Getting planes out of trees - RC Groups
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Nov 09, 2003, 08:58 AM
Proud member of LISF and ESL

Getting planes out of trees

I don't know if trees and planes are attracted to each other like magnets, but somehow we seem to be pulling someone out of a tree every few weeks. Fortunately it is not me these days, though I am sure I will find one again. I can see them reaching for the plane as I fly by. The guys tell me it is the wind, but I think they are calling my plane.

So, how do you get your plane out of a tree? Here are some methods I use, or have seen used. Some are simple and cheap. Some are complex and some are expensive. You have to decide which to use and when.

In my book, chain saws, axes and things that will kill the tree are not an option. Call me a tree hugger, but I just can't see cutting down a tree to get a plane. There is usually a better option.

I am going to list the ones I know, roughly in effective range. I hope you can provide some others, preferably before I need them.

8-12 Feet (2-4 meters) -

Good old hand reach combined with anything to stand on and maybe a local stick or branch - Cost $0

10-30 Feet (3-10 meters) -

When I fly I bring a 6 foot extension pole for a paint roller that I purchased in Home Depot for $14. It extends to 12 feet. I have seen 4, 8 and 10 footers that double as well. I also saw an 8 footer that almost triples to about 22 feet.

15-50 Feet (5-16 meters) -

I carry a spool of 130 pound test mason's line in my field box that has an 8 ounce rounded fishing weight attached to it. Costs about $5 total. With a good throw I can usually get it up and over the branch holding the plane so I can shake it free. Hitting the branch can take lots of throws and hitting the plane is a real risk, but it is better than leaving it there. If your plane is sitting on a very strong branch, use the lighter line to pull up a heavier line. -

30-100 feet (9-32 meters) -

A bow and arrow work well at this height, but you have to develop some skill in order to get the needed accuracy. I estimate this at $50-$100 - One problem is that you can get the arrow stuck on a different branch which only compounds your problem. The line will have to be light, so use it to pull up heavier line or so you can break it if the arrow gets stuck.

A spinning rod with a weight also works but again, the line is light so you carry stronger line that you pull up to the branch using the lighter line.

Other methods I have heard about but never used or witnessed.

Tree climber - Somehow every RC club has the phone number of a guy who climbs trees for a fee.

Helo - I heard of one guy who used an electric helo to fly a line and weight up and had some kind of release to drop it onto the branch. Sounds like a good justification for a helo when I speak with my wife.

A really original idea

Control line kite - This one surprised me, but one of our members got his plane stuck in the top of a high tree, over 100 feet up. He also flies the large kites that look like arc shaped parachutes. He has two control lines on the kite that let him direct it, dive it and move it around the sky. He used it to attack the tree until the tree gave up the plane. I like the idea of attacking the tree!

I need some more ideas - those trees are calling my planes! What methods have you used or seen used to get the darn plane out of that darn tree?
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Nov 09, 2003, 09:11 AM
Registered User
A trained monkey comes to mind,but I think government regulations makes this tough!
Nov 09, 2003, 09:33 AM
Proud member of LISF and ESL
I don't think the monkey will work. Eventually they want their own plane, but at least they can get it out of the trees themselves.
Nov 09, 2003, 09:41 AM
2 many post 4 1 SlowStick
bubbadice's Avatar
You left out one of best and cheapest:


I had a plane ~40ft. up. Buried in a 'bushy' type tree. For about $7.00 worth of PVC pipe from Home Depot, I got it down. It's not a 'cut & dried' method however.

It helps greatly if you have intermediate branches to use as guides on your PVC, much as your fingers on a pool cue stick.
Because I did, I was able to use smaller sized 3/4" pipe. This diameter pipe is flimsy enough to bend each section as you couple the 10ft. sections together and 'feed' it up the tree. Each section is joined with a .49 cent coupling sleeve. It's really easy to do. The 3/4" PVC I used was ~$1.50 per/10ft. I've read of REALLY HIGH up planes being retrieved w/ PVC here on ezone!

A thicker PVC pipe would be needed to span heights without intermeditate support/branches. You would have to make your own evaluation knowing where your plane is, and after handling the many various sizes of PVC. PVC is 'dirt cheap'.

I have the three lengths I used stored for future use. Please note, I had a BUSHY tree, you may need a larger diameter PVC pipe. It really works well. It can save you hours and hours of less fruitful ways that just waste your time, and throwing arm!

Whenever possible, consider having the 'city' or utility Co. get the plane down. It's worth a call, especially if your plane is anywhere near powerlines, roads, city property, etc..

