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Mar 31, 2006, 09:29 PM
Proud member of LISF and ESL

Teaching Someone To Fly - Tools and Techniques

Refill that coffee cup, this is a long one, but hopefully worth it.

Teaching Someone to Fly - Tools and Techniques
by Ed Anderson
AMA Introductory Pilot
aeajr on the forums

Help the new guys. Don't wait to be asked, go over and offer.

Some people are shy and most don't want to be a bother. I am asking you to go help the new guys. They will be very grateful and you will make a new flying friend. How bad could that be?

But what if you don't feel you know how to teach someone to fly. I can say
that I have seen some unselfish attempts go bad because the "teacher" didn't
really have any idea how to go about it. That was probably me, far too many
times. But after a while, if teaching is something you like, you get
organized and start to understand what the new flyer needs. Here is what I
have developed over time. What method you use may be dictated by your
preference or it may be limited by the equipment and resources you have
available. I will share what I typically do. I invite others to share
their approaches and methods so that more people can feel comfortable
helping new pilots learn to fly.

This is being written with new parkflyer pilots in mind as that is where I
have spent most of my teaching time. Most of them have had 3 channel R/E/T
planes with high wings and electric motors. I have also helped a few pilots
with their first gliders. I don't teach glow or gas, so others will need to
fill into those gaps.

I hope this encourages you and gives you confidence to reach out and help
the new guys.


I always encourage new pilots to read the manual or documentation that came
with their planes. This is especially true if they have a plane that I have
not handled before. The manual always has good information and can provide
valuable reference material that can help the new pilot after they leave
your loving care.

If they have it with them I may take the time to go through it with them.
If they come to the field without their manual, I ask them to bring it the
next time. If they don't bring it again, I get annoyed. Usually by the
third time, it shows up, and I go through it with them. So often they are
suffering with a question, and the answer is right there, in front of them.
I have no hesitation to ask them if they checked the manual. After a
while, they know the question is coming, and may come to me with the manual
in hand. I consider that a good sign.

I also direct them to these forums as a source of help. If they are
e-mail users I will e-mail them links to useful sites and sources. I
include a series of links at the end of this discussion.

Terms and Expressions

Throughout your lessons, review terms and expressions. This is a new field,
a new skill and it has new terms and expressions. Some of these have become
familiar to you, but your student will be confused. Review things at every

For example, when you say "up" do you mean to push the stick up/forward or
do you mean to pull the stick back to raise the nose of the plane? Tell
them, show them, and explain what will happen on the plane when they do this
on the radio.

When you say left, do you mean the pilot's left, the planes's left ( which
might now be the pilot's left ) or something else? I emphasize that I
ALWAYS mean the plane's left. No matter which way the plane goes, left is
the plane's left. I talk about projecting myself into the pilot seat in the
plane. Once I have that in their minds, then left becomes left all the

What does "give it some down" mean? How much and do they hold it there or
just tap it?

You get the idea.

Check List

I have created check lists that I often give to the students to help them
formalize their routine upon arrival at the field. Full scale pilots use
them, so why not us? If you would like a copy, just ask. I am more than
happy to share them.


We always launch and land into the wind. I make sure they have a ribbon on
their radio to help them become aware of the direction of the wind. The
wind can be your friend, or it can be your enemy, depending on how theytreat
it. I need them to think about the wind.

Always encourage the new pilots to fly in calm air and try to teach in calm
to mild air. Under 5 mph is best. If they have a real floater, even 5 mph
may be too much. Planes like the Slow Stick or the Slo-V, for example, are
great trainers. However, in the hands of a new flyer, 5 mph is practically
a hurricane. Planes like the Aerobird Challenger, the T-Hawk, the Sky Fly
and similar planes can be flown it more wind, but still calm is best. Be
sensative to this and encourage them to wait for calm air if they plan to
practice on thier own. They probably won't wait, so you can plan on teaching
some repair techniques next time.

Frequency Control and Range Check

I want to be sure we have a clear channel, so we discuss frequency
control, setting or taking of pins and the like. If we turn the radio on to
check the surfaces, I don't want to bring another flyer down. I want to
instill this habit early and reinforce it often.

Then we review the radio to be sure we have a common understanding of its
parts and uses. Many new students do not understand the use of the trims,
so this is often a topic of extended discussion. If all this goes well, we
get ready to fly.

This is followed by a radio range check. A range check must be performed
before the first flight of every plane, every time they come to the field.
Often this is described in the manual. RTFM!

