This is an article my friend Tony I. wrote about flight modes for my club's newsletter. Thanks Tony!
Radio Talk: Flight Modes for Planes
If you decide to try helicopters someday, one of the first radio topics you’ll learn about is “flight modes”. Flight modes are used even on beginner level helis, integral with throttle and pitch “curves” and other settings. It might sound daunting, but it really isn’t. It just takes a bit of time, and also having your helicopter in front of you so you can see what happens when you move the sticks and set the flight modes/curves. Essentially, in helicopters, the curves the flier sets in his transmitter make the servos respond in a non-linear way. These settings are necessary to make the helicopter react properly to flight requirements. “Idle Up” (Flight Mode 1) for example, generally is used to keep the throttle at half open or above, thereby keeping head speed up.
But this isn’t an article about helicopters. It’s about fixed wing aircraft. Flight modes can apply to our planes too. This is another aspect of our radios that a lot of guys maybe don’t understand, or perhaps don’t think they need. Learning to use flight modes will make your flying more precise, easier, and more fun for you. Interested? Read on.
If you have a modern six or more channel radio, somewhere on the face or top of your transmitter is a three position switch. If you have an upscale radio, that switch might be “assignable”, meaning you can make it a flap switch, spoileron switch, or maybe a flight mode switch. If you can select it in the menus and can make it a flight mode switch, doing that will give you a powerful one-switch choice when you fly. Let’s digress a bit.
If you set rates and expo on your radio you probably control each surface with a switch. Elevator, aileron, and rudder rates are the norm. These choices give you a different way to fly your plane. For example, you can lower the rates on elevator and ailerons thereby making your plane fly less responsively -- gentler. Or the other way, you can increase rates to make it fly more aggressively. You might have to move both aileron and elevator switches to accomplish this. If you want to add rudder rates, a third switch will need to be moved. Wouldn’t it be neat if you could snap one switch, and have all of the surfaces respond the way you want? That’s what flight modes can do. But better, in addition to rates you can program expo, mixes and even trims into each flight mode. Your tasks as a pilot just got a LOT easier. If you have three flight modes, here’s an example for you.
Let’s say in mode # 1 (normal) you want to program a takeoff / landing scheme with a simple four channel aircraft. You want all surfaces to respond gently, with low rates and a little expo, maybe 20%. You can set and store these parameters in memory. Once airborne you may want to have more travel in your surfaces, especially rudder. You can set higher rates and a bit more expo for all normal flying in mode # 2. Finally, you want another flight mode for aggressive flying. You can program maximum travel, 70-80% expo, mixes, snap roll switches, and anything else you want into flight mode # 3. Then your flight plan could look like this: takeoff, mode 1; after takeoff and warming up you switch to mode 2, and do your normal routines; then, to practice some knife edge, switch to mode 3 where you have some mixes worked in; finally, back to mode 1 to land. Sounds easy and it is. Take a look in your manual, and see if flight modes are possible for you! If they are give them a try on the bench first, then in the air. They work great!
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