Martin Stonestreet pens our whirlybird list...
1. Make an informed purchase. The vast choice of model helicopters that are available can seem overwhelming. Before you buy, think about where you will fly and for how long, what spares availability is like, your level of competence and what the reviews say. If you’re new to the hobby, arguably the best way to start is to get yourself a suitable transmitter and a PC based flight simulator. With this you can learn the hovering basics whilst considering your purchase. Often the sim’ physics are represented so well that flight characteristics will be very close to those of the actual model, making this a genuinely useful aid to the learning process.
2. Build your own helicopter. Read the manual and take your time during construction, paying extra attention to the instructions. Orientate components in your hand so they match any 3D views to ensure things are fitted the right way round. Pay very close attention to what you’re doing and ensure that ball joints and linkages are fitted correctly, particularly at the rotor head. Care should also be taken to ensure that belt-driven tails are tensioned correctly and drive the right way. If in doubt seek advice from someone who knows or ask questions on RCM&E’s very helpful forum at www.modelflying.co.uk.
3. Be safe at all times. It should go without saying, but given the potential for nasty accidents when operating what could be considered a remotely controlled hedge cutter, it’s something not to forget. With i.c. powered machines, care should be taken whilst starting the model, ensuring one hand firmly holds the main blade grip at all times. This also applies when carrying your helicopter to the strip. It sounds simple enough but there are still experienced fliers who don’t do this. Poor quality starting equipment can make things more difficult at the patch. For example, push-on glow start batteries that don’t remain attached without a helping hand may be okay for R/C car enthusiasts but if the hand you use to hold them is the one that should be gripping the rotor head, the faulty glow start could contribute to a serious accident for the heli’ flyer.
4. Never turn your back on your model while it’s switched on (electric helicopter) or running. Once you’ve set the machine down ready for take-off, keep an eye on it over your shoulder as you walk back to the pilot area. Make sure the model doesn’t take off on its own while you walk, by carrying the transmitter in your left hand (for mode 2 pilots) with your thumb placed across the throttle gimble to ensure it remains in the minimum position. Alternatively, restrain the throttle hold switch so the engine is held at idle speed or your electric motor remains inactive.
5. Pre-flight checks must be carried out. Experienced fliers may feel they don’t need to make a meal of it, however don’t get blasé or forget. Turn the model on in the correct sequence, wait for the gyro to set, then wiggle the sticks. There’s a fair chance that even this could give you a clue if there’s a problem. Look at the blades or run your fingers over the leading and trailing edges as you unfold them. Don’t fly if there’s a problem or if you’re concerned about the integrity of the model. The disappointment can sometimes be overwhelming but don’t let this lead to you making the wrong choice.
6. Transportation. Great care should be taken when transporting the model. If you throw it in the back of an empty estate car with only a spare car battery and a Yorkshire Terrier for company then you just know that something is likely to get broken. It’s worth taking time while loading the car to make sure the model cannot move and that nothing can chew it or fall against it on the way to the field. Smaller 450-size electric models can often be positioned on the parcel shelf and held in place using spare Velcro straps through the skids.
7. Simulator time is a must for many pilots but how do you best use them? The answer may seem obvious but you can find yourself flying a multitude of models, usually starting off rotary and ending in fixed-wing jets after just a few minutes. Part of the problem is that we treat simulator time as some kind of game when in reality, self-discipline is required. One way to enforce the aforementioned discipline is to add a financial penalty to the mix. Try putting a pound in your childrens’ money box every time you crash, just to generate that element of realism!
8. Don’t take repair short cuts. Whilst there are some you can get away with, most you can’t. Sure, a broken skid pipe can probably be repaired with a bit of similar size aluminium tube and epoxy. But much else and you really need to think about the consequences of a ‘make do and mend’ mind-set. Servos need to be thoroughly tested after gears have been stripped and replaced. Modern CCPM systems mean the failure of the aileron (roll) servo, for example, doesn’t just mean you’ll loose control in the roll axis, it will also result in loss of elevator and collective pitch - very nasty!
9. Regular maintenance. On most helicopters there are few components that aren’t critical to flight, and like any mechanical device, maintenance will be required after a period of operation. It’s a good idea to plan for this, perhaps allowing time during the winter months for an overhaul. You may perform regular inspections on nitro machines as part of the cleaning process but this is often overlooked on electric models as they don’t get so dirty. This doesn’t mean that parts don’t get worn however. Ball links, gears and bearings will all suffer wear eventually and it’s best to consider replacing these before a catastrophic failure occurs.
10. Have fun. Remember why you’re doing this. Unlike many other disciplines, almost all R/C helicopter pilots wish they could do more than they actually can. Whether preparing for competition, training for your BMFA ‘A’ or ‘B’ test, or just flying for the hell of it, make sure you can perform a new manoeuvre on the simulator with more than a reasonable chance of success before trying it for real. That way you’ll be well prepared for anything that may go wrong. Overextending your capabilities can often lead to the inevitable crash, however with a bit of planning and preparation the risks will be minimised and the rewards immense. Do this at a rate that suits you and enjoy your flying time!
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