When you have made all your final preparation, and your instructor has carried out those final checks, the moment will arrive when you will discover whether all the meticulous care and attention you have put into your pride and joy has been worth it. Although you will not be flying the RC scale model aircraft yourself, seeing it take to the air for the very first time can the most exciting moment of the whole process of learning to fly.

by Mario Sburator

Would you like to fly a P-51 Mustang? A replica of the Wright brothers’ Wright Flyer? A sailplane? A flying wing? You can do any of these things (and much more!) in the exciting world of radio control (R/C) modeling.

If you have an interest in flying machines of any type, you’ve chosen the right hobby. No other sport or hobby offers such diverse opportunities as does this one AFTER you’ve mastered the training stages of flying, you can advance to aerobatic planes, scale aircraft, giant-scale aircraft, gliders, electrics, jets, float planes, and the list just goes on and on. Would you like to design your own airplanes? There is just no end to the challenge that R/C flying has to offer. Just when you think you’ve mastered it, something sneaks up on you and reminds you that there is still more to learn.

If you welcome a challenge, then read on and find out how to get started.

First Steps

The best way to start learning about R/C airplanes is to go to your local hobby shop, look in some modeling magazines, and check out the local flying field. You will also want to join the BMFA or SAA.

For a fee less than the cost of a small trainer you get a magazine, support, and the all-important public liability insurance. Most flying clubs require membership (or comparable insurance for members) as part of their bylaws, so you’ll need to join to fly.

We can’t overemphasize the value of joining the local flying club. In nearly every modeling club, you will find several individuals willing to help you learn what you need to know to get started. They will be able to tell you which type of trainer plane to buy, which type of engine, radio, and accessories you will need and how to build and set up your plane. Most clubs have one or more people designated to train new members, but modelers tend to be sociable, friendly types anyway, so many more will be of great assistance on an informal basis. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or let your interest in joining in be known!

To find out where the local club is, drop by your hobby shop. The owner is usually in the hobby and can tell you where the field is. He will also be a great source of information about products needed for the hobby. If there is no local hobby shop, you can contact the BMFA or SAA for information on flying fields near you. The BMFA web site is www.bmfa.org Because most R/C clubs are members, the BMFA / SAA they will probably be able to locate a field near you.

What You Will Need

Most people ask, “How much does it cost to get into the hobby?” The answer is between £300 and £500. These figures can vary slightly, depending on how good a deal you can find.

If you look in the newspaper, you might find a good deal on a used R/C plane that has an engine and a radio, but make sure you know what you’re getting. If possible, ask an experienced modeler to go with you and look the plane over. Sometimes, hobby shops have planes that are already built and ready to fly. Some of these have decent price tags. Shopping around, knowing what you want and what is a quality product will enable you to determine the cost.

All kits require some degree of assembly, and most entail more than an hour or two of building effort. Many modelers enjoy the building process. If you wish to spend less time on building, you can purchase an “almost ready to fly” (ARTF) kit. Some kits are prebuilt but not covered with film. These are called “almost ready to cover” (ARTC) kits.

The idea here is that you get to create whichever color scheme you wish, instead of accepting an out-of-the-box scheme.
Basic items that will be part of your first purchase (see the “At the Field” for more details) include:

  • trainer kit;
  • engine;
  • glow driver (to light the glow plug);
  • torque starter and power supply if not combined (to turn the engine over when starting);
  • fuel and fuel pump;
  • 4-channel radio (includes a transmitter, receiver, and servos).

Your First Plane

We recommend that you start out with a .40-size trainer (see “Starting in Electric” for an alternative). It should have a flat-bottom airfoil (these fly well, and if you build the wing yourself, construction is simplified). A good trainer will possess very stable handling characteristics, especially at slow speeds. The .40 size refers to the engine size, and it is a good place to start. Something more powerful will just make learning to fly very difficultly, even discouraging. Master the basics before you upgrade.

Note that you can save money by investing in a 4-channel radio, but a more capable radio will fly more advanced models as you develop your modeling and flying skills. If you buy a 4-channel radio, your second model can only be a 4-channel model. If you buy a 6 to 10 channel radio, your next plane could have flaps or retractable gear as well as the standard four channels.