Checking the Plane

I examine the student's plane along with him or her to review the
parts of the plane to be sure we are using common terms. Then we check
alignment, balance and the setting of the surfaces. Anything that must be
adjusted or repaired becomes an important part of the flight lesson. This
usually leads to a discussion about what should be in the student's tool

Test Flight

I then ask the student's permission to take the plane up for a test flight
to be sure that all is working well. If I can't fly it, they certainly
can't fly it. So many times, the first thing that I learn is that they feel
there is something wrong with the plane. If all checks out, and I can
easily fly and land it, there is no more question about where the problem
lies, and that is important.

I talk through the process of checking wind direction to that take
off will be into the wind. We talk about preparing to hand launch or a rise
off ground take-off. We discuss preplanning the landing, landing into the
wind, as well as the landing pattern and the landing location.

On the climb out I discuss the importance of altitude. A plane belongs in
the air. My recommendation is that you should be above 50 feet when you are
new, about tree height where I live, unless you are preparing to land. Let's
call that one mistake high. I am normally teach much higher than that, say
3 times that height, or 3 mistakes high. This makes some of them nervous.
This is something they must get past. Altitude is their friend and will
save their plane. Make them fly high.

During the flight I test the plane's glide and determine at what throttle
setting it will hold straight and level flight. Throughout the entire
procedure I am talking the new pilot through the flight to explain what I am
doing and why.

The Plane Knows How to Fly

At some point, if the plane is properly trimmed, I will set it on a straight
and level course, then hold my hands out wide to impress upon the student
that the plane will fly itself and that it is not necessary to manage and
correct every little movement of the plane. Assuming this is a trainer type
plane, I often put the plane into a gentle turn using the trims and let if
fly for 15 to 30 seconds with no contact with the sticks. This usually
reinforces the fact that we do not need to over control or over manage the
plane. It knows how to fly if we just leave it alone. I have been told by
my students that this demonstration was a real eye opener!

If it has a good glide, I will get the plane high, then turn the motor off
for an extended period of time to impress upon them that their plane can fly
without the motor. We discuss how it responds with the motor on and with it


Finally I talk through landing procedures, the landing pattern, then I land
the plane. As we do not have a runway at our field, planes will be landed
on grass so we discuss how this individual plane will behave when it touches
the grass. Most will not roll out but will hang in the grass. So we
discuss whether to use landing gear or to remove it and belly land the
plane. I belly land all of my planes.

After that we prepare for a first flight together where the student will be
involved in flying the plane. Before we launch, I describe how the flight
will go and what the student will be expected to do and how we will work
together to keep the plane under control.

Normally I launch, reach altitude, get it going level and straight then get
them involved. After a time, I land the plane and we discuss the flight. On
each subsequent flight, if they progress, they take on more and more. I
have had pilots progress to take off and landing in as little as an hour. I
had a 7 year old who, after 20 minutes and two flights, could
reliably manage a plane in the air after I got it to height. He flew and I
talked to his Dad, while I watched out of the corner of my eye. And, by
the way, he was flying MY plane. He was pretty good!


We spend a fair amount of time gliding so that they do not panic if
the motor cuts out. I want them to understand how the plane's behavior will
change somewhat when the motor is off. There is less air over the surfaces,
so the plane will be slower to respond. Best to learn this under my
guidance than when they overfly the battery and suddenly have to land
without the motor. And, being a sailplane pilot myself, I may teach them to
thermal the plane.

That is about it. Anything beyond that is something
the student must request from me or other members of the club. Once they
can do this, they are solo.

My goal is not to make them pattern flyers. It is to get them to the point
that they can launch, climb, fly, glide, keep the plane in front of them,
line up and land safely. I will probably teach them a loop and a tail
stall. Some people need two hours. Some take a whole season. Some give up
and buy an RC car.


I will touch on two methods I have used. I am sure there are others.

Perhaps others will add their own approaches, tools and reference material.
I hope this is helpful both for those who are teaching and those who are


Many new flyers are starting on low cost RTF electrics. Many of these
planes fly very well and make good first planes. Unfortunately the radios
don't have trainer/buddy box ports so you can't connect them to a flight
simulator on the computer and you can't connect them to the instructor's
radio to use the buddy system for flying. More on flight simulators and the
buddy system later.

So how do you teach someone to fly without a buddy box?

I am sure there are many methods. Here is one that I have used with adults
and with children as young as 7 years old. Regardless of age or gender, I
follow the same approach.

Hand on Hand

I launch and climb to height. I pull back to about 1/2 to 2/3 throttle.
I get it level and stable and then we begin sharing the flying task.

For adults, I have them stand to my right, off my right shoulder. I have
them reach around my right side to put their right hand on top of mine.

