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Want to Become a Pilot?

On occasion, I will take aspiring RC pilots under my wing and pass along the skills I have learned in flying radio controlled aircraft.

If you are just learning to fly, take a look at these helpful tips and instructions from the Rocket City Radio Controllers of Huntsville, Alabama.

Learning to Fly

These are the steps I take in teaching others to fly radio controlled airplanes. There is no way to approximate the amount of time or the number of lessons a person will take before they are able to solo. When a person "solos", it means that they are able to take the airplane off, fly it and land it successfully without help of an instructor. When a person solos, it is an exciting but VERY nervous time and it does not mean that person is an accomplised pilot. Soloing is just one of the beginning step in a pilot's progression in the sport of flying radio controlled airplanes.

Buddy Cords and Flight Simulators

Buddy cords were designed to make training new RC pilots easier and less risky. I have never trained anyone with a buddy cord and I have had high success rates training without them. Buddy cords are not foolproof. All new students must realize that there are inherent risks involved in flying RC aircraft. The fact that anyone can crash, makes the sport even more exciting and challenging. The hardest thing to master in flying an RC aircraft is landing. Takeoff is a far off second. In each case a buddy cord is not much use since the airplane is so low to the ground. If the student gets into trouble, there just simply is not enough time for the instructor to release his training button and correct the aircraft. The method I use to train new students is a tried and true method that has taught literally thousands of RC students to fly.

RC flight simulators have been around for a decade or longer now. As computer systems get more powerful, RC flight simulators will increase in reality. I was introduced to RealFlight's G2 simulator at the end of 2004 and I was amazed at how real the flight physics were. Even though there will always be a bit of difference between a simulator and real world experience, I cannot recommend highly enough the importance of a new RC student either having access to or owning a simulator. The costs for a new RC simulator may seem high but it will save the beginner enough money in crashed airplanes to pay for it. Even experienced RC pilots will gain from the ability to practice risky aerobatic maneuvers without the chance of damaging his plane!

Help Me Help You!

One of the reasons that I do not charge to train people to fly is that I am usually already going to be at the flying field when they meet me there. The Utah Modelport is approximately twenty miles from my house. My pickup gets about 14 miles per gallon, at it's best, so it is very costly for me to drive back and forth to the field. If I had to make special trips to train people, I would certainly have to charge.

When I am at the field, I enjoy flying my airplanes as much as I enjoy training. If I have to wait around for a student to get their plane ready to fly, it cuts into my flying time. So, please, have your airplane ready to go,,,wings on, fueled up, radio charged. Let me know when you are ready to go. It is your responsibility to be motivated and ready to get your airplane in the air. If you do this, then I will have time to fly my airplanes too. If your airplane needs to be worked on, please work on it before we get to the field. After each flight, immediately fuel your airplane and have it ready to go for the next flight unless it is time to go home. I like to see a student get three or more flights at each training session. I would like to see each student getting their plane ready to go after each flight without me having to tell them what to do. If you want me to train you, please help me in this area and we'll make some good progress in your training.

Another thing, I am a shift worker and it is extremely hard for me to be at the field before noon. I don't know why I am this way but my body just doesn't like to do mornings, so please realize that if I'm going to be at the field, it is usually going to be sometime after noon. Please do not expect me to schedule my life around yours.

Can Anyone Learn to Fly RC Airplanes?

It has always been my belief that if you can drive a car, you can fly an RC airplane. Of course, you need a good trainer airplane and a good instructor. These are essential! I have found that everyone is different in how much instruction it takes to get them to the point that they can solo. If you are learning to fly RC, LISTEN to your instructor and do what he says! I have yet to find someone who could not learn to fly RC. I have found a couple of people that really had a hard time picking it up more than others. Some of their problems were caused by a couple of factors. One is not listening to what I tell them. Perhaps they think they know better, or they were told something different by someone else or they read an article that they believe more than the instructor. If you are a student, you must listen to your instructor and do what he says. If you don't want to do what your instructor says, don't waste your time or his. Find someone that you trust and LISTEN to them. Another reason I have seen in people that have a hard time learning to fly RC is overconfidence. This usually entails stepping into an airplane that is way too much for their skill level even though I've told them they were not ready for that plane. That is a sure recipe for a crash and for disappointment.

My Method of Instruction

1. As an instructor, I will first explain to the student pilot that I cannot guarantee that I will be able to teach them to fly and that their airplane will not be damaged or destroyed while trying to teach the student to fly. It is my job, as an instructor, to fully examine the student's aircraft to make sure it is safe to fly and that it is not a hazard to me, the pilot or observers. After a detailed examination of the airplane, I will begin by explaining field rules to the prospective pilot and I will explain how an airplane flies.

