3D Setup - The First Flights - Good Read for NOOB - RC Groups
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Aug 29, 2016, 06:10 PM
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3D Setup - The First Flights - Good Read for NOOB

I've asked Ben if he would take a few minutes and provide some posts on what he does to set up a 3DHS / EF plane. My hope is that this will serve as a reference thread for those who are just getting into these types of planes and want to learn what they should do on the first 5 - 10 flights to get the plane set up correctly.

I've asked Ben to focus on electric planes since I figure it is more likely someone new will be starting with an electric plane.

I know there is lots of good information out in the other threads, but trying to find it is difficult. Hopefully this one thread will contain enough to get someone off to a good start.

I appreciate Ben taking the time to share his wisdom.
Last edited by PapaTrey; Aug 30, 2016 at 03:24 PM.
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Aug 29, 2016, 06:51 PM
ExtremeFlight - 3DHS - Legacy
blucor basher's Avatar
Too much buildup! But thanks and here goes:

Checklist on the building bench before heading to the field:

1.Controls go in the correct direction. Most commonly reversed are the ailerons. When you push the aileron stick to the RIGHT, the RIGHT aileron should go UP.

2.Center of gravity. We presume your kit came with a recommended center of gravity range. For your first flight, you should be in the FORWARD part of that range (i.e. your battery(ies) should be pushed farther to the nose).

3.Prop on the proper side facing forward. I know, but I've seen it many times.

4.Motor spins correct direction. If not, change it in your speed controller menu, or if you cannot do that, swap any two of the three wires going from your motor to your ESC.

5.Servo setup: Your servo travel adjustment in your radio should move your servos as far as they can reliably go when you are in HIGH RATES. We want the maximum *mechanical advantage* in our control system, this means the servos should travel as far as possible, and we should set our HIGH RATE control surface throw by selecting the proper hole in our servo arm to get the right amount of throw.

6.Control Throws: We presume your kit came with a recommendation. If it's a used plane or didn't for some other reason, use these:

Ailerons: High Rate 35 degrees Low Rate 10 degrees
Elevators: High Rate 45 degrees Low rate 15 degrees
Rudder: High Rate 40 degrees if possible on your plane Low Rate 20 degrees

The main thing here is the elevator throw. If this is a 3D plane, at some point you are going to try to stall the plane, fly through the stall with power, and begin 3D maneuvering. This will require enough elevator throw (and a pull on the stick like you mean it) to stall both wings, and this requires sufficient elevator throw. Many times at a fly in, I have been handed a transmitter because a plane is "snapping out" of a wall or other 3D pitch maneuver. If I pull on it and it rolls one way or the other instead of flying through the stall, odds are when I land, I'll find it only has 25-30 degrees of elevator throw.

7.Expo: I highly recommend around 25% on low rates and around 70% on high rates for your first flights. This is safe. You can tune later.

8.Servo and control motion: Make sure your servo quickly and smoothly moves the control surface to the limit you have selected. If the servo moves about 75% of the way and then slows down and creeps those last few degrees, stop. Do not fly the plane. Take the linkage apart. Figure out if its a weak servo (bad servo, low voltage in the system) or of the linkage is too tight (hinges installed wrong, ball link needs lube).

8.Pull-pull cable tension: If your plane uses rudder cables, make sure they are not slack, and no "banjo string" tight, either. Just taut is all we want. As long as the rudder can't be bounced back and forth in the slack of the rudder cables, we're good. Take whatever tool you need to tighten these to the field with you, this is the first thing that will need maintenance.

9. Grab everything on the plane and pull and twist. If it feels loose, tighten it. Don't let your excitement to maiden cause you to lose a wheel pant or worse, a wheel. Make sure the prop fastener is tight an the spinner cone is secure. Cowl screws are secured. Canopy latch fully engaged.

10.Set your radio fail safe according to the instructions.

11.Make sure your lipo battery(ies) are fully restrained with a strap that goes AROUND the pack and the tray.

12.Make sure your servo extensions have plug locks, even if it's just masking tape.

13.Before going to the field, run your power system on a freshly charged battery, verify that it pulls strongly (FORWARD) and check the amps and watts with a plug-in wattmeter. Is it approximately what it is supposed to be? Good. Let's go to the field.
Last edited by blucor basher; Jul 20, 2017 at 03:29 PM.
Aug 29, 2016, 06:51 PM
ExtremeFlight - 3DHS - Legacy
blucor basher's Avatar
At the field (setup)

1.Install the wings *DO NOT get distracted by the beautiful people at your flying field*.

