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Aug 02, 2008, 11:35 AM
Vertical Unlimited
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My Apprentice RC Pilots

My previous blog entry about Canadian flying gives details about flying my Passer-X Warmliner / powered glider. A few months ago after a great flying session from a local park (with due respect for the safety of others), a couple of mid-teen "kids" approached me. They had been watching it fly and asked to know more. I explained that it wasn't a toy, but a high performance glider. They were impressed with the way it flew, and were shocked at its size - they didn't realise it was "so big" until they got close!

One of them stepped forward, introducing himself as Nikhil, and explained he'd like to become an RC pilot. He had an "Airhog" plane back at home that was a total failure, so he hoped I could show him the right way. I was a bit sceptical, since I get a lot of these inquiries, but I promised to email him some further details. I also warned him that the cost would be a fair bit more than an Airhog - this was a relatively expensive hobby.

I emailed Nikhil a suggested set-up for a beginner - a Great Planes Fling 2m thermal glider, complete with 4-channel radio and hi-start. I had already flown the Fling HLG and knew that Flings were not only quick+easy to build, but excellent flyers. I explained that this aircraft would be relatively simple to control so he would progress quickly, but also offer challenging flight performance, and easy launching. It was about the cheapest set-up I could advise, so his financial risk was minimised. I thought this would be the last I would hear from Nikhil when he saw the estimated cost.

Less than a day later Nikhil called me with a lot of enthusiasm, wishing to visit for the LHS and get this all happening. We met at the hobby shop, and I introduced myself to his dad. I showed my membership cards for MAAC and also the local RC clubs, to provide some reassurance that this strange man his son had met at the park was the real deal, here to help. His dad was very grateful for my input, acknowledging they needed someone experienced for guidance.

The LHS unfortunately didn't have all the gear we needed, but attempted to sell Nikhil a powered glider anyway. I put my foot down, explaining this could come later. The Fling was very simple and economic, offering almost unlimited relaunches, without the complexity of charging flight packs and without the inherent delays. I explained that the brush-motor powered newby gliders would also offer very disappointing power performance, especially compared with what he'd seen my plane do!

The gear arrived over a week later, and I ended up unavailable for a few days due to work commitments, which must have nearly killed poor Nikhil. I would have died from the wait at his age - it's hard enough waiting for gear to come in now! Anyhow, the day finally arrived when we picked up all the gear, and headed back to my place to get it built.

I lead the building operation while Nikhil watched attentively - a good effort on his part, given an addiction to PS2 and its non-stop entertainment! I was meticulous, being very mindful of his financial commitment, and how he was depending on me to make sure nothing went wrong. This extended the build time considerably from the 1 – 2 hours listed on the package, but Nikhil was patient and took it all in his stride – a good characteristic for a new pilot. Anyhow, it was finished in the one session, and Nikhil was really happy with the result. It was nice and big, with flashy colours and a sleek look.

Interestingly Nikhil opted for a Mode 4 transmitter set-up (I fly Mode 1). I explained that this would be fine while there was a buddy lead (my Tx sorts out the controls, so different modes between student and instructor are not a problem), but I couldn’t help him when he eventually went solo. I also explained that this would also be a permanent set-up, but this was how he wanted it – fine with me, and very unique!

We headed out to fly it from a local wheat field the following Saturday morning, with a LOT of Nikhil’s family in attendance. I did a test-glide and discovered it was a tad nose heavy, which wasn’t surprising given I’d balanced it on the forward limit. I was not happy with the resultant faster flying speed, so I added a small sliver of lead to the tail and retested the glide – much better! Time to send it up the hi-start.

I explained to Nikhil how we needed to plan the flight before we did anything more: figure out where we were going to approach and land, then determine the prime flying position, and ultimately set the hi-start directly up-wind from our optimum standing position. He listened intently. It was a bit windier than I would have liked, but still within the capability of the plane.

The first hi-start launch had only conservative tension, and achieved barely 100-feet in height, but everyone was still very impressed to see it gliding around. As I brought it in to land, it was hit by a STRONG sudden side-gust and went knife-edge, side-slipping into the ground despite full opposite rudder! Everyone hooted and hollered in amusement, but I was stunned and embarrassed . Thankfully the field was nice and soft, and there was no damage. Good for Nikhil to see that things can go very wrong without warning.

For the next launch I added a LOT more tension and the craft disengaged at the promised 500-feet. Everyone was agape at the shear height reached – they had no idea this was possible. We had the buddy-lead already hooked up, so after some minor trimming I transferred control to Nikhil for his first ever RC flight. He struggled at first to get any response from the plane at all, but soon learned to maintain the control input until he saw the glider react. He did a few circles and got into a stall pattern, so I retook control and steadied the glide, then returned him control.

We were soon getting low on altitude, so I brought it in for a smooth landing – a welcome improvement from the first one! We sent it straight back up and continued the training session. We achieved over an hour’s flying that first day, and Nikhil learned the frustrating truth that this wasn’t as easy as it looked. However, I consoled him repeatedly that he was doing really well – far better than most beginners (which was absolutely true) but he was still frustrated with himself.

Preparing for the final launch (why did I ever announce it???) I had a lot of tension on, but I could feel the glider slipping from my grasp. I guess all the launches had added a nice slick hand-polish to the glassy surface! I wasn’t concerned, figuring that if it slipped free it would simply launch, and I had control anyway. We were suddenly hit by a really strong side-gust, and the plane wrenched out of my grasp and took off in knife-edge . No amount of opposite rudder could level it, and it went in at full launch speed . I was mortified, and apologised profusely to Nikhil, who thankfully found it a little amusing. I explained that his plane was dead, and I would replace it immediately. We went to the crash site and found the wing had sprung free and was okay. In fact, the only damage was a clean break of the tail-boom. I still believed it was terminal, so after more embarrassed apologising we took the wreckage home.