2. Next, I will show the student how to fill his fuel tank and start his engine. I will show him how to tune his engine for peak performance. After this, it will be the job of the student to start and tune his own engine before each flight. After the engine is started, all radio control functions are checked to make sure they operate properly.

3. I will taxi the airplane to the flight line. Then I will take the plane off and trim it out for straight, level flight. After the plane is "in trim", I will line the plane up with the runway (in our case, North or South) and have the student stand directly to my left. I will take the plane very high and then hand the transmitter to the student. I will expect the student to continue flying the airplane straight and level, then when instructed, to make a sweeping left hand turn, using ailerons and elevator, keeping the plane level in the turn. The pilot should practice keeping altitude through the turn, not losing or gaining altitude. This will take a fair amount of practice since a flat bottom wing (which is what most trainers have) will want to gain altitude when turning into the wind and it will want to lose altitude when turning with the wind. During this phase of training there are some things that I will emphasize:

      • Keep the airplane straight and level in the straightaways.
      • Do not let the airplane lose or gain altitude in the turns.
      • When the plane is coming at the pilot, the ailerons will seem backward to the pilot.           Two ways to deal with this is 1. To level the wings, point the aileron stick on the           transmitter to the wing that is pointing toward the ground. 2. When the plane is           coming at the pilot, he should look over his shoulder. This will make the ailerons           seem normal to the student.

Figure 1. When the student is just beginning, I will take the airplane very high and then let him fly, making long passes parallel to the runway and wide sweeping left turns without losing or gaining altitude. I stand to the right side of the student so I can help if he loses control of his airplane.

The whole time the student is flying, I will stand immediately to his right. If the student gets disorented and loses control of the aircraft, I will reach over and take control of the aileron/elevator stick and correct the flight of the aircraft. If the aircraft is too far out of control, I will take the transmitter from the student and correct the flight path.

When fuel is low, I will land the airplane.

4. Once the student is proficient at his left turns and level flight, I will let him begin to make figure eight turns so he can get practice turning each direction. I will also let him taxi his airplane to and from the flight line.

Figure 2. When the student is comfortable making left turns, I will let him begin to make figure 8 turns so he can get used to turning different directions.

5. When the student is comfortable making turns, I will begin to let the pilot experience flight at different speeds. I will throttle the plane up to full throttle or take it just above idle so the student can see how his plane reacts at different speeds. Remember that the plane will be much more responsive at higher speeds than at lower speeds.

6. When the pilot is comfortable with his plane at different speeds and can "catch" the airplane when it gets out of control, he will be ready to take his plane off. Taking off is not as hard as it seems. The hardest part is keeping the airplane straight down the center of the runway on takeoff. The engine's torque will tend to make the airplane steer to the left. A small bit of right rudder will need to be added as the airplane speeds up down the runway. It is very important that the student practice keeping his airplane straight down the runway on takeoff. Many airplanes are crashed on takeoff because the pilot does not properly control his airplane in takeoff roll.

7. Once the student is comfortable with his airplane at this stage, it will be time for him to make turns to line up with the runway and cut the throttle so the airplane is on landing approach. As the airplane comes low over the runway, the student will throttle up and go around again. Once the student is making his approaches well, I will tell him to go ahead and land the airplane.

Figure 3. When the student is proficient at turning his aircraft and is able to control it well, I will let him make practice landing approaches, cutting the throttle and lining up with the runway, into the wind. When the plane is about ten to twenty feet above the runway, I will have him throttle up and go around again and again, until he is able to actually land the plane. There is no way to say how long a student will take to get to this point. Each student is different.

Before this stage, I will explain the landing approach and landing to the student. On landing approach, the pilot keeps the nose down to maintain proper airspeed. As the airplane gets approximately two feet off of the ground, the student will pull up (back) on the elevator stick and continue flying the airplane six inches to one foot off the runway. As the airspeed bleeds off and the student continues to try and keep the plane about six inches off the ground, the airplane will stall and land on the main gear. The student must maintain control of the airplane down to taxi speed and taxi back to the pit area. This will complete the student's solo flight!

Your Airplane

Forget all the hype you have read in the advertisements for your airplane. Trainers are designed to land slowly and to be very forgiving in flight but they will NOT fly themselves. Your airplane will NOT track straight on takeoff; you must keep it straight down the runway on takeoff. If you do not, you will probably crash. I do the best to trim your plane so that it will fly straight and level when you let go of the controls but it will not stay that way, you must fly your airplane! No matter how good your trainer is, it will NOT land itself. You must land your airplane! The only way I know to make a student understand this is to compare it to driving a car. When you are driving down the freeway at 65 mph, you must give slight, small inputs to keep your car in it's lane. If you come around the corner and their is a person in the road, you must make more than small, slight adjustments, you MUST swerve! It's the same with a model airplane. Most of the time, you want to give small, slight movements but there will be times it takes more!