Being distracted when fastening wings or plugging in ailerons is one of the most common ways to ruin your day. Make sure the wing screws are in and tight. Make sure the aileron servo plugs are correct and locked (at least with tape). Make sure the battery is WELL STRAPPED IN with a strap that goes AROUND the pack and tray. Make sure the pack is IN THE CORRECT PLACE where you balanced the plane to get your forward CG location.

Set a 3 minute timer on your radio.

2.Push the aircraft out to the flight line or club safe run-up area.

Plug in, make sure you get all the right noises, go through whatever sequence your ESC requires for arming properly, and then we begin pre-flight.

Do any recommended radio checks per your mfg.

Run the motor to full power and *sustain full power for 10 seconds*. You may need help to safely restrain your aircraft. Get it.

Stand behind the aircraft and verify your control move in the correct direction. TRY to have a buddy watch with you. Call out "Right Rudder" as you move the control. Buddy verifies Rudder moves to the right. Remember, ailerons fool people most often.

Push out to the flight line.

3.I strongly recommend a new 3D pilot have a spotter ( a person who stands next to you as you fly as a second pair of eyes) for your first flight.

Taxi out, place the aircraft on LOW RATES, and point it into the wind

If you use an idle-up switch to start your motor, do so. If not, trim your throttle up until the motor is just idling.

Start your timer.

Advance the throttle to FULL and the aircraft will move out smartly. Let it roll for just a second or so (these are aircraft that can accelerate vertically) and moderately pull back on the stick to establish a 30-40 degree climb out. Sustain this climb to approx 100 feet high, pull back to 1/2 - 2/3 throttle and level the nose.

4.First flight trim.

Trim pitch. Usually, the aircraft will need some pitch trim, and we need to take care of that first. If it dives hands off, pull back to establish a new climb and hit the trim knob as it arcs over. Do this a few times and you should be able to get it close.

Once it neither climbs nor dives, trim ailerons for roll. I doubt you'll need to worry about rudder trim on your first flight.

5.Have fun until the timer beeps. Stay up high. Try high rates if you like. Try full throttle. When the timer beeps, set up for landing. Flip on LOW RATES.

6.Farther away than you usually do, and higher, turn the aircraft on final approach. Throttle down to less than 1/8, or "a few clicks above idle". Point the nose slightly down, aiming at the spot you want to touch down. If you keep the nose down and the thottle on just above idle, the airplane will fly all the way down to the spot you picked out. If you ride out a good, long final approach just above idle, the airplane will not fly past you, at least not far enough to matter.

Just above the ground, ankle high, pull level and move the throttle to idle. The plane will land. Do not make a big "flare" when you land. Just fly down to the ground on a comfortable, stable final approach and pull level just above the ground.

7.Unplug your battery, remember to move your throttle trim back to the low position if you use trim to set idle.

8.Measure the remaining juice in your battery, knowing that you flew a 3 min flight. now you can calculate your flight time.

Now we can set CG and really trim!
Last edited by blucor basher; Oct 16, 2016 at 10:38 PM.
Aug 29, 2016, 06:52 PM
ExtremeFlight - 3DHS - Legacy
blucor basher's Avatar
Expanded discussion of landing 3D aircraft for those new to it:

1.Landing is a maneuver, like any other. You are the pilot, not the passenger. The very first step to making good landings is to take responsibility for them. If you are at the field, and you see a pilot make a bad landing, and he turns around and says "the plane did..." then you can be pretty sure he's never going to be a landing expert. Once a pilot can say "I screwed that up, I need more practice" (about any maneuver) he is on his way to being an expert.

2. CG

CG (Center of gravity) is important for landing. When you are landing, you should (if you are doing it right) be flying slowly on final approach. We are all aware that if we go too slow, our wing will reach a speed at which it no longer works and will stop flying. We call this a stall. When we stall, we lose lift, and the plane will fall out of the air.