Nikhil’s father was also thankfully amused, and had faith it could be repaired. I’ve scratch built planes so a repair didn’t faze me, but I feared the tail-boom would never be sufficiently restrengthened. That afternoon I called around the various LHS’s and discovered nobody had a Fling in stock. I ordered a replacement.

A few days later I asked Nikhil to come by with the wreckage, with a new plan to repair it. We took the fuselage to the local hardware store and found a dowel that perfectly fitted the tail-boom. That night I fitted the dowel, rejoined the boom, and glassed the outside of the join for strength. It was almost as good as new! I couldn’t believe that an aircraft that had crashed knife-edge under full hi-start tension was ready to fly again after such a brief repair! We agreed to head out again at the next available opportunity.

I’m happy to report that the next flying session went really well. Nikhil clocked up another hour of instructed stick-time, and we had no incidents. Over the next few weeks we went out whenever the wind was light, and on the fourth session Nikhil was showing complete control of the plane, taking control of the entire launch, flying figure 8s while holding position upwind, and flying excellent box-pattern approaches. I left him in control for longer and longer, and on one occasion he ended up on a genuine landing approach. Unfortunately he panicked as the craft came in, so I took control for the final few seconds and landed. He was so disappointed to have come so close to going solo, so I sent him straight back up, with an understanding that this time he would get it right.

He was so determined. This flight was even better, and as he came in to land he showed strong concentration. He landed without trouble, and achieved an elated 100% solo flight. I sent him back up 2 more times, only cutting the session short due to failing light. He’d done it!

On the next session I let him set-up the whole event. I was still attached via the buddy lead, but he had to plan the flight, set-up the hi-start and operate as if I wasn’t there. Unfortunately he strayed from his planned approach path and ended up in a semi-dangerous position outside the field boundary. He began to panic, but I explained that he was okay, but needed to get himself out of this. He had sufficient height, so I wanted him to deal with the situation before I stepped in. He regained composure and brought the plane back into the planned flight path, for a good landing. His next flight was excellent, and I had no control input all session. I declared him solo, and removed my 2.4GHz receiver from his plane. His next flight would be on his own 72MHz set, with no option for me to step in and help due to the aforementioned Mode 4 control set-up.

His next session went off without a hitch. He called me and explained with glee that he’d gone flying all on his own. An incredible rate of progress – best I’ve ever seen. He's since built a Cessna and is learning full-house control.

It wasn’t long before Nikhil’s friend Sahil wanted to join in. I recommended he go down the same path, and Nikhil agreed he could share Nikhil’s hi-start. I sold him the spare Fling (at a good discount) I'd previously ordered. Nikhil ended up building Sahil’s plane, which was great for his experience. I checked it out and it was a pretty good effort, only needing a few minor mods to ensure it was airworthy. We took it out and flew it a few days ago, and Sahil showed he had equally good flying aptitude, doing the majority of the stick-work on his first ever outing. It shouldn’t be long before Sahil joins Nikhil with solo status, and all three of us can hunt the thermals. All this came from a chance meeting in the park.

If this interest continues, we could end up forming our own club! I've explained many times to Nikhil, Sahil and their parents that mentoring and help are essential. Yes, it takes up my time, but this is the way our hobby works. We mentor the new guys, who will go on to mentor future new people. I hope this anecdote inspires others to give it a go - it's incredibly satisfying and heartening to see newbies succeed.

Feel free to comment - I'm always interested to know if people actually read these blog entries!
Last edited by Straight Up; Aug 03, 2008 at 09:42 AM.
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Aug 06, 2008, 01:56 AM
Launchpad McQuack
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Great story, SU. Loved it to bits. The youngsters got the future, right? You always end up investing more time then you had anticipated for, but the resulting grin form ear to ear make it worth.

I actually came to your blog by looking for someone with experience with the RVM 1.2M Speedo Mark II. Have you build and flown it yet?

Aug 07, 2008, 06:40 PM
Vertical Unlimited
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Thread OP
Hi Vincent,

Thanks so much for your reply -I'm really glad to know you liked it!

Youngsters sure are the future, and I know how much they need a mentor. I needed my dad for several years before learning enough to go it alone. These kids haven't got aeromodelling dads, so without me they'd be going nowhere. They've both been amazed that it's a lot harder than it looks, and are very grateful to have been mentored. However, they're also damn good. Sahil went solo on his second day out - AWESOME! We'll now be going out hunting thermals TOGETHER!

I flew my RVM Speedo a few weeks ago. It was really tough to fit all the gear in, even with modern super-micro gear, and it was even tougher to balance it. The nose section is literally full of gear - 2 servos (I added a rudder) Futaba R617FS Rx, 350mAh 2S Lipo for the radio, and as much lead as I could cram in. It weighs 450g. I used a 7805 voltage regulator to drop the Lipo voltage to 5V, complete with heat-sink, and I placed this under the wing.

I'm pleased to report it flew great! The wind was blowing about 30km/h, but the plane was rock-steady and easily handling the breeze. I flew up and down the slope for about 3 minutes and was about to try some aerobatics when it suddenly went inverted then dived into the ground. Upon inspection the radio was not responding. When I picked it up, the mid fuselage was VERY hot - the voltage regulator had overheated. I guess I was stupid to think a 1A linear regulator could supply 4 x micro digital servos.

The plane was totally destroyed, but I ordered another and built it already. It was easy to fit all the gear the second time - most of it was salvaged from the wreck and refitted. This time I'm using a switching regulator from Hobby City, as per my T-Rex, which has a proven track record. I'm now just waiting for another windy day. Looks like this is the best way to get light wind days - build a slope soarer!

Thanks again,
Straight Up

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