For children and young teens, I will have them stand in front of me. I will
bring the radio in front of them and have them place their right hand on top
of mine. These are usually single stick radios with a slide or lever
throttle. I maintain throttle control to maintain height and have them feel
how my hand moves as I manage the plane. I point out the speed and length
of the motion. I point out when I am controlling and when I am not.

After a minute or two, if they seem to be comfortable, I have them put their
hand on the stick and mine goes on top. I am still in control but now they
feel the stick as we move it. Gentle movement and easy flying is the goal.
If all goes well, I invite them to start to take control.

Once they demonstrate that they can keep the plane level and under control,
I will slowly lift my hand till they have it. I continue to control the
throttle. For some this is a moment of great joy, some panic and some never
even realize I have pulled away.

When it is time to land, I take over and land the plane. Then we discuss
the flight. This is where they usually start to breath again.

Pass the Radio

After 2-4 flights, typically, I can climb, level, set the throttle and then
pass them the radio. When it is time, I land. By the third flight I want
to start to teach them how to control altitude with the throttle rather than
the elevator. For many this is easy and for some it is very hard. Unless
we are doing stunts, I teach very gentle use of the elevator except to
recover from mistakes.

Recognizing and recovering from stalls is next. What is stall, why the
plane stalls and how to handle a stall becomes a key lesson. Many have
trouble with this, but many get it quickly.

These are light planes and a head wind can push the nose up leading to a
stall. This can often be followed by too much up trying to recover, leadin
to a worse stall. I try to teach them to be proactive in this situation
and not wait for the plane to stall. The phrase I use is "push to level"
if the nose comes up too much and a stall in imminent.

If they do stall, I teach them to use a little down elevator, gain some speed, then "pull to level". I don't want them depending on the throttle to handle stalls.

Most of the trainers will recover nicely if you let them. So, if they get
into trouble, I teach them to pull back on the throttle and center the stick
to give the plane a chance to recover. In most cases the planes will
recover and they can resume flying. But if the plane is going to crash, cut
the power, Cut the Power, CUT THE POWER!

They can reduce the damage of the crash by about 75% if they hit with the
motor off. For most foam or plastic planes, this is enough to avoid
extensive damage or the need for extensive repairs. This is a good place to
discuss tape and epoxy. For balsa planes or Elapor planes, if something
breaks, we learn about CA.

From this point on we pass the radio as needed. I try to stay close, but
more and more I want them to recover from the bad situation. Mostly I have
to help them if they have trouble keeping the plane up wind. If the plane
gets down wind, then I may ask for the radio to get the plane back over the
field. No need to teach them about searching for a plane in the woods.
That lesson will come on its own.

Take offs are usually hand launch and landings are usually glides or 1/4
throttle affairs into a belly landing as we have no runway. Loops and
tail stalls are the last thing, then they are on their own. For some, this
whole process is two hours. For others it takes a few more sessions.

I try to have a lesson that lasts at least two hours and I have done 4 hour
sessions. I find 30 minutes to 1 hour is too little is retained and too little
gets practiced. My goal, and frankly my joy, is to get them flying on their
own. For that they need supervised stick time. With two hours, two
chargers, theirs and mine, and at least 3 battery packs, sometimes also
mine, we can get in a lot of flying. I have had students go totally solo in
two hours. It is rare, but it does happen.

These three channel, high wing planes are pretty easy to fly. If it is a
pusher design, they can take some pretty serious hits without going to the
building table. These quick learners just need a little guidance. They
pick it up quickly and can then go off on their own to practice. We will
usually meet again and again at the field and I am always available for
help. These students becomes friends and I love flying with my friends!

However most need more than one session and some still need help after five
sessions. That's OK, but at some point either they will get it or I will
try to hook them up with another instructor.

Sometimes it is not the student but the teacher that needs changing. That's OK with me. Not everyone can work with me or my style and another coach is really the best thing I can do for them. Usually I put this in the context of "being ready for more advance lessons". I want them to see this as graduation, not rejection.


Probably one of the greatest developments for teaching new flyers is the
buddy box system. I am only going to touch on the difference from this to
the method above. The lesson content is the same.

This is a method by which the instructor's radio is
connected to the student's radio. In typical fashion, the instructor will
take off and get the plane to height. Once the plane is stable, the
instructor flips a switch or holds a button and the student's radio now has
control of the plane. If the student gets in trouble, the instructor
releases the switch and takes control of the plane.

The advantage of this method is that the student can actually fly their
plane with a real radio under real conditions and the instructor has the
opportunity to save the plane, thus avoiding crashes. This is a very
effective tool and is commonly used as part of club training programs, especiall when glow planes are involved.