However, our aircraft has two wings (if it's a monoplane)...one in front, and one in the back (the horizontal stabilizer with elevators). In flight, the main wing holds the plane up, and the tail wing provide up or down lift to hold the plane stable. This is why a nose-heavy plane requires some "up" trim and why a tail-heavy plane requires some "down" trim (and why expecting your elevator to always end up perfectly in line with your stabilizer is not correct).

When you slow way down for final approach, the smaller tail wing stops flying first. As the tail wing loses efficiency, the balance of the plane takes over. A nose-heavy plane will drop its nose (the heavy end) and a tail-heavy plane will drop its tail (the heavy end). Dropping the nose is not a problem...dropping the tail causes the plane to slow down more and we may stall. This is why a tail-heavy plane is more difficult to land, because the pilot has to use elevator to push the nose down to maintain flight speed.

You might want a tail-heavy airplane for 3d tricks, but first be sure you can land it. To help:


Do not glide down to landing. Your throttle is a speed *control* and if you set it correctly (about 1/8 on the SHP) it will help to keep your plane at the proper speed on landing, not too fast and not too slow.

If you learn to fly a full-size plane (or learn to fly an RC plane correctly) you will be taught at some point to fly a "stabilized approach". This means that your landing approach is stable, in that it has no time limit. You could start your approach at 20 feet high or 2,000 ft high, and you can fly in this mode as long as you want.

The opposite of a "stable approach" is a "decaying approach"...this is an approach flown without enough throttle or too slowly which has a time limit. The plane is slowing down (because there is no throttle) and the pilot is trying to get it on the runway before something bad happens.

To fly a stabilized approach, put the nose down about 10-15 degrees, use 1/8 throttle or so, and point the airplane at the spot you want to land. Start high enough and far enough away that you get a chance to fly a stabilized approach down to the runway. Don't "flare" or do anything else until you are very low. If you cut the throttle and pull back on the stick, make sure you're only ankle-high. Too many pilots want to have a dramatic flare at the end of their approach...leave that to the experts. Just fly down to the ground and close the throttle for the last foot or so. Done.


The elevator is the important control for landing. DO NOT land on 3D rates. Use your low rates. First, fly a pass down the runway about 2 feet high on low rates at about half throttle. Can you do it? For most of us, probably not. Lower your low rates and increase your low rate exponential until you can smoothly fly just above the runway consistently and smoothly. When you are flying a stabilized approach, having the correct elevator response will allow you to actually pilot the aircraft in a straight line, rather than fighting a bucking bronco. Get your elevator response right!


Watch people who can land. Watch people who cannot. See their habits.

What we do not want to do is to go up really high, cut off our motor, and dive at the runway, then pull up and glide along the runway, bouncing up and down, hoping to be able to smack the runway on a lucky bounce.

Instead, we select low rates, select low throttle, point the nose 10-15 degrees down toward the end of the runway and fly a smooth straight line. When we are very low we cut our throttle and bring the aircraft to level and let it touch down.

If we mess it up, we make any necessary repairs, change our CG or transmitter as needed, and try again. Once you know how to land, your repair bills go way down.
Last edited by blucor basher; Aug 30, 2016 at 10:10 AM.
Aug 29, 2016, 06:52 PM
ExtremeFlight - 3DHS - Legacy
blucor basher's Avatar
Setting Center of Gravity on your new 3D plane:

CG has to be set IN THE AIR before you are done!

Most ARF manufacturers provide a "starting CG point" or a "CG range". Definitely, do try to get your new airplane close to this value on the bench, and it's usually better, if the maker provided a range, to be closer to the nose-heavy end of the range for a maiden if you are a less-experienced pilot.

However, realize that even among experienced builders, very few people can set CG correctly. There are many "CG machines" on the market, tools to help builders set CG accurately...but despite this many people measure incorrectly or otherwise mess up in some way and get it wrong. It's a fact.

If you have assembled an ARF, and you find yourself adding lots of weight to the tail or nose to get your CG set, stop and look at what you are doing.

Is your motor the same size (weight) as recommended?

Is your battery pack(s) the same size as recommended?

Are you using the expected type and number of servos?

If you are doing the above and cannot get the CG set without massive modifications, you may be doing it wrong. Check your measurement, are you sure you are reading the ruler right? Some planes are sensitive to orientation, they need to be balanced either upright or inverted, make sure you are doing it the right way.

