Pass the Radio
After 2-4 flights, typically, I can climb, level, set the throttle and then
pass them the radio. When it is time, I land. By the third flight I want
to start to teach them how to control altitude with the throttle rather than
the elevator. For many this is easy and for some it is very hard. Unless
we are doing stunts, I teach very gentle use of the elevator except to
recover from mistakes.
Recognizing and recovering from stalls is next. What is a stall, why the
plane stalls and how to handle a stall becomes a key lesson. Many have
trouble with this, but many get it quickly.
These are light planes and a head wind can push the nose up leading to a
stall. This can often be followed by too much up trying to recover, leading
to a worse stall. I try to teach them to be proactive in this situation
and not wait for the plane to stall. The phrase I use is "push to level"
if the nose comes up too much and a stall in imminent. If they do stall, to
use a little down elevator, gain some speed, then "pull to level". I don't
want them depending on the throttle to handle stalls.
Most of the trainers will recover nicely if you let them. So, if they get
into trouble, I teach them to pull back on the throttle and center the stick
to give the plane a chance to recover. In most cases the planes will
recover and they can resume flying. But if the plane is going to crash, cut
the power, Cut the Power, CUT THE POWER!
They can reduce the damage of the crash by about 75% if they hit with the
motor off. For most foam or plastic planes, this is enough to avoid
extensive damage or the need for extensive repairs. This is a good place to
discuss tape and epoxy. For balsa planes or Elapor planes, if something
breaks, we learn about CA.
From this point on we pass the radio as needed. I try to stay close, but
more and more I want them to recover from the bad situation. Mostly I have
to help them if they have trouble keeping the plane up wind. If the plane
gets down wind, then I may ask for the radio to get the plane back over the
field. No need to teach them about searching for a plane in the woods.
That lesson will come on its own.
Take offs are usually hand launch and landings are usually glides or 1/4
throttle affairs into a belly landing as we have no runway. Loops and
tail stalls are the last thing, then they are on their own. For some, this
whole process is two hours. For others it takes a few more sessions.
I try to have a lesson that lasts at least two hours and I have done 4 hour
sessions. In 30 minutes to 1 hour, too little is retained and too little
gets practiced. My goal, and frankly my joy, is to get them flying on their
own. For that they need supervised stick time. With two hours, two
chargers, theirs and mine, and at least 3 battery packs, sometimes also
mine, we can get in a lot of flying. I have had students go totally solo in
two hours. It is rare, but it does happen.
These three channel, high wing planes are pretty easy to fly. If it is a
pusher design, they can take some pretty serious hits without going to the
building table. These quick learners just need a little guidance. They
pick it up quickly and can then go off on their own to practice. We will
usually meet again and again at the field and I am always available for
However most need more than one session and some still need help after five
sessions. That's OK, but at some point either they will get it or I will
try to hook them up with another instructor. Sometimes it is not the student
but the teacher that needs changing. That's OK with me. Not everyone can
work with me or my style and another coach is really the best thing I can do
for them. Usually I put this in the context of "being ready for more
advance lessons". I want them to see this as graduation, not rejection.
THE BUDDY BOX
Probably one of the greatest developments for teaching new flyers is the
buddy box system. I am only going to touch on the difference from this to
the method above. The lesson content is the same.
This is a method by which the instructor's radio is
connected to the student's radio. In typical fashion, the instructor will
take off and get the plane to height. Once the plane is stable, the
instructor flips a switch or holds a button and the student's radio now has
control of the plane. If the student gets in trouble, the instructor
releases the switch and takes control of the plane.
The advantage of this method is that the student can actually fly their
plane with a real radio under real conditions and the instructor has the
opportunity to save the plane, thus avoiding crashes. This is a very
effective tool and is commonly used as part of club training programs.
Typically it is best to have the instructor's and student's radio be of the
same brand. This way you can use a buddy cord/trainer cord that is
defiantly compatible between the two radios. However there are combinations
of brands that will work, if you use the right cord. For example, Futaba
and Hitec radios can generally be used in combination, if you use the right
cords. I have seen Futaba/JR cords as well. Whatever you use, be sure that
it is approved by the radio makers, otherwise you risk damaging the radios.
If you have a buddy/trainer port on your radio, the manual probably lists
There are also dedicated buddy boxes. These are not operational radios, but
rather shells of radios. Their sole function is to be the second control. Using one
of these the student will often retain the radio and the buddy box so they can
present it to whichever instructor is available.
If you are adventurous and willing to explore the make up of buddy cords,
this is a resource I have seen many people reference:
This FAQ from Futaba may be helpful in learning more about the buddy box
approach to flying.
I am not going to go into an further detail on the buddy boxes and training
methods as I have rarely used this method. The reason is that most of my
students don't have radios that were capable of using this method. So we
had to use the hand on hand and pass the radio method above.
THE FLIGHT SIMULATOR
A flight simulator, running on a personal computer, controlled by the
student's actual radio system has go to be one of the best aids available for
learning to fly. It is not a teaching method in and of itself, but it is a
great practice tool. It allows the new pilot to get a feel for the radio
and to begin to establish the hand/eye coordination needed to fly an RC
plane. I am not going to go into flight sims except to
encourage all new pilots and trainers to get a flight simulator and use it
as part of your learning/teaching process.
Here is a thread on getting started with FMS, a free flight simulator:
So, broadly speaking, that is the approach I use. There is a lot more
content that is shared with the student, that is not my point. The approach
and methods are what I was trying to share. But, of course, your mileage
will vary. Whatever you do, please take time to help the new pilots. Offer
your time and your good council. You will enjoy the experience and make a
new friend in the process. So, what could be so bad about that?
Clear skies and safe flying!
6 keys to Success for New Flyers
Tips for instructors
Suggested steps to be taught
Teaching by Mike Lynch
Teaching others how to fly
Learning Tips from Hobby-Lobby
Basic Flight Instruction Book
By: Andrew S. Rosz
The RC Airplane Instructor & Student Handbook
Lt. Col. Robert A. (Bob) Morris