see that your kit includes rubber bands, which secure it to the fuselage? If not, youll need to pop along to your model shop for some that are 10mm wide. Don't just buy two - you'll need at least four, possibly more, to fix the wing securely and prevent it from moving in flight.
Many trainers are designed with a steerable nose-wheel assembly, a facility that has its benefits but remains a weak spot, and can often lead to lost flying time or even damage. The heavy landings that are usually imposed on a trainer by a new pilot eventually lead to the steerable nose-leg working loose within its actuating arm - an annoying failure that can only be suitably rectified in the workshop. Trust me, attempted take-offs with a wayward nose-wheel are interesting for all the wrong reasons!
For newcomers, the very best advice is to fit a fixed nose wheel / leg at the construction stage. It will only cost a few pounds, and youll remove a weak spot that lets beginners down time after time. Keep the steerable leg for future use when smooth landings have been mastered.
While were on the subject, make sure all wheels are securely fitted. Your tutor wont appreciate having to attempt a two-wheeled landing, and again, damage can be easily sustained on arrival. The collets that retain your models wheels slide along the undercarriage wire, and are retained by a small grub screw; unfortunately, engine vibration can work these screws loose, so it pays to apply a little liquid threadlock (£2-3 a tube) when fitting them.
Pushrods or flexible snakes will be supplied in the kit, to connect fuselage mounted servos to elevator and rudder. Whilst these are often pre-fitted and require little adjustment, do check that they are secure and show no sign of slop. To do this, connect everything up to the servo, and see how easy it is to move the elevator - does the pushrod or snake flex and bend inside the fuselage? Well, it shouldnt, so if youre unhappy, get a clubmate to check it out.
All manufacturers instructions will direct you to cut away covering film when gluing the tail feathers in place, so as to get good balsa-to-balsa joins. This advice should not be overlooked, as one piece of covering film stuck to another is simply not secure. Make sure you cut away as much film as possible, but please be very gentle with your scalpel to ensure you dont cut and weaken the structure of the component.
Control horns require very careful fitting, and you may even find that you need to allow a good hour or two for the job. A small mini-drill is invaluable here, and so is a bit of care when tightening the screws / bolts, so as not to accidentally weaken the balsa underneath.
Most instruction manuals will tell you to fit the control surfaces and then install the control horns. Whilst I wouldnt want to contradict this, I do personally find it easier to fit the horns before the surfaces. There is a danger here though, i.e. alignment; its easy to put the horn in the wrong place, so if you feel uneasy about this, then stick to the manufacturers recommendation.
RADIO AND ENGINE
An old flying sage once told me that you should allow as much time to install your engine/motor and radio gear as you have actually building the model itself. Whilst you wont have actually made your ARTF trainer, this is a good guide, and an indication as to the importance of taking your time and getting the installation right.
Model engine fuel is pretty obnoxious stuff, and will do a model precious little good if not cleaned off after every flying session. As such, the exposed woodwork of your engines bay should already be fuel proofed with polyurethane varnish or something similar. Check that a good job has been done here, and if necessary give the area another coat. If you are able to get your brush into the tank bay, then give the wood there a coat as well because leaky fuel tanks can pose a hidden danger, and may only be discovered after a structural failure brought on by weakened, fuel-soaked wood.
In order to guard against the latter, test your fuel tank for pressure leaks before its fitted. It will probably be a two or three tube bottle-type tank with a rubber bung at the neck, secured with a bolt through the middle. Assemble the tank, and attach long-ish pieces of fuel tube to each inlet pipe; immerse the system in water whilst holding the tubes above the surface, then seal two so that no air can escape. Finally, blow hard through the remaining tube - if bubbles appear from around the bung, then tighten the retaining screw. Do this until you are happy that you have a leak-free tank.
Check that the tank is positioned as recommended. The centreline will need to be at the same level as the carburettor, and once again, the instructions supplied with your engine will give guidance. You can pack foam around your fuel tank if necessary to achieve the correct position, although many models take away the thinking for you by having a suitably shaped aperture for the tank in the front fuselage former.
After giving the on-board NiCad a good charge, its sensible to connect your receiver and servos before fitting them in the model, to make sure they operate correctly. In truth, we could dedicate a whole article to the topic of installing R/C gear; but, this doesnt mean the task is difficult, only that there are many variations and alternatives, depending on the type of model you have.