Typically it is best to have the instructor's and student's radio be of the
same brand. This way you can use a buddy cord/trainer cord that is
defiantly compatible between the two radios. However there are combinations
of brands that will work, if you use the right cord. For example, Futaba
and Hitec radios can generally be used in combination, if you use the right
cords. I have seen Futaba/JR cords as well.

Whatever you use, be sure that it is approved by the radio makers, otherwise you risk damaging the radios. If you have a buddy/trainer port on your radio, the manual probably lists approved cords.

If you are adventurous and willing to explore the make up of buddy cords,
this is a resource I have seen many people reference:

This FAQ from Futaba may be helpful in learning more about the buddy box
approach to flying.

I am not going to go into an further detail on the buddy boxes and training
methods as I have rarely used this method. The reason is that most of my
students don't have radios that were capable of using this method. So we
had to use the hand on hand and pass the radio method above.


A flight simulator, running on a personal computer, controlled by the
student's actual radio system has got to be one of the best aids available to
learning to fly. It is not a teaching method in and of itself, but it is a
great practice tool. It allows the new pilot to get a feel for the radio
and to begin to establish the hand/eye coordination needed to fly an RC
plane. I am not going to go into flight sims except to
encourage all new pilots and trainers to get a flight simulator and use it
as part of your learning/teaching process.

Here is a thread on getting started with FMS, a free flight simulator:

In Conclusion

So, broadly speaking, that is the approach I use. There is a lot more
content that is shared with the student, but that is not my point. The approach and methods are what I was trying to share. Of course, your mileage will vary.

Whatever you do, please take time to help the new pilots. Offer
your time and your good council. You will enjoy the experience and make a
new friend in the process. So, what could be so bad about that?

Clear skies and safe flying!
Last edited by aeajr; Jun 10, 2006 at 01:13 PM.
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Apr 01, 2006, 05:30 AM
Proud member of LISF and ESL

Ragland Student Training Technique

Tips for instructors

Suggested steps to be taught

Flight Schools


Basic Flight Instruction Book
By: Andrew S. Rosz
Last edited by aeajr; May 27, 2010 at 02:08 PM. Reason: maintain links
Apr 01, 2006, 07:39 AM
Registered User
Andy W's Avatar
Nicely done..
This should be an ezonemag article..
Apr 01, 2006, 07:36 PM
Senior Gravity Checker
This should be stickied somewhere. Well done yet again!
Apr 02, 2006, 12:36 PM
turn, turn, turn.
Nice of you to care..
I'll return the favor and bump this thread to the top.
Apr 02, 2006, 12:56 PM
Registered User
It's kinda sad that this thread has 111 views at this moment, while the "how to avoid being an instructor" thread in this same forum has almost 10 times as many.

Another symptom of the influence of the "me generation"?
Apr 02, 2006, 01:23 PM
turn, turn, turn.

Not really

Originally Posted by Lon Enloe
It's kinda sad that this thread has 111 views at this moment, while the "how to avoid being an instructor" thread in this same forum has almost 10 times as many.

Another symptom of the influence of the "me generation"?
Looks can be decieving...
If 111 people viewed this thread once, and 10 people viewed the other thread 120 times... this thread got more attention.
Also, I contributed to the other thread several times...I thought it was funny in a good natured way.
I'm sure others, as was posted on the other thread, were kidding too, and also teach beginners.
Apr 02, 2006, 02:26 PM
Sussex, UK
RobinBennett's Avatar
> This should be stickied somewhere

I'm often worried about great stuff like this being lost so (with permission) I've posted it here:

BTW, what does "AMA Introductory Pilot" mean? Is it a job title or an AMA achievement award or what?
Apr 02, 2006, 07:37 PM
Proud member of LISF and ESL
AMA Introductory Pilot is basically an instructor. As an introductory pilot, if a new pilot is flying under my supervision, he is covered under AMA insurance for 30 days, even if he is not a member.

It is a position voted on by the club. There are three in our club.

The club pays the AMA fee. It is a way of encouraging people to become instructors and to insure that a new pilot who has not joined AMA yet is covered for insurance purposes.

So, if I get a newbie wandering onto the field with is new "Wonder RTF" I can look it over, take it up and tune it for him. Then I can get him flying to help him get started. This brings the new flyer up to speed faster.

I enjoy doing this. If he likes the experience he will probably join the club. Maybe 1/2 end up joining, but all get a lesson to help them get started. I encourage the hobby stores to send me their customers.

