I.C. or electric? Big model or small? David Ashby steers the tyro R/C pilot through some key choices
Welcome to this, the second of a five part series aimed at steering the newcomer along a fuss free path into the fascinating world of flying R/C model aircraft. Last month we covered the basic questions, this time we’ll get into a bit more detail and look at some purchasing decisions. What you buy and fly can depend on a number of factors:
A stable, slow and forgiving model is without doubt the very best platform with which to start. Other models will seem more aesthetically attractive, but making the correct choice will save you time and expense in the long run, so don’t let your heart rule your head. Too many shops let beginners walk out with Spitfires and Messerschmitts when they should be selling trainers. Pilots of full-size aircraft never start with a fighter, and neither should you. Finding a local club and an instructor will help in making a choice here, as once you’ve seen what sort of trainers are flown at your local patch you’ll have a better idea of what to start with.
BIGGER IS BETTER
There’s an old model flying adage that says, ‘the bigger they are, the better they fly’. This is valid for many reasons, not least because a larger model is less likely to be affected by the wind (and wind is a factor with which you’ll soon become very much acquainted). A small model weighing perhaps 1 - 2 lb may seem less intimidating to a newcomer but such models will remain firmly on the ground in all but the mildest of breezes. On the other hand, a heavier 4 - 6 lb (1.8 - 2.7kg) trainer can happily take to the air in quite windy conditions. There was a time when larger trainers were the preserve of i.c. power, although new designs and inexpensive electric power systems now mean that a standard-size (50 - 60” span) high-wing trainer can be either i.c. or electric powered, with little cost differential.
I.C. OR ELECTRIC?
One of the seemingly endless themes in model flying circles is the i.c. vs electric debate (i.c. = internal combustion). In truth, there are no winners or losers here, indeed both types have a place and offer advantages over the other. As a beginner, the choice of power source may be dictated by your circumstances and whether you can join a club or hook up with an instructor. If this avenue is open to you then you’ll probably do best by selecting a larger high-wing trainer in either i.c. or electric configuration. If you’re teaching yourself then a smaller model, preferably electric powered, is best. Not least so the model can fly from smaller spaces.
Nearly all clubs have experienced flyers allocated to teach newcomers. These instructors come in all shapes and sizes and it’s important to remember that they’ll be balancing teaching demands against a desire to fly their own models. The approach adopted by instructors can vary - from simply trimming your model and handing over the transmitter whilst throwing in some helpful commentary, through to following a modular training scheme using a buddy system (more on this in a minute). Speaking generally, you’ll find that the bigger clubs have more facilities, including club models that’ll help you gain familiarity and knowledge before you decide what to buy.
FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH
Beginners at modelflying.co.uk share their thoughts:
I’m still a beginner, although my pointers for anyone just staring out would be:
1. Join a club, go to its field and speak to one of the trainers / examiners to discuss which model to buy. Don’t spend any money until you’ve done this.
2. Seek advice about a suitable model - I use a Tutor 40. Radio choice is very important if using a buddy system; all the instructors at our club use Futaba.
3. Purchase a very cheap simulator, as this gives plenty of stick time. I got very frustrated trying to arrange flights with my instructor due to his other commitments, so I went to the Paul Heckles School for some lessons. This was great, as the tuition was excellent. I flew Paul’s models and flew all day long. It was well worth the money.
4.Meeting fellow flyers is invaluable for advice on equipment etc. You’ll need some knowledge of how a model is built as there’s going to be plenty of repairs / rebuilds needed - Russ
After floating an Aerobird (electric trainer) around in the wind (the lack of power makes it really difficult to tell who’s in charge of the model) and crashing a Parkzone FW190 a few times, I joined a club and also started using a simulator. I think we all realise that a simulator is very different to flying the real thing, but it’s very good at teaching you to fly with the model in different attitudes, and you can practice anytime you want. I had problems with nerves to start with. I’m relatively nerve-free now, but this did seriously compound my problems when learning to fly. The difference between learning to fly at a club with a tutor and teaching yourself with a park flyer is one of space. Our club flying site is significantly larger than any park I managed to find. In a park I found that I was forcing myself to fly within the boundaries of the grounds. This led to more pressure, more mistakes and more crashes. At the club site I have what feels like an infinite amount of room, which means less nerves, less panic and better flying - Michael
I’ve only recently been in a position that allows me to learn to fly. When it came to the crunch I decided that it would be a good idea to learn with an almost ready to fly (ARTF) model rather than risk hours of work. As such, I put my radio gear into a new Boomerang trainer (a model recommended by my local club) and picked up a good second-hand Irvine .53 engine. On a very foggy day a few months ago my instructor did the final safety checks, test flew it and trimmed it out for me.
The following week, with not a cloud in the sky, I was ready for my first go. I was nervous, of course, but the buddy link system gave me that piece of mind so I could concentrate on what I was doing and what I was being instructed to do. Learning to fly isn’t easy and requires you to use a whole lot of senses all at once - something I wasn’t used to! I can confidently say that I would have crashed several times by now had it not been for the buddy system.