Bear in mind that the radio gear you install will be subjected to constant vibration, plus a variety of negative and positive G forces. So, everything needs to be secure, and must function smoothly. Make sure your receiver and battery are fitted so they cant move around in flight, and use little pieces of foam packing (available from model shops) to hide wires and connections. Your receiver is the brain of the model, so treat it with care, and pack it carefully to minimise damage. Ensure servo arms dont interfere with anything and, finally, dont forget to unravel that receiver aerial so that it can exit the fuselage at the earliest opportunity.
This aside, the best advice for now is to follow the instruction manual that comes with your model. Remember: your trainer will be checked by a clubmate prior to flight, so any little problems can be addressed then.
The final checks outlined in your instruction manual are very important, so take time to make sure the model balances at the correct point, and that the control surface movements are what they should be. Re-check the elevator, rudder and ailerons, and gently pull the surfaces to ensure those hinges are secure.
Attach the wings, switch the radio on and move the sticks around to confirm that everything works, that the servos move smoothly, and that they travel in the right direction. Also worthy of attention is your flight box, fuel system, and starting equipment - check it all to minimise wasted time at the flying field. Lets pause for breath here. I realise Ive covered a lot in a small space, but
The first thing you should consider doing is spending more money. Okay, I know what youre thinking: not MORE expense, but before you decide theres no choice other than to sell your grandmother, let me just add that Im talking about £2 here. Get yourself a copy of the BMFAs Up and Away, written by John Long FSMAE - its just about the best little book for beginners (and instructors) thats ever been written, especially from a flying perspective.
Pre-flight checks are vital before loading your car. First of all, have a good look at the structure, and make sure its sound. Is the elevator and rudder secure? Check the moving surfaces to satisfy yourself theyll give sufficient movement, whilst being securely attached to the wing and tail. Make sure your radio gear is operating correctly, and that all control surfaces move in the right direction. Give your NiCad batteries or electric flight packs a good charge, and check that you remembered to unfold your receiver aerial. Did you buy some fuel? Will it all go in your car? Have you packed a flask of tea and something to eat? Finally, dont forget to wrap up warm and take a clean hanky.
Your instructor will be pleased to see your new model, but dont be upset if he removes the wing and gives it a very thorough examination. This is not a reflection of your building skills, but something that he does with all new models. He has a responsibility to ensure that your model is airworthy, because for a little while, both you and your model will be under his care.
Ill assume that by now, you are familiar with your clubs frequency control system because it is likely that a range check will be next on the agenda. For this, make sure your frequency is clear, then allow the instructor to switch on the transmitter (Tx) and receiver (Rx), start the engine and, with the aerial down, ensure your model responds to control inputs from a range of 50 metres or so.
Now its time to connect up the buddy system, for which youll need that connecting cord I mentioned in the first article. By linking both the instructor and pupils transmitters, a safe flying system is put into place which effectively allows dual control. It operates by way of a switch on the transmitter; your instructor holds the switch down to let you fly the model, and releases it to instantly regain control. Only the instructors transmitter needs to be switched on for this system to operate, and the pupils aerial can stay down. Finally, double check that the models control surfaces are moving in the right direction for both transmitters.
Once airborne, the first flight will primarily allow your instructor to trim-out the plane, and generally make sure that both engine and model are operating in a satisfactory manner.
He may allow you to have some flight time, and chances are youll have a big smile on your face when the model lands. This is what the hobby is all about, and everyone remembers the thrill of seeing their first model fly.
THE MAIN THING
With the model trimmed, the job of learning to fly begins in earnest. Youll have noticed that your aircraft moves through the sky pretty quickly (especially down-wind), and that her size and silhouette are constantly changing. This brings us to the first rule of flying: NEVER EVER TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE MODEL. Never look at your transmitter, never look at your instructor, never look at your feet, never look at other fliers. Just keep your eyes fixed on the model.
At times, and totally unexpectedly, the aeroplane will become a dark indistinguishable silhouette in the sky, sometimes momentarily, often for longer spells.
