Teaching RC Beginners How to Fly - RC Groups

Teaching RC Beginners How to Fly

I have taught a number of groups how to fly RC planes and helicopters. With the hope it is helpful, here is my method and some plane recommendations.

Splash

Introduction:

There are many different ways for a beginner to learn to fly RC airplanes or helicopters, and the method I use is one I have developed over the years in working with small groups. It is by no means the only way to learn, but simply one method that has proven successful for a number of people who have become RC pilots and shared some fellowship in the process. My method is used with small groups that meet once a week. I believe in teaching only a few major points per lesson and repetition. I strongly believe in the benefit of using a flight simulator. My method can be adopted for those with more time and those who prove they are quick learners. I hope beginners find this helpful.

LESSON 1: The Transmitter

Equipment

  • 4 channel or more transmitter
  • Small airplane for a visual aide
  • Hobby grade micro coaxial helicopter

For the first lesson I go over the transmitter and cover mode 2 for 4 channel control (the most used method in North America) and mode 4 for 3 channel control (rudder on the right stick instead of left stick for 3 channel planes.). I cover the movement of the sticks and trim tabs and the benefit of digital trim tabs. Secondly, I go over aligning their transmitter with their aircraft and keeping it aligned with the plane during the flight and third I encourage small stick movements.

Orientation and Alignment

Loss of orientation is the number 1 problem for most beginners. When the aircraft is flying away from the pilot its right and their right are the same as are their left, forward and reverse. However, when the aircraft is coming at them, the controls are all reversed, and this often causes confusion and loss of orientation with the plane. To get around this I teach the students to turn to the direction they turn the aircraft to maintain that orientation of the transmitter with the plane. (I briefly mention how to make the turn with aileron to start and then elevator to keep the wing up. This will be covered in Lesson 2 in detail. It is just mentioned here and I answer almost all questions.) With a 90 degree turn to the right they turn 90 degrees to the right and remain facing the same direction the plane is going. They turn their head to track the plane as needed. When they turn the plane back towards themselves they must be able to see the plane but I want them to keep that orientation so I have them turn their body slightly more to the right if turning the plane to the right and then turning their arms to keep the transmitter aligned with the plane. (For left turns it is the same but to the left.) I encourage them to plan their flight in advance just as a professional golfer pictures his shot before he swings. They take off with their plane or helicopter with their first few turns already scripted and they can practice what they will do before they leave the ground. Bill Walsh scripted the first 15 plays on offense so the 49ers knew what they were going to do before the game started. I want my students to script their first few turns so they know what they are going to do before taking off. I do this to help get their heads into the cockpit before the flight starts.

Make Small Stick Movements

Over-controlling the aircraft is the number 2 mistake, and it is just as hard to overcome. For this lesson I have them fly a small hobby grade coaxial helicopter with the focus being on the the left stick throttle only. For this training the right hand is not on the right stick. I don't want them rotating the helicopter with the left stick. I want them to focus on throttle control. Getting the helicopter quickly off the ground and up to waist height to head high but no higher. By only focusing on that one function of throttle control my students usually obtain success in meeting the goal I set for the first lesson. They learn how once up in a hover how little stick movement is needed on the throttle to make the helicopter climb or drop (one click).

While we may initially have some drifting across the floor from too slow a throttle power up. We also might have some crashes from too fast a power up or power down, the micro helicopter can generally withstand these accidents and I teach them to power OFF! in the case of a crash or expected crash. These little helicopters generally are more likely to damage themselves post crash if left running then being broken from the crash itself. They all get a chance to fly the coaxial helicopter but they only control the throttle. I find they learn to control that helicopter's throttle very quickly when not distracted with learning to fly the helicopter as a whole.

After everyone has flown I ask them if they now understand how little they needed to move the throttle to get the helicopter to climb or lower once they got to the initial hover stage and they do. I then tell them the same is true with the elevator on an airplane and small movements are best with the ailerons and rudder for basic turns.

Downloads

ORIENTATION

Conclusion of Lesson 1

I encourage my students to reflect on what was covered for a few minutes each day during the week until we meet again. Practice picturing flying and turning the plane and turning their bodies to match. While it may sound somewhat strange to them, those that do it will usually be the more successful pilots. They don't need any equipment. They go home with a hand out that covers the basics. I compare it to a golfer practicing his grip between early lessons. The basics need to be learned and the lessons from the first meeting require no equipment and can be done at home.