In case you were wondering, the standard four channels are aileron, elevator, throttle, and rudder. It might be worth spending a little extra money now to buy a better radio rather than spending more money later on.

Also, if you buy what is referred to as a “programmable” radio, you can put two to eight models on one transmitter (it depends on which radio you buy). Programmable radios offer myriad combinations of control inputs that can be programmed by selecting menu options.

Starting In Electric

Electric-sailplane trainers are widely available in ARTF versions and as full kits. They are quieter than piston-powered trainers, economical, and somewhat simpler to maintain.

Though most modelers start their R/C flying career with .40-size, glow-powered trainers, some start with electric-powered gliders, which offer several advantages: a lower initial investment, simple propulsion systems, and the absence of engine noise (important for those who fly in areas where noise is an issue). If you like the beauty of soaring, you’ll love electric gliders

Electric-powered aircraft can climb to altitudes of several hundred feet two to four times on one battery charge.

Depending on the system, this is equal to a 4- to 7-minute motor run. Flight times, which include motor-on, powered flight time and motor-off gliding time, can range from 10 to 15 minutes if there is no “lift,” and much longer (an hour or more) if thermals (columns of warm, rising air) are present.

You’ll need the following:

  • an electric-sailplane kit or ARTF with dihedral or polyhedral, i.e., the wings are slightly angled like a very shallow Vee;
  • an electric motor (many kits come with a motor);
  • an electronic speed control or on/off switch (many kits come with the latter);
  • a Ni-Cd battery charger that charges 7- to 10-cell packs used with trainer-size aircraft;
  • at least two battery packs (one can be charging while the other powers the airplane);
  • a 4-channel radio (typically, only three channels will be used: throttle or on/off, elevator and rudder).

Talk to your local hobby dealer about available kits. The first few times you fly your aircraft, you’ll probably need the help of an instructor, so try to locate fliers through your local flying club.

Once you’ve learned to fly the plane, you’ll have the opportunity to chase thermals. When soaring in a thermal, your sailplane can rise hundreds of feet into the sky with the power off, and that permits relatively long flights on a single charge. On a day with powerful thermals, it’s not uncommon to stay aloft for 45 minutes to an hour. “All up, last down” contests with other members of your flying club can be a lot of fun, so why not give it a try?

Building Your First Plane (optional)

When you have the necessary components, it will be assembly time. Follow the instructions to the letter. If you have any problems, consult an experienced modeler.

Again, most modelers are very willing to help you; all you have to do is ask. It will help you progress faster if you are selective when you seek help; don’t just choose somebody because they happen to be at the field.

Check out the person’s building technique, flying skills, and general people skills. The more experienced the modeler, the more helpful his advice will probably be. Try to develop a good rapport with your advisor. The same selectiveness should be applied when choosing a flight instructor. Some can fly up a storm, but they really can’t teach; look for help from those who communicate their thoughts and techniques well. Choose wisely, and your success will be ensured.

If you’ve never built a kit and wish to minimize building time, try an ARTF. These kits are a quick way to get into the air. Whichever trainer you choose, perseverance and patience are things you need when you get into this hobby. Show these qualities, and the rewards of the hobby will be rich.

These are our suggestions for starting out in a hobby and sport that will last a lifetime. Remember to proceed with a clear mind, and think things through before you make any decisions. This will save you time and money in the long run.

Once you have your beautiful model all built and ready to go, you will need some field-support equipment that wasn’t included in your kit.