Lets assume you are flying happily, and have just taken your eyes off the aircraft to glance at your instructor as he says something. You look back at your model and suddenly realise you can no longer make out its colour, shape or trajectory. Is it flying towards you, or away from you? If you had kept your eyes on it, youd know, but now you dont! Sensibly, you ask your instructor to take control while you work it out.
Its a salutary lesson because if youre constantly aware of its heading and conscious of the control inputs youre feeding in, all will be well. However, take your eyes away for just a few seconds and you might get a nasty surprise. A model can travel a long way, and change shape, in just a few seconds.
From this, it follows that you must be able to operate your transmitter eyes off, i.e. looking only at the model. Make sure you know what the sticks and switches do, and that you can find each one without looking at them. How you hold the sticks is a matter of personal preference; the general consensus is that holding them between thumb and forefinger is more precise and preferable to just thumb only. It has been observed that in general, top pilots use this method, but do what feels comfortable for you.
Many fliers like to use a neck-strap, which supports the Tx and allows them greater precision in their control inputs. Personally Ive never got on with a neck strap, but do borrow one and see what you think.
In general, control inputs should be gentle and progressive. Flying R/C trainer models rarely involves moving the sticks to their far corners of travel, so dont yank on them! Be relaxed, be calm and just apply slight movement. If the plane fails to respond in the way you intended, then apply a little more until it does.
At the field, you may hear fliers talk about getting a feel for a model, and in time youll see what they mean. You will gradually understand and appreciate your models flying characteristics, and know just how much stick travel is needed to make it do what you require. Remember: the whole trick is to make the model do precisely what YOU want it to, rather than reacting to what the model is doing. All this takes practice, but once youve mastered putting your plane in the piece of sky that YOU want it to be in, then youll find the rest comes relatively easy.
Lets not get ahead of ourselves here. For the moment, you are about to be given control of the model on your first flight. Your heart will be beating a little faster, but try to be calm - make sure the throttle is no more than a 1/3 - 1/2 open, as this will ensure that things happen fairly slowly. For your first few flights, you will just need to think about using the right-hand stick (Mode 2, remember!), and flying the plane on aileron / elevator. Keep your fingers on the left stick, and increase / decrease throttle only when the instructor tells you to do so.
All aeroplanes exhibit a certain characteristic which is vital to appreciate. Lets say your instructor tells you to make a right turn; you gently move the stick to the right, and the model dutifully banks over and starts to move as planned. Many aircraft, once turning, start to dig in, whereupon the nose may drop and shell bank tighter and tighter. Unchecked, the model could enter a spiral dive, so its important to realise that you will need to control the tightness of the turn once the aircraft has embarked on the manoeuvre. You do this by moving the stick in the opposite direction, i.e. to the left. The plane will still be turning right, but by holding the stick slightly to the left, you will be controlling the size of the turning circle.
One more thing to bring into this equation is the elevator (up and down on the right-hand stick). Pilots of full-size aircraft call this the houses lever - push the stick forward and the houses get bigger, pull it back and they get smaller. So, when the model is flying straight and level, the elevator will make it go up and down. Push forward slightly on the stick, and youll see the plane head earthwards; pull back, and the model will climb. Thats pretty straightforward, but when the model is banking, those same controls have a different effect.
Lets assume you are part way through a 15º right-hand turn, and the model is not pulling round quite tight enough. Now, its heading too far away from you. By pulling back on the elevator stick slightly, youll find that the turning circle will reduce, as the model pulls in towards the centre of the turn (it may also climb a little). So, when the model is level, the elevator will make it go up and down, but when its banking, elevator will help it turn.
To summarise, you can see that a good turn involves ailerons and elevator both being controlled and evaluated at the same time, to ensure the model is doing what you want it to. You are aiming to achieve smooth turns where height is neither gained nor lost, and once you have mastered this, you are well on the way to really controlling your aeroplane.
Some people grasp this technique in a few minutes, while others need weeks. Dont worry how long it takes, but do keep practising - Ill return to this thread a little later.
GET WITH THE PROGRAMME
John Longs book is divided into flying sections or briefings, which cover all the main flying skill areas. This is sensible, because it has been shown that a structured approach to flight tuition allows the student to learn much quicker (See Andy Ellisons flight training log available to download at the end of this article)
Before each flight, your instructor should brief you as to what he wants you to achieve, and how you should do it. Once in the air, hell show you what to do and then hand control over, to see how you manage. He will regain control if you get into difficulties, return the model to normal flight, and then let you have another go.