If you can find information about your plane on-line, check with other users. Stick with this until your measurement makes sense AND you can move the CG forward and back (by moving your battery pack) and it all makes sense. Don't maiden an airplane which you cannot guarantee yourself has the CG set within the range...and for better results set it to the forward limit listed in your manual for the first flights.

A war story: We went to an event in '07 and two pilots showed up with identical 3DHS airplanes. Using the recommended setups and batteries as they both were, I knew from experience that a nice CG was easy to obtain with the lipoly pack in the center of the tray. One pilot had his pack up in the very nose of the plane, the other had his hanging off the back of the battery tray. Both, of course, "balanced" their planes at the same, recommended location. Moral of the story: Balancing planes is hard at first, if it seems wrong, you are probably doing it wrong...ARF airframes just don't vary that much.

So, to sum up, if it doesn't seem right, it probably isn't. Figure out why before proceeding!


So, once you have your CG set on the bench, it's time to fly. Setting CG in the air is a process of making your airplane fly right FOR YOU (not for anyone else). The following information is right for AEROBATIC AIRCRAFT. Flat-bottom wing aircraft like trainers should NOT be balanced with the method that follows.

Here's what you need to know:

Test your CG location by doing the "roll inverted" test. Fly your plane level at 3/4 throttle, and use the trim knobs on your radio to trim it to fly *STRAIGHT AND LEVEL* by itself. When you have it trimmed, it should be able to fly, hands off, across the sky on a day with low wind. Work with it util it really is trimmed in pitch and will fly straight, upright, hands off.

Once it is perfectly trimmed, at 3/4 throttle pull up to a 45 degree climb. Roll it over inverted. Observe what it does.

If it DIVES inverted, it is NOSE HEAVY.


If it CLIMBS inverted, it is TAIL HEAVY.

Move your battery pack, or add/subtract nose/tail weight as needed to move your CG. Don't change the CG much, only about 1/8 inch at a time. Fly the airplane again with your adjustment. TRIM THE AIRPLANE AGAIN for straight and level flight, then do the roll-inverted test again. Repeat as necessary RE-TRIMMING the aircraft for STRAIGHT AND LEVEL EACH TIME before establishing the 45 degree upline and rolling inverted.


A VERY NOSE-HEAVY airplane, during the roll inverted test, will sharply dive while inverted. It will require a significant push down on the elevator stick to maintain altitude inverted. This CG is NOT good for aerobatics. It's OK for basic sport flying with many aircraft, but the airplane will not fly high-performance maneuvers well, and probably will not 3D much at all. It is very easy to land an airplane balanced like this.

A SLIGHTLY NOSE HEAVY airplane, during the roll-inverted test, will gently descend when rolled inverted for the test. It will thus require a slight push down on the elevator stick to maintain altitude inverted.

What the vast majority of pilots want is a SLIGHTLY NOSE HEAVY airplane. This is where competition aircraft are usually balanced, this is where most good-flying aerobatic aircraft are balanced. This location provides good tracking and smooth landings. Most 3D aircraft will 3D well at this CG. Our Extreme Flight and 3DHS branded aircraft certainly will.

A NEUTRAL balanced or TAIL HEAVY airplane is for experienced pilots only.

A NEUTRAL CG balanced aircraft will have lots of pitch (elevator) authority and will rotate around the wing spar very easily.

HOWEVER, a NEUTRAL CG balanced aircraft will not track very well. It is not going to easily fly precision figures. It will be difficult to land smoothly and will tend to balloon up on final approach.

A TAIL HEAVY airplane is will NOT fly precisely at high speed. It will be very challenging to land smoothly. Be cautious with any setup balanced like this until you are experienced with it.

Experiment with different CG locations. Move your CG only a bit (1/8 inch or so) at a time, so you are not taken by surprise when making changes, but do experiment so that YOU will learn how different CG points feel and what YOU like to fly. Remember, this airplane is YOURS and it should feel right to YOU, not your flying buddies or anyone else!
Last edited by blucor basher; Aug 29, 2016 at 10:34 PM.
Aug 29, 2016, 07:11 PM
ExtremeFlight - 3DHS - Legacy
blucor basher's Avatar
Tuning Controls

One your CG is set, and you have tuned your low-rate elevator response so that you are landing smoothly, you can move on to tuning your controls for performance and optimizing your aircraft for you.