At The Field

Here’s a list of useful and required equipment:

  • a flight box to carry all your supplies;
  • a fuel can and a pump (either mechanical or electric);
  • a battery (if you have an electric pump);
  • a supply of glow plugs specified by the engine manufacturer (these serve the same purpose as spark plugs in gas engines);
  • a glow-plug spanner;
  • spare props and a prop spanner (you’ll want to balance your props at home);
  • a glow start—usually a single Ni-Cd, battery-powered unit used to “light” the glow plug when you start the engine, which runs on its own thereafter;
  • about 24 inches of fuel line and a short piece of 1/8-inch brass tube to fuel and de-fuel your model;
  • a chicken stick for turning the prop while starting the engine;
  • a small mat to place under the engine while working on it at the field so that small screws and other items don’t become lost in the grass;
  • an adjustable spanner;
  • paper towels and spray cleaner to clean the model after flying (the exhaust tends to spray oil residue on portions of the model);
  • small and long screwdrivers (common and Phillips);
  • a complete set of Allen wrenches.

If you really get interested, you’ll also want these:

  • electric starter and starter battery;
  • AC/DC field battery charger for the transmitter and receiver;
  • folding table, or a small stand for the model;
  • folding chair;
  • bug spray;
  • sunblock;
  • sunglasses;
  • small first-aid kit;
  • wide-brim hat (baseball caps let your ears become
  • sunburned);
  • cooler for soft drinks;

Perhaps the most important thing to take is a friend, or arrange to meet someone there. It will be more fun and much safer. This is especially true for beginners who have yet to solo. An instructor will save your model from destruction as you learn to master flying; he can save you money and make the hobby a lot more enjoyable. Crashes sometimes happen even with an instructor, but they’re less likely. Above all, have fun and be safe!

Flying RC Aircraft FAQs

Who can fly RC model aircraft?

Anyone can fly RC. You don’t need a radio license or a pilot’s license, or even understand anything about flight or electronics. However, it doesn’t hurt to have these skills. If you stay in the hobby long enough you will acquire some degree of knowledge in each of these areas.

It is a good idea to join an organization that offers through membership, insurance for modelers. Why insurance? The average powered model might weigh five and a half pounds, and have a flying speed of 30 miles per hour. On the nose will be two sharp-edged blades spinning at 2,000-28,000 rpm. Accidents happen, no matter how careful you are. There are radio failures, control surface failures, and many pilot errors. Thus, a model airplane can be a dangerous projectile and must be treated with respect. Occasionally people do get hurt, and the property gets damaged. Yes, there have been a few deaths in this sport over the years. Most accidents occur to the flyer himself, such as getting some part of your body too close to the propeller, or burning yourself on a hot engine cylinder. Another common variety of accident is gluing body parts together with today’s fast setting superglues or getting them in your eyes.

So even though anyone can fly, a lot of common sense is needed. Safety is something we think about all the time. You must be a responsible person, not only to yourself but to others. This means that young children should be very closely supervised. I have seen several five-year-olds fly, but never alone.

Who flies RC model aircraft?

The desire to fly can strike anyone. I see assembly workers flying and building right alongside commercial airline pilots. The only thing that separates them is language, and sometimes money. Yes, the more expensive equipment is often found with those with higher-paying jobs. But the greatest ingenuity in building often lies with those with less money to spare for the hobby. The biggest problem for everyone I know in the hobby is finding the time to fly and build.

What kinds of RC planes are there?

There are as many types of models as there are full-scale types of planes. After all, these are models. In addition, there are model airplanes that have no counterpart in full scale. They range from ugly, nearly formless stick-like models to ultra-sleek pattern ships. The wingspans can vary from 12 inches to 24 ft monsters. They can be powered by combustion engines or electric motors no bigger than a fat thumb to powerful chain saw engines. Speeds can be from a few miles per hour for a glider or some trainers to nearly 200 miles per hour in jets or racing planes.

Many of the RC planes are specific to certain types of flying that people are interested in: Trainers for beginners or advanced flyers just relaxing, sport and aerobatic ships for general fun flying, pattern ships for precision aerobatics, scale aircraft modeled in exquisite detail after full-size aircraft, gliders, slope soarers, helicopters, and, of course, jets.

What do you need for this hobby?

There are six basic ingredients to flying:

Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm may sound strange as an ingredient, but you’d be surprised how many people give up after a few flights. Enthusiasm wanes fast when, even though you fly Boeing 757’s for a living, or play around in a Cessna for enjoyment, you’re looking at your model spread over twenty square meters of ground. Knowing the basics of flight certainly helps you understand what your plane is doing, but you haven’t got time to consider many options when your model is heading straight down under full power. Here’s an experiment: See how many logical arguments you can have with yourself in one second.