With a full tank of fuel or fully charger battery you should get some 10+ minutes air time for each flight. Three to four flights per session should be enough for you to progress your skills a little further - keeping a written summary of each is a good idea too, as it will allow you to record your thoughts, whilst providing a visual record of your progress. If poor weather means that no flying takes place for a few weeks, then youll find your notes provide a useful reminder of what you did during the last lesson.
With the passage of time youll find that, as always in life, some things are easier to master than others. Often, it can seem as if youre making no progress at all, and this is perfectly natural. I remember my flight training; there were a few weeks in succession when I got home and wondered what I had learned that day. In retrospect, I realise I was still learning, but making so many mistakes that I really couldnt appreciate my progress.
Theres a danger at this stage. You may be two or three months into your flight training programme, and feel that your learning curve has levelled out. Its all too easy to keep doing the simple stuff and not push yourself to achieve the harder bits - you may even convince yourself that you cant land or take-off, and you might deliberately avoid certain manoeuvres, such as figure-of-eights. So, whats the best advice? Well, dont allow it to happen! For example, if you feel uncomfortable flying a particular turn (left, right, whatever), ask your instructor to practice it with you.
In short, dont become reliant on the chap standing next to you. Hopefully, if hes good at what he does, he wont let you stagnate. Ultimately, you must be able to get yourself out of difficulties without his help, so dont keep asking him to regain control of the model; this is not fair on you, and its certainly not fair on him. If he sees youre in trouble, believe me, hell take over! Quickly get to the stage where all the instructor does is take-off and land. Eventually, hell show you this too, and then youll almost be there.
How long will it take to learn? A good guide is about two to three months, if the tuition is weekly, and regular. Some pilots learn a little faster than this especially if theyve had simulator training, while others may take longer. Whats important is that you regularly attend the flying field. In the UK, we dont enjoy sunny weather all year, and you will need to learn how to fly in good and bad conditions, so dont just turn up on the fair days; do that, and youll find your last lesson was two months ago. Youll be surprised how bad the weather has to be for flying to stop.
Patience and perseverance will be key to everything you do. Model flying isnt difficult, but there are lessons to be learned, and there will be times when you feel you are progressing slowly, and times when youre learning fast. Three months down the line youll suddenly notice that your model - that nice shiny trainer, which you flew so nervously on its first flight - is no longer gleaming and new, and is starting to look a bit battered. This is normal. Your model has been designed to take the knocks your training will inflict, but you must be ready to make repairs as and when required to keep her airworthy.
Inspect the model before and after every flying session, to ensure no damage has been sustained, and that connections and linkages are working properly. Make sure the engine, silencer and all servos are secure, and always replace damaged wing bands.
If bad weather does ground you, then why not invest in a radio control flight simulator? Although they wont teach you to fly per se, they can be invaluable in maintaining and improving your skills, and you wont have to repair the models you break. When you return to your real model, youll find that you can pick up where you left off two or three weeks ago.
There will come a day when you fly solo for the first time. This is a great day; youll have a fantastic sense of having really achieved something (which you will have), so in advance, Ill say well done! At this stage, please resist the urge to retire your trainer. In truth, youve only just started to learn, and your model can still teach you a thing or two. Practise and hone your skills until normal flight becomes second nature. Then, why not try some basic aerobatics? You may need your instructors help again here, but by now youll know that good altitude means safety, so do everything with height to spare and youll be fine.
It is always a good idea to have a second aircraft under construction in case of bad luck. On rare occasions, a model will have a hard arrival, hit a tree, stall, or maybe even suffer mechanical failure and crash. Causes can vary, but pilot error is usually to blame. If you are unfortunate enough to see your model die, then please dont blame your instructor; he does his best, and will probably feel as bad about it as you. One thing is certain: if you fly model aircraft, then at some point, sooner or later, you WILL write one off. We all do, and to be honest, its just another part of the learning process. And with this hobby you never, ever stop learning - thats why the vast majority of modellers never tire of flying.
Thats about it. Although Ill readily concede that this article is not exhaustive, I do hope it has been of use to you. I wish you many happy hours at the controls of your aircraft in the years ahead, and remember: always keep your eyes on your model!
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