Roll Rate (aileron throw)

There is nothing critical about aileron throw. Your low rate should be low enough to fly smooth landing sequences and correct for wind accurately. Your high rate could be set, as many people's are, to max out the roll rate at high speed...but I don't recommend this. We all know the guy who just wants to show off that his plane rolls like a drill...but can he actually use that high roll rate to do anything? As you learn to fly more complex maneuvers, you will be required to coordinate your elevator and rudder as the airplane rolls (rolling loops, harrier rolling, etc.) When you are ready to actually work on such figures, make sure you high rate aileron is set low enough that you can keep up with the roll rate when learning to coordinate. Typically, no more than 35 degrees is necessary on high rates. Use sufficient exponential so that you are smooth on this control. Typically this is in around 20% on low rates and at least 50% on high rates.

Elevator Throw

This is critical. In our Extreme Flight and 3DHS branded manuals, we always recommend at least 45 degrees of high rate elevator. This gives you enough elevator authority to be able to instantaneously stall both your left and right wing, this is how you convince the airplane to stall straight ahead and you can power through the stall and start flying 3D.

We always recommend a low rate throw 15 degrees or less, but this needs to be tuned for the individual pilot. As mentioned in the landing article, you need to adjust your low rate elevator so that you can really fly a string-straight line down low near the runway without drama. This is the most important use of low rate elevator for the beginners because it allows smooth landings. Later you can get into precise tuning of low rate elevator to achieve a precise radius in precision figures...but get your landings smooth first. If your airplane is porpoising up and down when you fly close to the ground and you can't draw a straight line, you need to turn down your low rate throw and possibly increase your low rate expo.

Use sufficient expo on elevator to smooth out both rates, high and low. This is typically 20% or so on low rates and at least 50% on high rates. I prefer 70% on high rates, and recommend people start there.


This one is trickier.

For a 3D plane, we need sufficient rudder to allow us to shove the tail around in rough maneuvers like hover. That requires a LOT of throw. 40 or 45 degrees. However, when we are flying the harrier maneuver, we really need to be smooth on the rudder or it is easy to cause a wing to drop or make wings rock. Rudder exponential, therefore, is critical. We need enough expo that we can precisely add very small amounts of rudder in harrier, while being able to command full rudder throw at a moment's notice when we need it. This requires experimentation. I fly 75% rudder expo, and I recommend beginner start around there. You can always reduce it.

You can set up a rudder low rate if you choose, but for a beginner it's much more critical to get the expo right. If so, one rudder throw level is almost always sufficient for everything you will be doing. Later, you can optimize a low rate rudder for precision aerobatic figures.


Things you should NOT change.

We all know what the internet is like. It's really boring if people were to simply post "I'm practicing my landings". No, we're techies and so we talk tech. What people are lured into doing is modifying their airplanes, almost almost always for the worse, when they should be concentrating on building flying skills.

What you should not change are the designed aspects of your plane. I'm presuming you have a very high-quality, proven design.

As an example, people on the internet are forever altering their right thrust value. This is the amount your motor points off to the right on your airplane. Don't ever change this. 99.9% of balsa ARF aircraft have 2-3 degrees of right thrust built into the airframe and this is just fine. Over the years, I've used 2.5 to 3 degrees and so have all of our other designers, on the airplanes I was involved in, and it works fine. There is no flight problem which can be fixed on a typical 3D airplane by changing the right thrust to be outside these limits...but if you follow the wacky RC internet, someone somewhere is *always* doing this and (blissfully unaware of how dumb it sounds) claiming it fixed their airframe.

The background is this: Right thrust is only "correct" for one particular prop and at one particular throttle setting and airspeed...for every other condition it is "incorrect". But, it's close enough that an approximate setting (2-3 degrees for our typical aircraft) works transparently for almost all flight conditions.

Every now and then, some new person will realize that adding more right thrust allows them to hold less rudder in hover, and they think they've discovered the secret of the universe. They write angry letters telling me that at 6 degrees of right thrust, the airplane hovers better and how could I have missed something so obvious. They never realize that the airplane now flies a giant circle at high speed and requires them to hold left rudder to go straight.