If your plane is barely hanging, a LARGE THREADED NUT with twine tied to it, thrown and looped over the limb, then used to pull up a larger/stronger rope, can 'shake' a plane out.

My favorite was my buddy taking his truck, and 'banging' into the tree with his front bumper, knock the plane out. It did move the plane? Just deeper into the tree's clutches though!
Last edited by bubbadice; Nov 09, 2003 at 09:58 AM.
Nov 09, 2003, 09:41 AM
Registered User
Now I have this picture in my mind of a monkey hanging by his tail flying the plane from the tree!!!LOL. I need more coffee!
Nov 09, 2003, 09:52 AM
Professional Tinkerer
rickyblaze's Avatar
It's funny that this thread was started as I was just about to tell a story about my experience and I see this thread. I was flying my Aerobird about 5 days ago when it got real windy all of the sudden,well I was fighting the bird and trying to get it back to where I was going to land (in my front yard). It went into a dive real squirrly and when I pulled up I saw it THE WING FOLDED!! oh no I yelled (well maybe a little more explicit) and it dived right into the top of a big maple tree on my neighbors property,I'm guessing 45'- 50' up.
One thing learned is to listen to the guys on this forum, when you have a crease in one of these wings DO NOT FLY because that is exactly what happened the wing had a crease in it and finally when I pulled up after diving the way it did it gave way and with a resounding bang landed (CRASHED) into the top of this tree. Well I thought since I could see it was only hanging on by a kittle trig it would come down from the wind. It was getting dark so I went in.
I had to work the next day a 24 hr shift at the Fire Dept so that day it stayed up their and the following day as well. I tryed to get it down with pvc pipe connected 10' at a time but it was to far up there. I was beginning to think it might be a while before I could get it. I was thinking well if I could only get the battery for my other Aerobird that would be nice. Then it dawned on me ,use my Daughters paint ball gun(i know hahaha) I got it out this morning loaded it full of paint balls and went Aerobird hunting. I got under it as well as I could ,this tree was surrounded by briars and scrub brush. I hit it several times but to no avail it just swung there in the breeze.
Now I know this next part may seem a little inappropriate to some and I apologize in advance. Keep in mind that I live in the country a ways from populated areas. I was desperate and wanted to get this thing down so I grabbed my pellet rifle and headed back to the plane. I got around to an open shot with a limb for a back drop and after about 10 shots with my pellet rifle BINGO I hit the trig that was holding my plane and it came down. Covered in paint ball juice I took it back to the house and cleaned it off put another battery in it to make sure it still worked(it spent a day in the rain) it did .Great all I need now is a new wing some tail feathers and I will be back in action with it once again.
Sorry this was so long I just had to tell somebody.

Nov 09, 2003, 09:59 AM
Jimbob55's Avatar
recently had an experience. Local prisoners working on the park
used a backhoe and tree climber to free my baby. Great bunch of guys even if they had run afoul of the law...
Nov 09, 2003, 10:08 AM
2 many post 4 1 SlowStick
bubbadice's Avatar
Rick, C' WORK for the FIRE DEPT.! You couldn't borrow an 'off-duty' ladder truck?
Nov 09, 2003, 10:17 AM
Pack Rat
KLH's Avatar
I've been very lucky! In about 55 years of flying I've only had 3 planes get stuck in trees. I've used a paint roller extension pole once and by standing on the top of my truck I got a plane free that was about 25' up. On another I used a light weight line with a 2 oz weight and was lucky enough to get up over a limb and shook the darn thing until the plane fell free, but my personel favorite one was my wife. I got my Carbon Falcon stuck in a tree and it was just out of reach of the old extesion poll and ladder that I had. My wife (she's a lot more agile than I am) offered to climb the tree and get it, which she did, however, she told me that it was a one time offer and in the future I was on my own.

Nov 09, 2003, 10:17 AM
Professional Tinkerer
rickyblaze's Avatar
LOL, I can see where the 110' platform ladder would come be handy. But I don't think I could talk the Chief into letting me take it home and retrieve a plane ,cat maybe haha.

Nov 09, 2003, 12:57 PM
Proud member of LISF and ESL
Originally posted by rickyblaze
LOL, I can see where the 110' platform ladder would come be handy. But I don't think I could talk the Chief into letting me take it home and retrieve a plane ,cat maybe haha.

Hey man, this is rescue practice. Pretend the plane is a kid in the window of a house on fire. Get up there and get that kid.

When they give it to you, you fly it into another tree and they go get it.