One of the most common problems is that beginners forget that the plane is supposed to come back. I have witnessed many crashes by first flight beginners who were afraid to ask for help and weren’t noticed in time. Typically, they have about an even chance of getting off the ground. Then they have to turn. Maybe half of them will actually complete the first turn successfully. With the rest, the plane often drops its nose and gyrates into the ground. Half of those who make it through the first turn might make it through a second. But now the plane is coming straight at them. Oh No, the controls seem reversed. Goodbye orientation, hello ground. Well, in the end maybe one in a hundred beginners is capable of successfully completing a flight with a typically powered trainer. Forget the bravado and start with the attitude that you are not the one in a hundred. It’s not just a hand-eye coordination problem, it’s learning to coordinate the amount of stick throw on the transmitter with the reaction by the plane in a very short amount of unforgiving time.

Thus, you need plenty of enthusiasm to sustain you through the learning period and subsequent crashes. It also helps to have a comforting loved one. There is one thing about RC flying – you will crash. Some crashes are minor, some are spectacular. Sometimes it’s only a damaged wing, sometimes the plane is in more pieces than the original kit. I know people who carry large refuse bags with them just to make sure they get all the pieces. And you do want all those pieces. It’s amazing what you can put back together with today’s modern adhesives.

Money

No matter how creative you are, you will need money for this hobby. A beginner can expect to pay about £300.00. to be completely outfitted. This includes accessories to keep everything running. Yes, that is a lot of money. (At least to me!) Remember much of that money will buy equipment that will far outlast your first plane, and maybe even your interest in the hobby

Aircraft

Just about everyone wants to start in the hobby with a nice looking model, or some sleek aerobatic screamer. I did. Forget it, it doesn’t work that way. The more responsive the plane the quicker your responses need to be. A well-designed sport or aerobatic plane goes where you want it, and stays that way. Beginners need something more forgiving. They need to think small, simple, and slow. A typical trainer will have a 50 to 60-inch wingspan and weigh four to seven pounds when ready to fly. The majority of models that we fly are in this range. A typical trainer has a thick, flat bottomed wing situated high on the fuselage. Plenty of dihedral (the amount of angle the wingtips are raised relative to the center point of the wing) is built-in. This is a very stable configuration and has a tendency to right itself if left alone.

Once past the trainer stage, the choices depend on your interests and abilities. Most people move up to sport planes. These can be based on full-scale aircraft, but many are not. They have flying characteristics of intermediate level. Typically, they have generous wing areas with moderately thick airfoils. The wing may be semi-symmetrical (more curvature over the top of the wing) or fully symmetrical. They can do a large range of aerobatic maneuvers, and for many people, this is the class they stay with.

Another popular area is the 1/4 scale or giant scale. These models are impressive in size, power, and price. Wing spans must be at least 1/4 scale of a full-size aircraft or a minimum length of 80″. Weights are in the range of 10 to 45lb. A plane in this range can easily be quite an investment. Usually, flyers wait until they have several years of experience before advancing to this level.

Gliders are also popular. They have long thin wings with thin airfoils. Many have multiple dihedrals. Getting gliders aloft is usually done with a device called a high start. It consists of something like 100 ft. of surgical tubing that is stretched out and the glider attached. Up elevator is applied when the glider is let go. To release from the tow line, the glider will dive to slip a holding ring from a pin on the plane. Another more expensive variant is a powered winch. Other methods of gaining altitude consist of a power pod attached to the glider. A tiny, glow-engine engine is attached to the glider wing. The engine carries just enough fuel to get the plane up to several hundred feet.

Electric sailplanes are also becoming popular. In this case, an electric motor powered by rechargeable cell packs drives a propeller. The motor is used only to gain altitude and then is shut down.

It is not uncommon for gliders to have 30-minute flights or more. The trick is to find thermals (rising pockets of warm air) so that they can regain altitude. This is exactly what some birds, such as hawks or eagles do.