Better to get them started right then to have them crashing all over the place, or maybe hurt themselves or someone else. I also emphasize frequency control so they understand the implication of what they are doing. Perhaps we will have a few less planes shot down.
Last edited by aeajr; Apr 03, 2006 at 09:17 PM.
Apr 03, 2006, 04:09 PM
Sussex, UK
RobinBennett's Avatar
That's an increadably good idea, I'll have to suggest it to our club. We are never sure if it's OK under our insurance for a non-member to buddy box with a member...

Some more information on Buddy boxes:

The big advantage is that you can fly more responsive planes, lower and closer to the student, so they can see the affect of their actions more easily but you can still take control in an instant - especially in the cases where the student doesn't understand why you want to take control (such as overflying the flight line) and might be a bit slow.

You need to remember to tell the student when you are taking control or passing it back. I aim for "Ready?" "Yes" "You have control" but at times (like giving my Dad a go of my brushless formosa on a windy day) it becomes "I/You've got it"

It's common to take control just before the student was about to recover, and they feel annoyed that you didn't trust them to pull out of the dive or turn or whatever. You have to explain that you need to take control well before any danger, because if they make a mistakes in that situation you wouldn't be able to take control fast enough, and in any case, you want to see good normal flying before they start doing stunts.

The method recommended by the BMFA is to explain what sort of flying you want to see for the lesson and set limits at which you will take control, and try to make it a game where their goal is to fly without you taking control. You can also use 'taking control' as a way to re-enforce club safety rules (i.e. "I'll take control if you come within 25m of the flight line, 100m of the no-fly zones or under tree top height")
Apr 03, 2006, 04:49 PM
North East England
Originally Posted by RobinBennett
The method recommended by the BMFA is to explain what sort of flying you want to see for the lesson and set limits at which you will take control, and try to make it a game where their goal is to fly without you taking control. You can also use 'taking control' as a way to re-enforce club safety rules (i.e. "I'll take control if you come within 25m of the flight line, 100m of the no-fly zones or under tree top height")
Good point. One of the most important things is to not only teach learner pilots how to keep the model in the air, but to get it into the 'right piece of sky'; in other words, accurate flying. Most novices understandably initially tend to become 'hypnotised' and let the plane fly in ever-widening circuits (or ever-climbing!) but after a few flights it's important to get them to be aware of the need to keep the plane within a given area. I used to drum 'circuit training' into anyone I taught (just as I was taught to myself) - as the guy who taught me was fond of saying... 'If you can't FLY it accurately, you can't LAND it accurately'

Apr 03, 2006, 05:48 PM
turn, turn, turn.
Good stuff here.Lots to be gleaned!
Apr 06, 2006, 12:03 PM
Got shenpa?
flieslikeabeagle's Avatar
I've often had people come up to me while I'm flying at a park, and ask me questions about the hobby and how to get started. Eventually it occurred to me to put together a short write-up I could hand to anyone interested.

The goal was to keep it to a single page, as many people will be put off by anything longer than that. As such, my writeup contains little about the process of learning to fly, but rather points to resources one can use to get started, such as the FMS flight sim, RC Groups, the addresses of local hobby stores, and so on.

In case anyone else would like to use this, I'm attaching a pdf of the version I've been using lately. This contains contact information for local hobby shops in my vicinity, obviously this could be modified to contain information for suitable LHS in your corner of the world. Similarly, I list the Multiplex Easystar and GWS Slow-stick as suitable first planes, some of you may of course have other opinions on this.

Feedback, constructive criticism, and suggestions for improvement are welcome!

Apr 06, 2006, 12:07 PM
Just plain ridiculous. Sir.
rdwoebke's Avatar
This is good stuff EAJR, thanks for taking the time to put it together.

I have never had great success training other pilots, I have to admit. But this gives me some ideas on how to improve on that.

Apr 06, 2006, 03:53 PM
Proud member of LISF and ESL
Originally Posted by rdwoebke
This is good stuff EAJR, thanks for taking the time to put it together.

I have never had great success training other pilots, I have to admit. But this gives me some ideas on how to improve on that.

I had little success in the begining myself, but over time, following the lead of club members who helped me, through research, tips from my friends on the forums and experience I developed what I put in the first three posts. Following this rough outline, I have had pretty good success.

There are no real original ideas here. I just organized them into a process with a focus on key ideas and skills that I felt needed to be learned.

Again, I am not teaching aerobatics, or advanced flying. These are new flyers learning on 3 channel or 4 channel parkflyers or 2-3 channel gliders. It seems to work OK. Most become very independent very fast.
Last edited by aeajr; Jun 10, 2006 at 01:16 PM.

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