I will give you the instruction you need to learn to fly your airplane. It is your job to use the information I give you and then to practice, practice, practice!

Pilot Error

As a new pilot, you are going to make errors. Even old pilots like me make errors. As a beginner you will make mistakes that you don't even notice. As an instructor, I will be honest with you about your flying skills and the mistakes you make. I will try to empasize the positive but I will also let you know about the negative. Model aircraft can be extremely dangerous. I do not want you to endanger yourself or anyone else. I am very familiar with how many model aircraft fly. If you mess up, just admit it and go on. If you make a bad takeoff or landing or if you crash, you may think you were doing everything correctly but I can usually tell you what you did or didn't do that got you in the predicament. 99% of crashes are caused by pilot error. They may be errors that we don't want to admit.

Take a look sometime at the NTSB's accident investigations for aircraft. Probably one out of a thousand are not attributed to pilot error. There was a pilot and his adult son that crashed in the mountains above Logan, Utah a few years ago. The pilot was a doctor and they were in a Cessna 210. The engine lost oil pressure and the pilot was going to try to turn and get back to Logan. He was flying in snow with very little visibility. He was able to turn his plane while it was deadstick but ended up catching the top of a peak, killing himself and his son. The accident was ruled as pilot error. Why? you might ask. Well, when the pilot left his home base, the FBO, field based operator noticed there was an oil leak under the plane. The FBO asked the pilot if he wanted him to look for the cause of the leak and pilot decided not to.

I had a Sig Kadet that I had built with the intent of teaching my son to fly RC aircraft. I put a Magnum .40 engine on the airplane. I probably had 300 flights on that plane and EVERY time I flew it, the engine would die after a few minutes. Every landing was deadstick. So, if I would have crashed that plane on landing, whose fault would it have been? Would it have been the fault of the engine? No, it would have been my fault for flying with an engine that I KNEW was going to die while the plane was in the air. My point is, if you make a mistake, just suck it up and admit you messed up. We all do it sometimes.

As your flying progresses, I may ask you to do something you don't feel like you are capable of doing. Realize that I will not ask you to do something that you cannot do. You may be afraid to try what I ask you to do but it will help build your confidence which is at least 75% of what it takes to fly RC aircraft. There are times that your airplane will be at risk. Usually at takeoff and landing, especially while you are learning, you stand the chance of destroying your plane. If it was easy, everyone could do it! The risk is one of the things that makes flying RC so enjoyable. Everyone gets very nervous when they first are learning. If you can't handle the risk, go buy an RC car.

After You Solo

Once the student has soloed, I will stay with him until he is able to land successfully several times. Other things that we can work together on are:

1. Learning to use the rudder for turns and crosswind landings.

2. Aerobatics.

3. Touch and goes. Shooting touch and goes (When the pilot lands and takes off, land and takes off, repeatedly) is the best practice a new pilot can do. It is even excellent practice for experienced RC pilots. When I first began to fly RC, Don Piatt told me, "If you learn to land, you can fly anything out there." In the 30+ years of my involvment in RC, I have seen many pilots that have the hottest, newest planes available and they can take them off and fly them but can't land worth a darn. Nothing takes the place of practice.

Important Things to Know

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If You Are Flying with a Radio on 72 mhz:

>>>Always make sure no one else is flying on your channel before you turn on your transmitter!!! The reason for this is, if two transmitters are on at the same time, on the same frequency, the airplane with the receiver on that channel will "get confused" by the signals coming from both radios. More than likely the airplane will crash if it is in the air. We call this "getting shot down." <<<

>>>Always turn your transmitter on first and off last. Outside interference can cause your servos to do crazy things. <<<

>>>If you turn on your transmitter when someone else is flying on that channel and shoot down their airplane when they have put their tag up on the frequency board, you owe them for the damages!<<<

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If You Are Flying with a Radio on 2.4 ghz:

2.4 ghz is one of the best things to ever happen to radio control vehicles! With 2.4 ghz radios, there is no need to worry about other people being on the same channel as you are. Also, much of the outside radio interference is eliminated.

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>>>If your airplane damages property or injures someone, you are liable for the damage---That is why it is so important to be a member of the AMA so you have some liability insurance<<<

>>>Never fly an RC plane if the radio is glitching<<<

>>>NEVER let little children near the pit area or the flight line at model airports<<<

>>>Alway follow all club and field rules<<<

>>>Be responsible, pick up your garbage and try to keep your airplane's as quiet as possible, especially in urban areas --- Always try to be a good neighbor<<<