Lesson 2: Basic Terminology and Selecting a Trainer Plane

In lesson 2 the students get handouts with a lot of the basic terms for the different parts of the plane and helicopter. I cover the issue of dihedral and polyhedral and how they are used to help make a good 3 channel trainer plane one that can more easily self-recover if the pilot goes hands off of the controls. I also cover the practical differences between three channel trainers and four channel trainers and why I prefer to have students start with a three channel trainer. The last fifteen minutes are spent reviewing orientation and small stick movements.

Over the years I have used a number of planes to help train students to fly. They include the Gentle Lady two channel glider with polyhedral. The Multiplex Hummel and the Hobby-lobby Miss Two which are both electrics with dihedral and rudder and elevator control. More recently I have used smaller three channel planes including the HobbyZone Super Cub and Champ and the Flyzone Playmate. Living in Northern CA we have a lot of early mornings that are calm, and that allows for the use of small trainer planes in calm conditions. My students can of course pick whatever plane they want but I strongly encourage a three channel plane for the first plane. I don't want them to get their plane yet, I just want them to start thinking about trainer planes.

In this class I try and cover all the parts of an electric powered plane and what those parts do. I have a handout for them to take home, and I get to discuss small vs large movements of the transmitter stick when discussing each control surface. Here I also cover the basics of getting into a turn, keeping the plane level and getting out of a turn. The turn starts by moving the ailerons or rudder in one direction and the plane starts to bank and turn. The inside wing starts to drop and this requires some up elevator to stop this drop and keep the plane level. Finally, ending the turn often requires a moment of counter turn to get the plane out of the turn and back to flying straight. During this discussion I get to again focus on small stick movements and the importance of remaining orientated with their aircraft.

Vince Lombardi is said to have started training camp showing the team a football and saying: "This is a football!" I start this session with a picture and say: "This is a plane." I try not to assume that they know anything but cover the basics quickly and give them handouts to take home.

Lesson 3 Building or Repairing an RC Plane

This session varies with the interest of my students. Some want to build a plane from a kit while most want a RTF right out of the box. At a minimum I cover how some basic repairs are made and what glues are used in the hobby and how they are used and what protections to take for themselves and the furniture. If time allows I cover batteries and chargers briefly during this session. We review how to turn a plane and how to end a turn and I encourage them to think and pretend fly a plane through several turns. If time allows I have the students fly a coaxial helicopter with focus on throttle control and going on from there.

Lesson 4: Flying with the Flight Simulator

If I let my students vote I am sure they would vote to start with the flight simulator with the first meeting. But I also find they don't hear me nearly as well once they are on the flight simulator. I use both Real Flight and Phoenix flight simulators. I enjoy both but I find the lessons on Real Flight to be very valuable for all levels of pilots. I have found the advance lessons for aerobatics and helicopter training to be extremely helpful in advancing my own skills, especially into 3D helicopter flying. Phoenix has videos that are helpful for the beginner. They enjoy the various trainer planes but especially the Super Cub. I expose students to both and it is their choice if they want to buy a simulator and if so which one they buy. During this first session on the simulator I give a demonstration flight with a view from the ground. I don't try to teach after that demo flight but I do answer questions. Mostly I let them fly and crash and just experience the simulator from a ground view. It can be both a very enjoyable lesson for some and frustrating for others. They rotate on and off the simulator and the amount of time depends on the number of students. All too soon the time is up and the lesson is over. For large classes I will offer a "Lab Session" where they have only two pilots for the time period and they split the available time on the simulator.

Lesson 5 Flying with a View from the Chase Position

Here I have the students fly on the simulator with a view from the chase plane. They are right behind the plane as if they were following in the chase position. They are always oriented to their plane and they have a lot more success in flying the simulator plane from this view then they did the previous week from the ground view. FYI I use trainer type planes on the simulator. Students are now able to get a better feel and more success of how they control the plane by viewing from this position.

Lesson 6 More Simulator Flight Time from the Chase Position but with a pylon course to navigate.