I’ve had about seven flights now, and my instructor reckons I’m doing just fine. I’ve done the odd ‘touch and go’ already, and he thinks it won’t be very long before I’ll be on my own. I’d spent many hours looking into exactly what field equipment I needed and it was nice to not have to beg and borrow on my first day at the club.
I have to say that the best decision I made was to go to a club. Yes, it does take a week or two to become a familiar face, and people are naturally cautious, so don’t be put off if nobody rushes over with a cup of tea on the first week. Everybody learns at different speeds and I know I’ll crash someday just like everybody else, but by going down the club / trainer route, the enjoyable times will hopefully far outweigh the ‘picking up the bits’ moments?
If someone were to ask me what the hardest part has been so far it would be pulling the throttle back to idle on my final approach and having the confidence to bring the model in first time from what always seems like miles away - Paul
One of the greatest aids to flight tuition, the ‘buddy’ system, is simply a cable link between the instructor’s transmitter (Tx) and the pupil’s Tx. All modern transmitters have the facility, although only transmitters of the same brand can be hooked together, i.e. it’s impossible to hook up a Futaba Tx to a JR Tx. The benefits of the buddy system are enormous and will allow the instructor to regain instantaneous control of the model when you experience difficulties (and you will - we all do when learning). If your instructor doesn’t use a buddy system then, if at all possible, find an instructor that does. Interconnecting ‘buddy leads’ cost about £10 and if your instructor doesn’t own one, as a pupil, you’ll need to foot the bill.
What if I’m learning on my own? As we established last month, teaching yourself to fly isn’t beyond the realms of possibility, but it’ll be harder and probably more expensive. If you’re determined to follow this route, electric models are more suitable for a number of reasons:
A large number of electric models have appeared over the last few years, indeed the choice of trainer types can be mind-boggling (check out my suggestions above).
It’s very important to think about where you’re going to fly from. Be aware that any model, even a slow park fly type, has the potential to cause damage to people or property and should be flown well away from both. The term park fly is a misnomer, as in practice I’ve found that very few beginners R/C models are viable in any public park unless the site is at least 3 - 4 football pitches in size and the model slow and forgiving.
What do I need? Apart from the i.c. or electric question you must also consider whether to go for a three-channel or a four-channel model:
There’s no hard and fast rule here, but mastering a four-channel model at the outset means you can swiftly progress to an aileron-equipped low-wing trainer; something you may not find quite as easy when moving up from a three-channel model. If you’re going for a four-channel i.c.-powered trainer, your basic shopping list should look something like this:
On the other hand the shopping list for a comparable electric trainer will look something like this:
What if I don’t like engines of any sort? Many beginners find the prospect of an i.c. or electric-powered aeroplane a little intimidating or complicated and prefer to start with a glider. Truth is, there’s nothing wrong with this approach - R/C flying is R/C flying, after all. Flying gliders can be an art form in itself, demanding skill levels equal to (and sometimes in excess of) those required by powered models. Unless you intend to fly from a slope you’ll need to consider how to launch the model, so the same caveat may apply in respect of finding a club.
It’s important to remember that, once you’ve mastered a powered, high-wing, four-channel trainer, you’ll be able to fly a three-channel trainer or a basic glider without too much difficulty. However, the same doesn’t apply in reverse. It all comes down to what you’d like to do in the long run. See yourself flying a Spitfire one day? In order to do this you’ll need to learn throttle management and, in this respect, a glider will place you that much further from your dream than a powered four-channel trainer.
Incidentally, I specifically mentioned the Spitfire for if there’s one aeroplane that draws newcomers to the hobby, it’s R. J. Mitchell’s famous fighter. Mention flying a Spitfire to your instructor or other experienced flyers during your training and you’ll probably receive a knowing smile or a playful rebuke!
Alas, too many beginners still walk out of model shops with Spitfires in all shapes and sizes, most of which last precious few seconds in the air. Take it from me, the Spitfire is not a beginner’s aeroplane. Never has been, never will be. It can be fast, tricky to handle on the ground and tricky to land. There’s nothing wrong in dreaming about flying a Spitfire, and it’s an admirable goal to work towards, but in order to fulfil that dream you’ll need to take a measured, planned, long term view. Anyone can fly a Spitfire with patience and by adopting the right approach.
Spend enough, and buy the very best you can afford. A lot of beginners select a fairly lowly four-channel set of radio gear. Trouble is, this is of little use for second and third models that may require additional functions, so make sure you get a six-channel set as a minimum. Likewise, buy an engine that’ll suit your second model - perhaps a .46 two-stroke instead of a .40. The more you spend in the beginning, the less hassle and expense you’ll have in the long run - Andy Ellison, BMFA Chief Examiner.
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