Moral of the story: Don't change any of the designed-in attributes of your airplane. Learn to fly instead of messing with the airframe. We, and our team pilots who win national events with our aircraft, fly them box-stock. We use all of the hardware that comes in the box, and we use the CG and throw setting printed in the manual. Don't be taken in by someone on the internet telling you he changed some design aspect of the plane and now it flies much better.


The final moral:

Get a proven airplane from a reputable manufacturer.

Use the recommended equipment.

Assemble it according to the manual.

Set the CG carefully at the recommended forward setting on your workbench.

Check your controls and power system carefully, if it doesn't seem right, don't fly until it is.

Get a buddy to double check your controls are going in the correct direction.

Fly a short maiden flight, grossly trim the plane, and land on low rates.

Calculate your flight time.

Set your CG in the air using the roll-inverted test. Make it slightly nose heavy...maybe a bit more nose-heavy if you have trouble landing.

Follow the landing instructions.

Tune your controls for your desired feel, especially taking time to set your low rate elevator for smoothness in landing, and your rudder expo for a combination of power and delicacy that will allow you to progress in both hover and harrier.

Don't get taken in by bright ideas to change your aircraft around, instead practice your flying diligently.
Last edited by blucor basher; Aug 29, 2016 at 11:18 PM.
Aug 30, 2016, 07:04 AM
PapaTrey's Avatar
That is awesome Ben. I know most people on this forum are past the point of needing this, but I found it very helpful.

I know that there will be plenty of people in the future who will benefit for having all that information in one place.

Thank you!!!!
Aug 30, 2016, 07:46 AM
I like the violent stuff!
First time I flew with Ben, very nervous, got distracted, forgot wing bolt. Plane ejected wing 10 seconds into flight. Got a handle on it 20 feet off ground and pancaked hard, broken prop and L/G. So much good advice here, thanks Ben. I owe you a meal Ben, if you're ever near Disneyland, P.F. Chang on me.
Aug 30, 2016, 08:03 AM
Fly it 'till it breaks.
Motojunk's Avatar
Damn good read, even if I've been doing this for a while. Thanks for taking the time to share all that, Ben. I feel like those posts should be stickied somewhere here on RCG. It would help a LOT of new pilots.
Aug 31, 2016, 09:24 AM
This is NOT a TOY?
C_Watkins's Avatar
Good stuff. Thanks Ben!
Reported for sticky-worthiness

(I'm sure the folks who need it the most will still ask in the other threads, but it would be nice to have a common place to point them.)
Aug 31, 2016, 03:43 PM
Yin & Yang
Liberty10's Avatar
Good read and great job Ben. Now I just need to remember where to direct beginners for a great read.
Aug 31, 2016, 04:11 PM
DFC~ We Do Flyin' Right
Vapor Trails's Avatar
Sep 01, 2016, 01:15 PM
out to have fun
A lot of good information great job Ben Papatrey

Sep 08, 2016, 05:53 PM
PapaTrey's Avatar
Ben...what are some general guidelines for setting up aileron throws. What I mean is, what are some indications of excessive aileron throws? At some point they begin to act more like air brakes than ailerons.
Sep 08, 2016, 07:54 PM
ExtremeFlight - 3DHS - Legacy
blucor basher's Avatar
It's a matter of deciding how involved you want your Tx setup to be. Some people enjoy playing their Tx like a saxophone while they fly, some couldn't find a Tx switch while in the air to save their life. IF you have no problem flipping switches, the basic procedure it to set up two "high"
rates. One is for high speed, the other for 3D. It's rare that one aileron throw both *maximizes roll rate at full throttle* AND * gives a perfect rolling harrier roll rate.

I'm not a fan of people maximizing high speed roll rate unless they have a certain maneuver they can/want to fly with it. However, if a pilot wants to maximize high speed roll rate, he's going to have to test at 35, 40, and 45 degrees of throw. The more excess power he has to play with, the more freedom of throw on ailerons he has to work with...but the throw that maximizes roll rate will not be the same for a plane with 300 watts per pound and a pitch speed of of 90 mph, as it is for a plane with 180 watts/pound and pitch speed of 65.

I don't personally do any of this. I don't care about maximizing high speed roll rate for my flying, and I have a hard time keeping up my pitch and yaw inputs on any Extreme Flight or 3DHS plane at maximum roll, even if it's not optimized. Rather, I set my high-rate ailerons for my desired harrier roll rate and call it good. But, to each their own.