This week they can't just take off and fly in any direction. They remain in the chase position but now they have to fly a pylon course. Sometimes we do this at night with lighted pylons just to make it even more challenging for the last flight session of this lesson. The confidence level after this session is generally pretty good with some pilots thinking they are ready for the real world and not needing any more practice. I discourage that and tell them one more session and if they do well then they can fly.

Lesson 7-9 Back to Ground View with the Flight Simulator

At the start of lesson 7 I let the most confident students go first and there is usually a liberal use of the reset button as flying from the ground view is a lot more challenging then from the chase view they were using the previous two weeks. By the end of lesson 7 most of my students are flying much better from the ground view then they were the first time back in week 4.

Lessons 8 and 9 are more of the same. Practice time on the flight simulator in preparation for their first flights. In lesson eight I do a short demo flight where I set the throttle at a nice cruising rate and I make turns just bumping the right stick in very short increments to make turns. It is my way to remind them that short stick movements are all that is needed.

Trainer Planes

As mentioned above I have tried a number of trainer planes over the years and recently have encouraged students who wanted to buy their own plane to get a small plane to learn with for several reasons. The reason I encouraged using small planes is that we have many calm mornings when small planes can function fine outside. They can easily be flown in parks and smaller fields. If you turn the motor off there is little chance they will be damaged in most crashes. My students have for the most part accepted my advice and the planes of choice have been micro planes including: Playmates, Champs and the little Albatros. These planes have worked very well for my students and have generally needed little or no repairs and have held up very well to the mistakes the students have made in the learning process. I still recommend the small planes but I discuss two new and larger planes below that are worthy of consideration and now get my recommendation.

For larger planes there are a number of good ones including the Sensei and the Super Cub. I now use the Sensei on a buddy box to give the students a chance to fly a large plane at one of the flying fields I have access too. The Sensei tracks like it is on rails so it goes where directed. Its response is very predictable so I know what the student is doing if there are any problems. It is large and it can easily be seen what direction the Sensei is heading. I now have two of these planes to use in my training classes and I remain very happy with it as my buddy box plane. I also like that it is powerful enough to handle some wind and yet remain very docile. For Sunday flying I like the drop box it has and the ability to catch a strong thermal and sometimes soar with the motor off. I have ended up flying the Sensei for my personal use much more than I expected I would. It is a great plane.

Downloads

I have recently tried out the new HobbyZone Firebird Stratos which has some very nice features for a trainer plane and for me one drawback: it is not designed to be used with a buddy box. It has it's own very special transmitter that I will discuss below. When I am involved and it is my plane being flown I want a buddy box so that if there is a problem I can take control of the plane immediately with no delay. That said, the Stratos is now one of the planes that I recommend students consider for their first plane. The reasons I include it are multiple. The twin motors have counter rotating props so there is no motor torque pulling it to either side. This is important launching or taking off to help maintain straight flight. When flying slowly it automatically feeds in some up elevator. In making turns it uses rudder and directed thrust. Move the transmitter stick for a right turn and the rudder moves to steer a right turn and the left motor goes slightly faster then the right motor to help the plane turn to the right AND up elevator comes in automatically to keep the plane flying level or climbing just a bit to avoid a stall from a dropped wing that usually occurs if the pilot forgets to apply up elevator when making a turn with other planes. The plane has high and low rates and the special beginner features can be turned off at the transmitter so that the Stratos will fly like a regular plane for further learning once the basics of RC flying have been mastered.

With the smallish rudder and directed thrust for assisting in turns the plane is designed to be flown with the motors turned on. This plane is not designed to be flown with the motors off. It is surprisingly fast in a dive with the throttle turned on full but the plane on its own will always go into a climb with full throttle applied.

Downloads

Conclusion

My last class is almost always at a park or designated flying field and we have an outdoor flying session. Most students are able to fly a trainer plane in normal conditions. If they need further practice I will work with them in smaller groups. The majority of my students go on to fly with their friends and I usually have limited contact with them but some will call to get together or to have me check out their new plane or helicopter and make sure it is set up properly. Almost all can remember the main concepts I teach years after their training. That is because my focus is on the simple major points discussed above, repetition of those points and practice on the flight simulator until basic RC flying has become a learned habit. I hope those of you without an instructor find this helpful. Again there are many ways to learn and my method is just one way. I think a live instructor is the best way to learn to fly RC.