The construction of RC models alone would fill many pages. There’s just too much for a simple page like this. Generally, there are three classes of construction. Commercial kits, almost-ready-to-fly (ARTFs), and scratch built.

Commercially prepared kits vary widely in the building materials they contain. In smaller planes, balsa wood is the predominant material. Its high strength coupled with its low density still makes it one of the best materials for producing lightweight, rugged structures. Where high strength and ruggedness is needed, such as in firewalls (where the engine is mounted) or wing saddle areas, aircraft plywood is used. This type of plywood is a little different than regular construction plywood. It has many thin close-grain ply’s. In large models, the proportion of plywood to balsa increases, and the balsa parts are thicker than for smaller models.

Wings can be shaped in a variety of ways. They can be “built-up” from wood with ribs and spars just as in full-scale aircraft. Or foam insulation board can be used to make a wing. The material is cut to the desired shape and size with a “hot wire”. This foam core is then sheeted with thin balsa planks, cap strips, or thin wood veneers.

Fiberglass is commonly used for many large scale models both to form fuselages and to sheet wings. Even carbon fibre composites are being used, especially in gliders, to strengthen the long wings.

Almost-ready-to-fly (ARTF) kits are gaining in popularity. These models may have built-up or foam core wings. Their main characteristic is that the wing halves, fuselage, and tail surfaces are already built for you. In many cases, the parts are even pre-covered. The only gluing that needs to be done is to join the wing halves and glue the stabilizer and fin surfaces on the plane. In some cases, the control surfaces: the ailerons, rudder, and elevator, are even installed at the factory.

Both wood kits and ARTF kits often contain some hardware in addition to the material to construct the basic framework. This can be from as little as nothing to nearly complete hardware including, wheels, landing gear, engine mounts with all screws and nuts, plastic cowling, plastic canopy, plastic hinges for control surfaces, and even fuel tank.

The final type of plane building is scratch built. Many modellers would consider this the ultimate level. The builder starts with a set of plans, either of his own design or commercially prepared. He purchases all material to his specifications, makes his own jigs, and cuts out to construct the aircraft. Anything goes here.

Some fliers cheat a little and just mix and match, taking an airfoil from standard kit plans and a fuselage from another kit plan. Both kinds of building usually require a fairly well-equipped workshop.

In all these modes of building, glues are the most important fastener. A variety of glues is used: common wood glues, epoxies, contact cements, and superglues. Cyanoacrylates or super glues are becoming a favorite of many modellers. These glues produce strong joints very fast, keeping building time to a minimum. There are a number of different formulations for specific uses. Often a kit will require more than one type of glue. For instance, where high strength is needed such as in firewalls, epoxy glues are recommended.

There are many different techniques used to cover airframes. With balsa and foam models, the most common covering material is thin heat-shrinkable polyester. This material, which comes in a large variety of colors, has a heat-activated adhesive to fix the material to the balsa. Small irons (even clothes irons) or heat guns are used to attach and shrink the material. First, the covering is tacked down to the airframe with the iron, and then the iron or heat gun is used to shrink the covering between the tacked down areas. The result is a very tight covering. Older methods such as dope and close weave cloth are also still used.

Building time varies enormously. It depends on how efficient the builder is, how complicated the kit, how intricate the covering design and exterior detail. A typical built-up kit may take 100-150 hours to get to the ready-to-fly stage. An ARTF can take from 10 to 40 hours. A scale airplane with exquisite detail, such as seat belts for a scale pilot and hand-painted instrument panel, can take over a thousand hours.

A message to parents who have an interested son or daughter: For parents trying to justify the expense. This is a great hobby for parents and kids. Building a plane and learning to fly together is a great experience. Building a model teaches the importance of reading plans and following instructions. It is a great way to introduce working with simple tools to a child. Many tasks do not require heavy manual labor. However, building a plane is a tedious job requiring careful attention to detail. Most kids get bored very easily, and 15-30 minutes is often their tolerance limit for construction. This is especially true during the early building phase, where very little seems to be done that looks like it will ever turn into an airplane. Tolerance is also more limited in the summer months. Be prepared to be patient. You may also find that for some stages of construction, it isn’t worth trying to keep the child around.

