Six Keys to Success for New Pilots
Whether you have a coach or you are trying to learn to fly on your own, you
will need to be mindful of these six areas if you are going to become a
successful RC pilot. After many years of working with new flyers at our club,
and coaching flyers on the forums, there are a few things I have seen as the
key areas to stress for new pilots. Some get it right away and some have to
work at it. They are in no particular order because they all have to be
learned to be successful.
1) Wind - The single biggest cause of crashes that I have observed has been the
insistence upon flying in too much wind. If you are under an instructor's
control or on a buddy box, then follow their advice, but if you are starting
out and tying to learn on your own, regardless of the model, I recommend dead
calm to 3 MPH for the slow stick and tiger moth type planes. Under 5 MPH for
all others. That includes gusts. An experienced pilot can handle more. It is the pilot,
not the plane that determines how much wind can be handled.
Let me share a story:
The wind was around 8 mph steady with gusts to 12. That was strong enough that some of the experienced pilots flying three and four channel small electric planes chose not to launch their electrics. This new flyer insisted that he wanted to try his two and three channel parkflyers. Crash, Crash, Crash - Three planes in pieces. He just would not listen. Sometimes you just have to let them crash. There is no other way to get them to understand.
Many parkflyers can be flown in higher winds by AN EXPERIENCED PILOT. I
have flown my Aerobird in 18 mph wind (clocked speed) but it is quite exciting
trying to land it.
Always keep the plane up wind from you. There is no reason for a new flyer to
have the plane downwind EVER!
2) Orientation - Knowing the orientation of your plane is a real challenge,
even for experienced pilots. You just have to work at it and some adults have
a real problem with left and right regardless of which way the plane is going.
Licensed pilots have a lot of trouble with this one as they are accustomed to
being in the plane.
Here are two suggestions on how to work on orientation when you are not
Use a flight simulator on your PC. Pick a slow flying model and fly it a lot.
Forget the jets and fast planes. Pick a slow one. Focus on left and right
coming at you. Keep the plane in front of you. Don't let it fly over your
An alternative is to try an RC car that has proportional steering. You don't
have to worry about lift, stall and wind. Get something with left and right
steering and speed control. Set up an easy course that goes toward and away
from you with lots of turns. Do it very slowly at first until you can make
the turns easily. Then build speed over time. You'll get it! If it has
sticks rather than a steering wheel even better, but not required. Oh, and
little cars are fun too.
3) Too Much Speed - Speed is the enemy of the new pilot, but if you fly too slowly the wings can't generate enough lift, so there is a compromise here. The key message is that you don't have to fly at full throttle all the time. Most small electrics fly very nicely at 2/3 throttle and some do quite well at 1/2. That is a much better training speed than full power. Launch at full power and climb to a good height, say 100 feet as a minimum, so you have time to recover from a mistake. At 100 feet, about double the height of the trees where I live, go to half throttle and see how the plane handles. If it holds altitude on a straight line, this is a good speed. Now work on slow and easy turns, work on left and right, flying toward you and maintaining altitude. Add a little throttle if the plane can't hold altitude.
4) Not enough altitude - New flyers are often afraid of altitude. They feel
safer close to the ground. Nothing could be more wrong. Altitude is your
friend. As stated above I consider 100 feet, about double tree height where I
live, as a good flying height and I usually fly much higher than this. Fifty
feet, is minimum flying height for new flyers. Below that you better be lining up for landing.
5) Over control - Most of the time the plane does not need input from you.
Once you get to height, a properly trimmed plane flying in calm air will
maintain its height and direction with no help from you. In fact anything you
do will interfere with the plane.
When teaching new pilots I often do a demo flight of their plane. I get the
plane to 100 feet, then bring the throttle back to a nice cruising speed. I get
it going straight, with plenty of space in front of it, then take my hand off
the sticks and hold the radio out to the left with my arms spread wide to
emphasize that I am doing nothing. I let the plane go wherever it wants to
go, as long as it is holding altitude, staying
upwind and has enough room. If you are flying a high wing trainer and you
can't do this, your plane is out of trim.
Even in a mild breeze with some gusts, once you reach flying height, you
should be able to take your hand off the stick. Oh the plane will move around
and the breeze might push it into a turn, but it should continue to fly with
no help from you.
Along this same line of thinking, don't hold your turns for more than a couple
of seconds after the plane starts to turn. Understand that the plane turns by
banking or tilting its wings. If you hold a turn too long you will force the
plane to deepen this bank and it will eventually lose lift and go into a
spiral dive and crash. Give your inputs slowly and gently and watch the
plane. Start your turn then let off then turn some more and let off. Start
your turns long before you need to and you won't need to make sharp turns.
I just watch these guys hold the turn, hold the turn, hold the turn, crash.
Of course they are flying in 10 mph wind, near the ground, coming toward
themselves at full throttle.