Last edited by Angela H; Jul 09, 2012 at 01:52 PM..
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Jul 09, 2012, 02:15 PM
Pronoun trouble...
DismayingObservation's Avatar
Great job, Mike. This will be invaluable!
Jul 09, 2012, 02:33 PM
Rocket Programmer
jasmine2501's Avatar
Yep so true... this hobby, like a lot of worthwhile things, is passed from one human being to the next. I think it's impossible to read your way to excellence, so no matter how much time you spend on the internet, you are eventually going to need to get out there and fly something, and having another human being there to give you guidance is extremely helpful!

I see a lot of folks at the flying field lately with high performance aircraft which they aren't ready for, and they will never be ready for, because they haven't learned the basics. This could be the fault of the instructor (some don't teach basics) but usually it's because the person is self-taught. As long as they are being safe, I don't mind that, but I always wonder if they might enjoy the hobby a little more if they understood the basics.
Jul 09, 2012, 03:48 PM
Registered User
Excellent lesson plan and plane recommendations Michael. I have the planes you mentioned and all are great to learn on.
Jul 09, 2012, 03:56 PM
Flippin Multirotors
Get Real's Avatar
I really liked the sensei,i got to put some flights on one for someone getting into rc planes. Being larger it could handle some rough conditions and has enough weight,mass to glide in well off power predictably. Price point is good and it does come with everything needed to fly and it assembles quickly.. took longer to charge the lipo with the provided wall charger than it did to assemble. I could see it being used by many clubs to teach people to fly with a buddy box for sure.

Maiden flight with the one i got to fly
FlyZone Sensei Maiden (3 min 41 sec)


A bit more wind thrown at it.
FlyZone Sensei Trainer RTF (2 min 51 sec)
Jul 09, 2012, 04:31 PM
Registered User

Nice Article!


Here's a question; when does someone qualify as an intermediate RC pilot?

I ask because I am in the market for a 2nd plane. Presently all that I have is the HZ Super Cub, which is an excellent beginner plane, but is not very exciting to me in terms of performance. Now, the HZ Super Cub isn't nearly the only flight experience I have, albeit simulators. I've flown just about every flight simulator ever developed going back to 1995 (as a side, I particularly like WW2 flight sims). Long story short the first 5 minutes of my inaugural flight of my Cub I was pulling clean inside loops (and one failed outside loop due to lack of power), high/low bank turns, hammerhead stalls, etc. Lately I'm trying to induce tip stalls, but the dihedral of the Cub seems well designed to eliminate that problem.

But I digress, what makes one an intermediate, advanced, expert pilot?
Jul 09, 2012, 04:37 PM
Rocket Programmer
jasmine2501's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by ww2warbirds
But I digress, what makes one an intermediate, advanced, expert pilot?
It's a personal assessment. In pattern flying, we have specific patterns for each skill level, and if you can't fly the pattern, you're not at that skill level, but many of us can fly patterns way above our 'official' skill level. It's like wrestlers trying to lose weight to fight in an easier class - we compete in the lowest class we are allowed until we aren't allowed any more, then we move up. Winning contests forces you to move up - you can only win twice in a class. This is for a very well defined type of aerobatic flying though - for sport weekend duffers, there isn't an objective measurement.
Jul 09, 2012, 05:11 PM
Registered User
I am at the same level. I can fly my Champ, Super Cub and FB Stratos practically with my eyes closed. I can nail landings and do the simple areobatics like you described. I recenlty bought a Parkzone Trojan T-28 PNP as my first "aileron" 4 channel plane. Boy, was I not ready for that. On my first flight, I was able to take her around a few circuits and land her with verbal coaching from a more accomplished friend. The second flight ended in disaster with my going into an unrecoverable "knife edge" and down she went. I found her about 3/4 of a mile away from where I thought she went down. As luck would have it, the damage was minimal and I only had to replace the motor and ESC. She is fixed and ready for flying, but I am hesistant because I am really concerned that all my 3 channel flying and sim time didn't really prepare me for a real world 4 channel airplane. We'll see how my next flight goes.
Jul 09, 2012, 07:30 PM
Suspended Account
Quote:
Originally Posted by ww2warbirds
Here's a question; when does someone qualify as an intermediate RC pilot?