Radio System

Most flyers purchase their radios. Things have changed dramatically since RC first began in the 1930s. Gone are the fifty-pound transmitters with twenty-foot antennas, and several pound receivers. Today’s equipment is all based on solid-state electronics. The basic radio system of today consists of a transmitter, receiver, servos, and battery pack. The transmitters are proportional, i.e. a certain amount of transmitter stick movement causes a proportional change in the model control surface. The receiver, servos, and battery pack are installed in the plane. The transmitter is what the pilot has in his hands.

Radio systems have a number of “channels”. Each channel can be assigned to a certain function, such as controlling ailerons or throttle. Radio systems commonly have four or six channels in the lower price range, large models may use up to nine channels or more. Radios with microprocessors are also becoming more common. These marvels can allow mixing of the various controls to achieve a custom effect such as an aileron/rudder coordinated turn, or a snap roll. The most common type of transmitter set up consists of two main control sticks. Moving the left stick up or down controls the throttle. Side motion controls the rudder. Moving the right stick up or down controls the elevator, and left to right movement the ailerons. The receiver, which is placed in the aircraft, is generally small, weighing only a few ounces. It derives its power from a NiCad rechargeable battery pack. The receiver not only picks up the signal from the transmitter but decodes the signal and tells the appropriate servo how much to move. It is the servo that moves the control surface. There are additional “trim” controls on the transmitter to fine-tune the control surfaces. These trims move the planes servos only a few percent.

Their purpose is to overcome any minor imperfections in the planes flying surfaces to achieve optimum flight conditions or “hands-off” level flying.

How can there be more than one plane in the air at a time? Transmitters transmit on specific frequencies, just as different radio stations transmit on different frequencies. There are over forty different frequencies allotted to model aircraft. When a flyer goes to a flying field there is a frequency board or a transmitter impound area. The frequency board tells him what frequencies are being used, and whether his transmitter’s frequency is in use. If it is in use, he must wait for the other flyer to give up the frequency.

Engines

Most engines used for RC flying are 2-cycle, single-piston, air-cooled engines. That is the fire on each stroke. Engines in the range of 30 to 90 are the most common. Glow ignition is used to ignite the fuel. Unlike the familiar spark plug, glow plugs consist of a platinum alloy spring, which glows continuously like the more familiar toaster element. This ignites the compressed fuel. Initially, a battery is used to keep the plug hot, but once the engine is running, the fuel combustion keeps the plug hot, and the battery can be removed. These engines turn from 3000 rpm at idle up to about 28,000 rpm in the highest performance class.

Four-cycle glow engines are also used. They are more like the familiar car engine and have a true cam and valve system. These engines turn around 2,500 to 11,000 rpm. Many people like these engines, because of their more realistic sound. They have a less annoying pitch than the two-cycle engines.

All these engines have adjustable carburetors to throttle the fuel mixture at both idle and high speed. The fuel for glow engines is a mixture of methyl alcohol, oil, such as castor oil, and nitromethane.

In addition, regular two and four-cycle ignition engines are used on larger models. These engines are similar to chain saw or strimmer engines but modified to take the different forces generated by a propeller. These engines burn petrol

Critical Accessories

A plane, an engine, a radio are what most people think is all that is needed. Well, it’s pretty close, but there are some accessories that can make problems a little less frustrating. Let’s not forget fuel. Oh, and then we need something to transfer the fuel to the fuel tank in the plane. You didn’t forget the battery for the glow-plug, did you?

Well, there are ways to solve all these problems. Fuel can be dispensed with either hand-cranked pumps or small electric pumps designed to be compatible with glow-fuel. Engine starting can be greatly simplified by using modified motorcycle starter motors sold specifically for RC use. Often all these defenses against frustration are powered by 12V motorcycle batteries with power panels to control pump, starter, and glow plug. All this equipment along with an assortment of tools is often placed into a flight box.

