1. Aerodynamic appreciation. You don’t have to become an aerodynamicist, but it helps if you can appreciate some of the basic principles of flight and how they affect your model’s performance. Do you know why aircraft stall? What about the difference between ground speed and air speed, and why differing wing sections work the way they do? Having a good general appreciation of what can affect an aeroplane’s flying characteristics is something that most aeromodellers develop over time, yet any extra you can do to enhance your aerodynamic awareness is all to the good.
2. Test flying and trimming. Don’t leave it to others. Test flying and trimming your own models will increase the enjoyment and satisfaction you get from the hobby and improve your flying. Work at building those evaluation skills and never be immediately satisfied with just a few clicks of trim when acquainting yourself with a new model. Does the model hold a vertical line well? Does it climb significantly under full power? Don’t accept that the model does what it does. Instead, be prepared to slowly tweak and trim the machine over several flights until you’ve fully explored and developed its ultimate potential.
3. Engine tuning. Modern glow engines are more reliable than ever but that doesn’t mean there aren’t skills to be learned that will enable you to become a self-sufficient operator. Take time to thoroughly run-in your engines, adjust the slow running setting and experiment to find the best prop for the engine and its intended use. Get to know what’s in the fuel and how different mixes will affect running and performance. Also, learn when to stop fiddling and know when a good engine is working at its best.
4. Radio programming. You’ll be hard pushed to find a non-computer radio from the mainstream manufacturers these days so, like it or not, button pushing is practically a necessity. Rest assured, however, what seems complicated at first will quickly become second nature, so get stuck in. Modern radios offer countless functions many of which you’ll soon find difficult to live without. Re-visit the manual from time to time and experiment with a new function for you may be very pleasantly surprised. Have you tried some exponential? What about setting up a useful timer? Familiarity with a computer radio really can enhance your flying experience.
5. Soldering. Even if you’re a die-hard i.c. flyer, sooner or later you find yourself in a position where an electrical or mechanical joint needs soldering. It may be just a case of transplanting your favourite electrical connectors for those fitted at the factory or, if you’ve started to build from kits or plans, you could be facing a bound undercarriage that requires a soldered joint. Whatever the situation, an inexpensive 40 - 50 watt iron will serve all your general needs. Moreover, a little practice and appreciation of the simple skills required will boost your confidence and ability to tackle any job that comes along.
6. Battery care. After pilot error, more models are lost through battery and switch failure than any other cause. So, good care routines should be at the heart of your flying preparation. You don’t have to be an electrician but a simple appreciation of the difference between current and capacity will stand you in good stead. If your budget will allow, try to step up from a plug-in wall charger by using a multi-purpose unit with an LCD display. Rather than just leaving a battery on charge until the unit is switched off, these sophisticated bits of kit will monitor what’s happening and cease charging when the pack is full. In this way there’s no risk of damaging cells through over-cooking them. The LCD readout will remove the guesswork and allow you to appreciate just how many milliamps are being put back into packs and whether they’re holding voltage. This is very useful information.
7. Pre- and post-flight checks. An aircraft is a machine, all machines must be checked and maintained to some degree and our models are no exception. Inspecting an airframe before a flying session is essential. You may do it countless times and find nothing, but eventually you’re guaranteed to find a cracked control horn, a loose hinge, a split fuel tube or a dodgy mounting, any of which could cause a crash. Remember, too, that how you care for and transport your models will have a bearing here. Chucking them in the back of the car after each session only to haul them back out and fly again is asking for trouble. In some ways i.c. flyers have the advantage here in that they must (should!) clean fuel residue from their models which, of course, presents inspection opportunities. Electric flyers, however, must make time for such. Whatever you fly though, make sure you do it.
8. Balsa bashing. While not beseeching you to build your own models (although you really ought to, you know), basic traditional building skills can help us all, even if we fly mainly ARTF models. For starters you’ll find that repairs are easier to perform when you have some appreciation of the structures, materials and tolerances, while new parts will be easier to fabricate. Second, you’ll know how to strengthen ARTF designs where structural weakness is perceived. Finally, you’ll know when and which glues to use and, not least, how best to cover the repair.
9. Aerobatics. Ever wanted to fly a nice warbird? All well and good but are your flying skills up to the task? Can you react quickly enough when your new P-51 pulls sharply to the left just as it leaves the ground, or raises its nose abruptly when flaps are deployed? Aerobatics is the answer. Learning to fly a fast aerobat will allow you to develop an accurate feel for speed, distance and height, while honing your instinctive reaction times. The whole process of flying consistently good aerobatics (and landings) depends on judgement skills that’ll ensure the scale model you’ve always wanted to fly will be well within your abilities. Fly a (reasonably) fast aerobat and you can fly just about anything. Hey! You’ll enjoy it, too.
10. That 6th sense. Or, aircraft sympathy, to put it another way. Things sometimes happen that cause a model to seem, somehow, uncomfortable in the air and not quite right. It could be a sick engine, a loose control surface, an intermittent servo malfunction, a loose exhaust, a failing battery or something you’re not quite able to put your finger on. Good pilots know when something is wrong with their model. Detecting the subtle changes that these faults generate is an acquired skill yet a vital one that all flyers must develop over time. Remember that practice increases confidence, which is key to your success. Nerves are generally a result of inadequate practice and can be potentially damaging. Good flyers are rarely born that way, they just fly a lot.
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