I ask because I am in the market for a 2nd plane. Presently all that I have is the HZ Super Cub, which is an excellent beginner plane, but is not very exciting to me in terms of performance. Now, the HZ Super Cub isn't nearly the only flight experience I have, albeit simulators. I've flown just about every flight simulator ever developed going back to 1995 (as a side, I particularly like WW2 flight sims). Long story short the first 5 minutes of my inaugural flight of my Cub I was pulling clean inside loops (and one failed outside loop due to lack of power), high/low bank turns, hammerhead stalls, etc. Lately I'm trying to induce tip stalls, but the dihedral of the Cub seems well designed to eliminate that problem.

But I digress, what makes one an intermediate, advanced, expert pilot?

Can't answer the last question, but can make suggestions on your next plane. Can't go wrong with the Apprentice. Plenty of get up and go, and it's a 4 channel plane. You can also upgrade to flaps (easy mod) and also put some more peppy electronics in as well. It can also be used with floats.

Another great one is the Multiplex Fun Cub, or the Mentor. Both can be purchased in RR form, and are fantastic planes. Good luck!
Jul 09, 2012, 08:29 PM
gravity is optional
Wow! Great article, you seem like the dream instructor. My instructor just gave us a HZ Super Cub and got mad if we crashed it. No simulator or class time for discussion. I really wish I had you as an instructor.
Jul 09, 2012, 08:48 PM
Suspended Account
Great article, well written and some great tips. My club has taken in about 15 new members over the past two months, some new to flying, some that need a refresher so this is a timely article. We are using a Ultra Sport 40 (that was donated by HORIZON HOBBY thank you very much), a high wing nitro plane, and we'll have a Bixler/Sky Surfer plane this week. A lot of our members have buddy boxes so we use those as well. The best part of this article (for me at least) is seeing those Boy Scouts. Man I would have killed for this kind of fun back in the day! I've brought my son's Cub Scout pack up to our field twice, once for a nature walk, cookout , then flying, and then this past month for our fun fly. They helped set up in the morning, did the pledge and flag raising, and helped in our food tent.
Jul 09, 2012, 08:50 PM
BGR
BGR
Foam Junkie
Nice Thread....

Back in the stone age I showed up at the field with what today would be considered a museum piece, a black and orange Wizard, I always liked Halloween colors. It had a Rudder, Elevator, Cox 049 Sleeve throttled engine and a FUT 4 channel AM TX. The instructor inspected the plane and took it up for a trim job and handed me the TX. He said, "Go ahead an fly her son", Um ok so I did. "Keep her in the air son" Ok i did that too. To make a long story short on the 4th flight the Instructor got me to take the plane up by myself, I got caught up in the fun and never noticed that the Instructor had walked away to talk to a buddy. When it came time to land I tried to call the Instructor to land it but he just waved and said "You can handle it son" So I did, it wasnt real pretty but I managed to keep the shiny side up.

Times sure have changed
Jul 09, 2012, 10:33 PM
Registered User
What a great article and nice thread ! Well done ! Mike
Hopefully this thread could be made as a sticky one asap !
Probably an article has been a sticky one already !

Chen
Jul 10, 2012, 12:57 AM
lost in the addiction of flyin
furballll's Avatar
great writeup, as the head flight instructor in my club and a member of the MAAC begginers and youth commitee i am always trolling the forums looking for useful information i can pass on to students looking for more help, this is a good one.

might i ask you to add one comment to your first lesson though, some do find it difficult as you noted to orient themselves to the plane when its flying towards them. in instances like this i like to have them use a stick to prop up the low wing like you would a low branch. to many this gets them to stop rolling over into the ground on the return leg of the circuit.

todd davis
Jul 10, 2012, 01:02 AM
aka ECAA3D
m0dest's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by jasmine2501
It's a personal assessment. In pattern flying, we have specific patterns for each skill level, and if you can't fly the pattern, you're not at that skill level, but many of us can fly patterns way above our 'official' skill level. It's like wrestlers trying to lose weight to fight in an easier class - we compete in the lowest class we are allowed until we aren't allowed any more, then we move up. Winning contests forces you to move up - you can only win twice in a class. This is for a very well defined type of aerobatic flying though - for sport weekend duffers, there isn't an objective measurement.
We call it "sand bagging" in MTB racing. entering a lower class than your skill level.


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