1.How long (hours, days, months) should I expect to have to 'train' before I should even think about trying FVP?
- that depends on you. My son learned to fly in about 2 hours and I have a friend who is still learning after 2 years...I guess you had video games experience and you are not unfamiliar with a joystick. My advice would be to try to locate the nearest model airplane club and ask for help. Ohterwise, there are flight simulators available that will help you master the stick movements.
2.I am very paranoid about losing the model. Are 'return home' auto pilots pretty reliable? Which would you recommend? ::Note I don't plan on just turning off my receiver, sitting down and waiting for the plane to return. I am asking purely on a safety issue.
-Take it easy. electronics are very reliable these days and there is no need to feel paranoid. take baby steps, fly normal, get to know your plane, then fley FPV, use a spotter, a friend who can tell you what is going on and who can resue the plane if you get in trouble. then fly a little further and higher, the if you still want to go for it , crack open your wallet and spend on the gear you fancy ...
3.At which transmission strength should I start looking into getting a ham radio license? I know certain bands are permissible to use with a license but what is the cap for signal strength for non licensed radio operators in the USA?
Unable to tell I live in the UK
From what I know the AXN floater is a great plane, the Radian would have been much better as it is slower an docile but your plane will be just great. try to get some local help from your club or an experienced friend.
And remember... baby steps... one thing at a time