6) Preflight check - Before every flight it is the pilot's responsibility to
confirm that the plane, the controls and the conditions are correct and
acceptable for flight.
Plane - Batteries at proper power
Surfaces properly aligned
No damage or breakage on the plane
Radio - Frequency control has been met before you turn on the radio
(this has gone away with 2.4 GHz systems)
A full range check before the first flight of the day
All trims and switches in the proper position for this plane
Battery condition is good
Antenna fully extended
For computer radios - proper model is displayed
All surfaces move in the proper direction
Conditions - No one on the field or in any way at risk from your fight
You are launching into the wind
Wind strength is acceptable ( see wind above )
Sunglasses and a hat to protect your eyes
All other area conditions are acceptable.
Then and only then can you consider yourself, your plane, radio and the
conditions right for flight. Based on your plane, your radio and local
conditions you may need to add or change something here, but this is the bare
minimum. It only takes a couple of minutes at the beginning of the flying day
and only a few seconds to perform before each flight.
If this all seems like too much to remember, do what professional pilots do,
take along a preflight check list. Before every flight they go down
the check list, perform the tests, in sequence, and confirm that all is right.
If you want your flying experience to be a positive one, you should do the
same. After a short time, it all becomes automatic and just a natural part of
a fun and rewarding day.
I hope some of this is useful in learning to fly your plane.
Last edited by aeajr; Jul 01, 2013 at 02:59 PM. Reason: fix typos - updated some links
Yes, even after we gain our "wings" we sometimes decide to challenge the wind a little to much, try to make that turn on final a little too low, come in a little too fast, forget to check the model in the computer, or note that the rudder is broken. We still screw-up, but at least we recoginze that it is a screw-up.
Last edited by aeajr; May 25, 2007 at 07:00 AM. Reason: fixed a typo
Ed....very informative post. I am sure that newbies and those that are not so newbies will find what you said very useful.
I just want to stress that there is no substitute for learning with an experienced pilot...your learning curve will be much steeper. If that is not possible then following your advice is a good alternative!
Thank you for taking the time to do this post. I have been using a flight simulator a couple hrs. every day. It has really helped with the control going away to determine the oriention of the plane and flying back the responce gets to be automatic. It has aso helped when getting in a bind to use the correct stick moves to keep from crashing. Jerry
As always, great post. Many thanks for taking the time to offer these hints to beginners.
One important thing I think you left out though, is the problem of losing orientation due to aircraft visibility/lighting. I think this is one of the 2 or 3 major causes of crashes, and was the cause of mine a couple days ago (Falcon56 glow).
Coming back into the hobby after an absence of many years, I've been tending to fly in the early evening when the wind usually subsides. However, the lighting when the sun is relatively low in the sky can be especially treacherous. Oftentimes at certain angles all you see is a dark silhouette against the sky and it will be unclear whether it's banking left or right until the bank starts becoming severe and major control inputs are needed. Regardless of how carefully you covered/painted the aircraft for visibility (light on top, dark on bottom, for example) if you're not paying close attention all the time you can lose track of which way the aircraft is banking, and even whether it's inverted or not. I think older eyes are particularly susceptible to this.
I was watching one of the top pilots in our club fly one of his combat ships the other day. It was all one color and with an extended vertical stab both above and below the fuselage it looked almost perfectly symmetrical. It confused the heck out of me and I asked him why he didn't give himself some orientation cues in terms of contrasting top and bottom wing colors. He said it's so easy to lose orientation, he's reluctant to use the colors as a crutch, and concentrates on paying attention to how "he last left the aircraft" to aid in evaluating most likely current orientation.
I'm not sure what the moral of the story is, other than to be aware of the issue and try not to look away from the aircraft so you have to try to decipher its orientation from scratch with only visual cues. This is particularly important when the sun is low in the sky and the aircraft is smaller and at greater distances from you.
I took my maiden flight with a foam cub today. 1st landing was good. 2nd was fatal (nose cone snapped off and prop bent). After reading this article and evaluating my flight I think I managed just about all of the points badly. You live and learn, thanks for the pointers!
I'm now off to try my first repair job!
You forgot something: Don't fly directly in front of the sun. That's an issue I managed to avoid on the maiden flight of my Beaver. Saw it was heading crosswind and would be at the height the sun was, so I dived down a bit before it got too close and didn't lose sight of it. Even if you're just using a cheap RTF plane with pre-installed electronics and a Tx without servo reverse switches, I recommend doing the full control surface check (and the rest of the pre-flight) to help get into the habit of doing it. (If I'd tried to fly my Beaver without checking all the control surfaces and stuff I would have had problems. Both the throttle and rudder had to be reversed. (And throttle is the one thing I would never have thought would have to be reversed for an electric plane.)
Excellent information as always! And for the Experienced Pilots with multi-model memory computer radios(as most seem to have) one of the more important things to remember is to check your model memory during the pre-flight check. I've made this mistake more than once with disastrous results!
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