Flying RC Planes – Useful Tips

First off let me start with etiquette: Even if you never fly yourself, please, please, never, never laugh or rudely comment if you see a model airplane crash. Consider the amount of work and caring that went into the model. When someone spends over a hundred hours putting together a model, and the model is gone in a few seconds, it is extremely bad taste to make fun out of it. If the model is repairable, it can easily mean a few to twenty hours of work to repair

Start with a glider or trainer. Yes, dream and drool over the P-38 or spitfire but forget it for now. You’ll see why on your first flight.

Befriend an Instructor or Experienced Pilot

If at all possible, learn to fly with an instructor. An instructor can point out some simple problems. Your airplane may be tail heavy, a control surface might be reversed, or maybe you are over-steering it. Most beginners crash their airplanes to take off because they don’t get enough time to feel how the airplanes fly.

An instructor can do the first few take-offs and landings which will give you the opportunity to fly the airplane without worrying about the ground. With his help your much more likely to take your new plane home in one piece. Most clubs have approved instructors to help new flyers both fly and build their aircraft. Just come along to the flying field and ask around. Very few flyers are snobs. They will be happy to clue you in on the club and how to join.

In many cases, if you ask very nicely, a flyer will assist you on the spur of the moment. If he refuses he is more than likely, not snobbish, just cautious. This is true of even many advanced flyers. They just don’t feel comfortable teaching. Don’t take it personally. A word of caution here; actions speak louder than words.

First, watch how a person flies before asking him to help. Is he watchful of others? Can he fly well, but safely? Does he seem to follow the rules of the field? Spend some time picking the right person to ask.

Having eliminated any obvious problems, your instructor will be ready to fly the RC plane. Just stand back and enjoy the sense of elation as your instructor puts the model through its paces. Do not worry if you see him making adjustments on the transmitter trims during this flight. Very few brand-new flying RC plane models will take off and fly absolutely straight and level without some slight adjustments here and there. After a few circuits, the instructor will probably be ready to bring the model in for its first landing. This can be one of the most critical moments for an untried model, as no one can know exactly how it is going to handle on its first landing approach. Having said that, unless they are dramatically out of trim or overweight, most trainers are relatively simple to land and the event should pass without incident.

In the old days, the RC instructor and student passed the control transmitter back and forth while the plane was flying. For obvious reasons, crashes were quite common. But now the standard training method is to use a “buddy cord”. The buddy cord is an accessory that allows the instructor to connect his transmitter to the student’s transmitter. As long as the instructor pushes the “instruct” button on his transmitter, the student has control of the plane. When the instructor releases the button, control is immediately transferred to the instructor’s transmitter. Using this system it is very rare for a plane to crash during “new pilot” training.

Your instructor may want to give the model several test flights before he is ready to hand over the transmitter to you. Be patient! There are very good reasons for this approach. Your instructor will want to be, absolutely certain that you have the best opportunity to control the model effectively once you take over. If he is struggling to control the model, then you more than likely will also struggle; that is the last thing you need when you are learning. If this is the sum total of achievement during this first visit to the flying field, you will have had a successful day. The model is proven, your instructor is satisfied with its flight characteristics and you go home with your airplane intact. Your patience will be rewarded with the opportunity of your first hands-on experience the next time out. Also, you will have had an opportunity to discuss the model’s handling traits with your instructor. If you take with you a notepad and pen you can write down any important points to remember.

Once the scale model aircraft is back in the pits area, the motor stopped, receiver and transmitter switched off, you can stand back and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Do not forget to think of your instructor for his expert handling of your model. Now you know that it flies, there is nothing to stop you from becoming a successful model aircraft pilot. This is the point at which your instructor will go through a “postmortem” of the flight and will show you how to make any changes to the linkages that may be necessary to incorporate the trim changes made during the flight. This means that the next time the model takes to the air, all the trim levers (apart from the throttle trim) on your transmitter should be centralized, with the model flying “hands-off” in the straight and level attitude. It should be possible to set your model flying straight and level into the wind, let go of the transmitter sticks, and, providing the wind conditions are reasonably light and smooth, expect it to fly exactly as it has been set.