The Chief will love you!

Bubbadice, thanks for the PVC pole story. I think you told that one in another thread. I forgot it.


Pellet gun?????? Paint Gun????

You shot the plane?

Man, that Aerobird is tough. Crashed into a tree. shot with two kinds of guns, left out in the rain, and it still works fine and just needs a new wing? The perfect airplane.

We should call it the Superbird!!!

So, who has another way to get planes down. My wife ain't climbing no tree. That's for sure!
Nov 09, 2003, 07:05 PM
Registered User
I have fund that a tree saw with an extension pole works pretty well. If you can't free the plane by shaking the limb....just cut it off. I have (4) ten foot pole extension s that let you reach a good 45+ ft. So far, I have only had to use it once. The plane was recovered from about 40ft up with only one ding in the leading edge.
Nov 09, 2003, 07:25 PM
wild in the park?
wherndon's Avatar
12 gauge double ought works good for limbs up to 2 inch diameter.
Larger than that requires a Husqvarna.
PVC pipe also work well, provided the user doesn't drop it while you are standing underneath. I have a very nice 3/4 inch round scar on my forearm where some pcv impaled me in an airplane/tree related incounter.

Nov 09, 2003, 07:39 PM
Registered User
wallasan10's Avatar
For the chain saw to be an option you will first need to be the owner of that tree! Tree hugger or not.
There is a fishing pole called a "crappie stick", short ones are 10 to 12 feet and long ones are up to 25 feet and they colapse down to 3 to 5 feet. Because of the taper they are much more usefull than PVC pipe. You can use them WITH the PVC pipe on the big end to extend even to the tops of all but the tallest trees.
Been flying freeflight planes for years, now I use the radio to avoid the trees in the first place ;-)
Nov 09, 2003, 11:43 PM
jswayze's Avatar
As I finally retreived my Wingo after 2 weeks in a tree, I thought this would be a good time to relate my story for future generations.

Time Change weekend (Oct. 26) - Having just returned from a long business trip, I couldn't wait to fly my plane. I had just made the final tweaks to my aerial photography setup and had my Aiptek Pencam wired up and ready to go. Due to family commitments that weekend, I only had a couple hours at the end of daylight to fly, so out to the back yard I went. I hand launched the plane as I had many times before, but this time she didn't want to gain altitude. I struggled until the plane got a little too far out and decided to pull a tight turn and bring her back and gain altitude on the way in. Unfortunately, the offending tree had a few branches JUST at the outside of the turn and the plane caught. It looked like a pretty gentle catch from where I was standing, but man was it high up.

As it turns out, it was about 55 feet up [laser rangefinder] in the tree, and not very far in. Feeling violated, I immediately went back inside and looked up Tree Retreival in the RCgroups archives. After weighing my options, I decided on the slingshot/fishing rod plan. I went to Wal-Mart and got a $15 fishing pole and a new "sling" for my old rotted-out wrist rocket. Well, the first shot worked like a charm. The 5/16 nut I had at the end of the line wrapped around the limb, and with a couple of shakes the plane dropped. Straight down into a new set of branches (think egg-shaped tree, narrow at top, wider at middle). Now I was really screwed, and better yet, the time changed and I had no daylight to work with during the week.

Between then and now I spent about 4 hours launching nut after nut into the tree. Over that time I managed to get half a rudder, half a stabilizer, and a control horn. I managed to go through 5 or 6 nuts (of varying weights), an entire reel of fishing line and about 150 ft. of kite string. Most of my time was spent developing and perfecting a method to keep my kite string from bunching up as I lauched the projectile. You have to lay it on the ground in a zig-zag pattern so it can't loop around itself when you launch. The other big time waster was that the nut would simply pull free from the tree when you yanked on it. It wasn't heavy enough to drop to the ground and bring the rest of the string with it.

Fast forward to today. I spend the last week thinking about my problem and decided that I needed a MUCH bigger weight to ensure that it wold come down. The plan would be to have two ends of the string that I could work with and have a positive grip on the branch. Well, to make a long story a little shorter, I turned a stainless steel rod on my lathe and made the perfect projectile for this activity. After two tries, I got it over the branch, and after about 20 minutes of manipulation, I managed to get the plane down, sans one piece of the tail.

The plane is very beat up, but everything seems to have survived, including the camera. The epoxy from previous repairs is yellowed from the sun (I assume) and the tail boom is bent, but I've got new parts on the way from Hobby Lobby so I should be up and running soon.

I like the idea of the 3/4 PVC pipe... I'll have to try that next time

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