I recently took up the hobby of flying radio controlled aircraft. It’s a lot of fun, but I would have gotten off to a better start if I had understood a few things before my first trip to the flying field. Here are five tips that every aspiring R/C pilot needs to know.
1. Choose the right airplane
I’m not a voice of experience here. The only airplane I’ve ever owned is the Cox Sky Ranger. But as far as I can tell, the two things you’re looking for in a beginner airplane are: Easy to fly, and durable. The Cox Sky Ranger is fairly good at both of these. It is very easy to fly, but it doesn’t glide well. You have to give it a little throttle when you come in for a landing. On the durability side, the “flex-foam” construction is almost impossible to break on a crash. The safe-prop system also makes breaking a prop very unlikely. However, if you crash it hard nose-first, you’ll bend the motor shaft. If it’s a minor bend, it may still be able to fly, albeit with less power. If it’s bent badly, you’ll probably have to get a new motor, which isn’t necessarily all that expensive but still a disappointment when it happens. I love my Sky Ranger, but if I had it to do over, I’d buy the Cox Sky Cruiser, which does glide (according to the reviews I’ve watched), and has a push prop above the fuselage where it is almost impossible to break in a crash.
2. Find a suitable flying area
Now that I know how to fly my Cox Sky Ranger, I can easily fly by Cox Sky Ranger in an area the size of a softball field. However, when you’re learning how to fly, a larger area is better. I’d also recommend you find a place with grass as opposed to a hard surface. Obviously, if you’re taking off from the ground as opposed to hand-launching, you’ll need a smooth hard surface to take off from; but grass is a lot more forgiving when you crash.
3. Choose the right day
The first time I flew, I made the mistake of thinking a slight breeze wouldn’t make a difference. You can fly in a slight breeze once you gain experience, but when you’re starting, choose a day when there’s no detectable breeze. If you know where there’s a flag flown on a high flag pole, take a look at that. If the flag is moving, choose another day.
4. Understand the controls
When I flew for the first time, I didn’t understand how the controls worked. From my experience when video games when I was younger, I thought that I simply held the stick to the right or left to start a turn and kept it in the position until the turn was complete. After a few crashes and a little research, I realized that I was doing it wrong. A short nudge of the stick to the right or left was all that was necessary to bank the plan and start the turn. Then the stick is centered again. If the plane starts to level off before it has completed the turn another nudge will put it back into a bank. Once the turn is complete, a brief nudge in the opposite direction may be necessary to straiten the plane out.
Of course, before any of this works correctly, you need to trim the controls so the plane flies straight when you release the controls. Read the manual, and watch some instructional videos before you take to the skies.
5. Label your plane
If you’re like most R/C pilots, sooner or later you will lose an aircraft. Put your name and phone number on the plane somewhere so you have a chance to get it back if that happens.
For me, learning to fly meant 8 or 10 crashes and a bent motor shaft before my first successful flight. If you follow these tips, you have a good chance of doing a lot better.