Whether your first hand-on experience occurs on the same day as your test flights or not, it will certainly be a memorable event for you. Although you are likely to have control for only a few minutes during this first flight, savor it; it is a special occasion and you will feel a sense of pride and elation. You will probably be very nervous, too, and may give your instructor a few moments of trepidation. Try not to panic – your instructor is right there at your side, ready to take over if you get yourself into a situation from which you cannot recover. Try to remember that control inputs from the transmitter need not be excessive. Over-controlling will lead to problem situations, whereas gentle control movements will create wide, smoother maneuvers that will give you time to think about your next control input. Your instructor will be talking to you all the time, giving you advice on how to get the model to fly in a controlled manner and to be where you want it to be.

Join a club

Flying RC planes is not difficult, but it is almost impossible to learn without experienced help. Anyway, it is ALWAYS easiest and safest with an experienced RC planes instructor. Remember it is not a computer game and there is no “reset button”. Crashes can do a tremendous amount of damage and even totally destroy the plane! And it takes a very large area to fly safely. The best way to get started is to find a local club. In addition to providing instruction and a safe place to fly, club members will recommend equipment and provide valuable advice. And it’s always more fun when there are others with the same interest to help each other out!

Instructors will be members of local RC clubs that are found all over the country. There is a national organization, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) that publishes a list of all the sanctioned clubs in the U.S.with their addresses. They also provide insurance, education. and guidance for all aspects of this exciting hobby including contests and shows.

Final Thoughts

Flying a scale model aircraft is all about making it do what you want it to do, and not simply reacting to the model going where it wants to go and then trying to get it back under control. Once the model is safely back on the ground after your first hands-on experience, it is time to take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy the sense of achievement. Discuss the event with your instructor and try to learn from any errors you made during your time in control. As with any acquired skill, the more practice you get, the quicker you will succeed and the more competent you will become.

Visit the AMA website for more information.

Local RC plane clubs will require you to join the AMA as a condition of membership, and this will also allow you to enjoy the use of their facilities and instruction in RC plane flight.

Flight instruction usually includes a safety inspection of your new plane and a series of one-on-one lessons designed to teach you the basics of taking-off, circling the field, and landings. Even with a small electric training plane, you should expect to find a strong emphasis on safety..since even a tiny plane can inflict serious damage to people or property when flown carelessly.

What I don’t recommend is going out to your local park and trying to teach yourself to fly. Not only will you endanger people around you, but it is nearly a 100% guarantee that you will crash! So save time, money, embarrassment,and possibly even danger and make a few phone calls to find an instructor to help you fly!

You can start by yourself using an RC airplane flight simulator such as the Real Flight Simulator which not only contains a variety of radio control planes and helicopters but actually has an instructor module to get you going. While this isn’t quite the same as the real thing, you still can learn a lot, have a bunch of fun and not worry about having to fix your plane when you crash!

However, I am going to attempt to write, over a series of articles, information designed to help those people who want to try and teach themselves how to fly RC.

If a term in here confuses you then see whether it’s been listed in the RC planes glossary.

Remember to fly safely, check your equipment and plane each time before you fly. You have a wonderful aircraft that can let you soar to amazing feats. But it is also a potentially dangerous machine. Keep alert, and keep your equipment in good shape.

Finally, there is nothing quite like your first solo flight, where you take off, fly, and land all by yourself. It’s a moment that you will bore your family and friends with for at least a week. It’s a personal accomplishment that only someone who has done it can fully understand. Yes, the pounding heart, weak knees, and sweating palms are also part of the experience. They will be there even after many flights.

I hope that I have helped to assist in making this hobby more desirable to newcomers and hope that the above has wet your appetite to give it a try.

The best of luck to you in your new-found hobby.

Lesson 1 – Before your first plane
Lesson 2 – Your First Flight
Lesson 3 – Your Next Few Flights
Lesson 4 – Starting to Get the Hang of This
Lesson 5 – Getting Down to Business
Lesson 6 – Now you are really flying!
Lesson 7 – The Possiblity of Flight
Lesson 8 – Silver Wings