Whether you have a coach or you are trying to learn to fly on your own, you
will need to be mindful of these six areas if you are going to become a
successful RC pilot. After two years of working with new flyers at our club,
and coaching flyers on the forums, there are a few things I have seen as the
key areas to stress for new pilots. Some get it right away and some have to
work at it. They are in no particular order because they all have to be
learned to be successful.
1) Wind - The single biggest cause of crashes that I have observed has been
insistence upon flying in too much wind. If you are under an instructor's
control or on a buddy box, then follow their advice, but if you are starting
out and tying to learn on your own, regardless of the model, I recommend dead
calm to 3 MPH for the slow stick and tiger moth type planes. Under 5 MPH for
all others. That includes gusts. An experienced pilot can handle more. It
is the pilot, more than the plane, that determines how much wind can be
The wind was around 10 mph steady with gusts to 12. That was strong enough
that some of the experienced pilots flying three and four channel small
electric planes chose not to launch their electrics. This new flyer insisted
that he wanted to try his two and three channel parkflyers. Crash, Crash,
Crash - Three planes in pieces. He just would not listen. Sometimes you just
have to let them crash. There is no other way to get them to understand.
Many parkflyers can be flown in higher winds by AN EXPERIENCED PILOT. I
have flown my Aerobird in 18 mph wind (clocked speed) but it is quite exciting
trying to land it.
Always keep the plane up wind from you. There is no reason for a new flyer to
have the plane downwind EVER!
2) Orientation - Knowing the orientation of your plane is a real challenge,
even for experienced pilots. You just have to work at it and some adults have
a real problem with left and right regardless of which way the plane is going.
Licensed pilots have a lot of trouble with this one as they are accustomed to
being in the plane.
Here are two suggestions on how to work on orientation when you are not
Use a flight simulator on your PC. Pick a slow flying model and fly it a lot.
Forget the jets and fast planes. Pick a slow one. Focus on left and right
coming at you. Keep the plane in front of you. Don't let it fly over your
FMS is a free flight simulator. It is not the best flight sim, but the price
is right and it works. There are also other free and commercial simulators.
FMS Flight simulator Home Page
Parkflyers for FMS
The links below take you to sites that provide cables that work with FMS. If
your radio has a trainer port, these cables allow you to use the trainer port
on your radio to "fly" the
simulator. This is an excellent training approach.
An alternative is to try an RC car that has proportional steering. You don't
have to worry about lift, stall and wind. Get something with left and right
steering and speed control. Set up an easy course that goes toward and away
from you with lots of turns. Do it very slowly at first until you can make
the turns easily. Then build speed over time. You'll get it! If it has
sticks rather than a steering wheel even better, but not required. Oh, and
little cars are fun too.
3) Too much speed - Speed it the enemy of the new pilot but if you fly too
slowly the wings can't generate enough lift, so there is a compromise here.
The key message is that you don't have to fly at full throttle all the time.
Most small electrics fly very nicely at 2/3 throttle and some do quite well at
1/2. That is a much better training speed than full power. Launch at full
power and climb to a good height, say 100 feet as a minimum, so you have time
to recover from a mistake. At 100 feet, about double the height of the trees
where I live, go to half throttle and see how the plane handles. If it holds
altitude on a straight line, this is a good speed. Now work on slow and easy
turns, work on left and right, flying toward you and maintaining altitude.
Add a little throttle if the plane can't hold altitude.
4) Not enough altitude - New flyers are often afraid of altitude. They feel
safer close to the ground. Nothing could be more wrong.
Altitude is your friend. Altitude is your safety margin. It gives you a
chance to fix a mistake. If you are flying low and you make a mistake ....
As stated above I consider 100 feet, about double tree height where I live, as
a good flying height and I usually fly much higher than this. I advise my new
flyers that fifty feet, is minimum flying height. Below that you better be
lining up for landing.
5) Over control - Most of the time the plane does not need input from you.
Once you get to height, a properly trimmed plane flying in calm air will
maintain its height and direction with no help from you. In fact anything you
do will interfere with the plane.
When teaching new pilots I often do a demo flight of their plane. I get the
plane to 100 feet, then bring the throttle back to a nice cursing speed. I
get it going straight, with plenty of space in front of it, then take my hand
off the sticks and hold the radio out to the left with my arms spread wide to
emphasize that I am doing nothing. I let the plane go wherever it wants to
go, as long as it is holding altitude, staying upwind and has enough room. If
you are flying a high wing trainer and you can't do this, your plane is out of
Even in a mild breeze with some gusts, once you reach flying height, you
should be able to take your hand off the stick. Oh the plane will move around
and the breeze might push it into a turn, but it should continue to fly with
no help from you.
Along this same line of thinking, don't hold your turns for more than a couple
of seconds after the plane starts to turn. Understand that the plane turns by
banking or tilting its wings. If you hold a turn too long you will force the
plane to deepen this bank and it will eventually lose lift and go into a
spiral dive and crash. Give your inputs slowly and gently and watch the
plane. Start your turn then let off then turn some more and let off. Start
your turns long before you need to and you won't need to make sharp turns.
I just watch these guys hold the turn, hold the turn, hold the turn, crash.
Of course they are flying in 10 mph wind, near the ground, coming toward
themselves at full throttle.
6) Preflight check - Before every flight it is the pilot's responsibility to
confirm that the plane, the controls and the conditions are correct and
acceptable for flight.
Plane - Batteries at proper power
Surfaces properly aligned
No damage or breakage on the plane
Radio - Frequency control has been met before you turn on the radio
A full range check before the first flight of the day
All trims and switches in the proper position for this plane
Battery condition is good
Antenna fully extended
For computer radios - proper model is displayed
All surfaces move in the proper direction
Conditions - No one on the field or in any way at risk from your fight
You are launching into the wind
Wind strength is acceptable ( see wind above )
Sunglasses and a hat to protect your eyes
All other area conditions are acceptable.
Then and only then can you consider yourself, your plane, radio and the
conditions right for flight. Based on your plane, your radio and local
conditions you may need to add or change something here, but this is the bare
minimum. It only takes a couple of minutes at the beginning of the flying
day and only a few seconds to perform before each flight.
If this all seems like too much to remember, do what professional pilots do,
take along a preflight check list. Before every flight they go down
the check list, perform the tests, in sequence, and confirm that all is right.
If you want your flying experience to be a positive one, you should do the
same. After a short time, it all becomes automatic and just a natural part of
a fun and rewarding day.
I hope some of this is useful in learning to fly your plane.