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Learning To Fly Fixed Wing

This article is for people interested in learning to fly radio control IC (internal combustion) engine aeroplanes.

So you want to learn to fly radio control model aeroplanes?

1. The first thing is the right attitude.
Radio control aircraft are not toys.
The fundamental difference is a toy cannot hurt you. The spinning propeller will cause serious damage to anything it hits. Once in the air the model can travel at considerable speed, the engine in particular,being metal, is potentially lethal on impact. A responsible attitude to the safe operation of model aircraft is not just desirable - it is a legal requirement.

There is the financial expense in buying a model and equipment for RC (radio control) model flying. However it will also take a lot of your time to learn - you wont learn in a day, or a week, or even a month. You you will need to be able to commit a lot of time on a regular basis to be down 'the patch'. If so, then possibly over a summer you will be flying solo. You have to be prepared for set backs and frustrations, and even more expense (the expense aspect never actually ends). So you will need to have the wallet & determination to persevere into what is a absorbing, fascinating and very diverse hobby.

2. Equipment       Top of Page
It has never been cheaper or easier to get into model flying.
At time of writing (2010) model shops will do a 'startup' nitro trainer kit for under £300. The basics supplied are:
ARTF Trainer, glue for assembly, 2 Stroke Engine, Radio Control Set, Chicken stick/finger guard, fuel pump, glow fuel and a glow start. Useful to the novice would be a 2nd transmitter (compatible with the other one) and a buddy lead so once down 'the field' they are equipped for instruction. More about buddy leads later.

Trainer Model2a. An ARTF (almost ready to fly) Trainer type model aeroplane of the type on the left.

ARTFARTF models have most of the building work already completed (see right) e.g. the wings are pre-built and covered, just require glueing together. Similarly with other parts such as the tail section gluing into fuselage. Usually the instructions are aimed at the 'first time builder' and a weekend is all that is required to complete the assembly, install the engine and radio control items and appropriate movement of control surfaces per the instructions..

SpitfireTrainers are fun to fly and have forgiving flying characteristics so are ideal for for learning. You may like the idea of flying a 'warbird' like a Spitfire or Mustang but these are much less forgiving than trainers and will often have 'vices' to catch out the novice.

As you gain experience you may like to try your hand at building your own model. Kits are available (as shown below) which are essentially a box of wood and assorted parts with plans to build from. You can see some construction threads on the mmfc forum to get the idea. Later you may even go on to just buying a plan and building it.

However for those starting out, ARTF offers the simplest and cheapest introduction to model flying.

Contents of a Kit to Build


A Typical Type of Construction


2b.Radio control       Top of Page
Transmitter (Tx) with a receiver (Rx), servos, flight battery, charger (for the Tx battery and flight battery) and xtal (crystals). One xtal for the Tx one for the Rx. The xtals will be 35mhz and have a number representing the channel they are on e.g. 80 (35.200). There will also be a switch harness (an on off switch that connects between the Rx & battery ). The switch lets you turn off the model when not flying to save the battery. With the advent of 2.4ghz sets crystals are not required as 2.4ghz receivers automatically 'lock on' to their 2.4ghz transmitter.

Servo (usually 4 per set)
Transmitter (Tx)
Receiver (Rx)
Flight Battery




Mounted in plane to power Rx
& servos


2 Stroke Glow engine2c. Engine & Glow Start       Top of Page
A 2 stroke 'glow' engine for model flying. Instead of a spark plug they have a glow plug in the cylinder head. Fuel is primarily methanol, with up to 25% oil for lubrication, and usually a smaller percentage typically 5-10% of nitromethane, a chemical additive which improves the combustion efficiency of the methanol.

Glow plug glowingThe glow plug has a 'glowing' coil element. Once the engine is running the element is kept hot enough to keep igniting the fuel.

Starting using electric starterThe initial starting of the engine is carried out using a glow start to make the glow plug element 'glow'. (as shown in the picture left) For starting the engine experienced pilots will 'hand start' engines by 'flicking' the propellor, to cause compression and ignition from the glow plug which is 'lit' by the glow start. Often a 'chicken' stick or finger guard can be used help protect fingers when hand starting.

At extra expense an electric starter (which keeps fingers away from propellors - See pic left) can be purchased for turning the propellor and requires a 12v battery for power. Once the engine is running satisfactorily the glow start is removed.

The club safety rules for starting etc will be explained by the instructor and are covered in FIELD RULES

Learning using a buddy lead3. An instructor       Top of Page
At MMFC novices are required to have a club instructor. Even if you had a private flying field trying to learn on your own would be time consuming, frustrating, expensive and potentially dangerous. Instruction by an experienced pilot is both the safest, cheapest and quickest way of learning as well as a source of knowledge on numerous aspects of model flying.

A point to note: in order to teach , the instructor sacrifices time when he could be flying his own models. A student who is enthusiastic, gets down the flying field at every opportunity and politely badgers for flights shows the instructor their time will not be wasted. If the novice appears not particularly bothered, then instructors are unlikely to put themselves out.
A major frustration for the novice is the difficulty in arranging dates/times for flying with the instructor(s).

People lead busy lives often the decision to 'go flying' is at very short notice and combined with the vagaries of weather make training appointments difficult. Realistically the novice will need to try and get down the field at every opportunity (when the weather is suitable for flying) and hope an instructor will be flying. Obviously this can be frustrating for the novice. .

The club requires 'buddy lead' learning where two transmitters are connected via a lead (buddy lead). The instructors Tx (master Tx) is the only one with xtal fitted and switched on with antenna extended. The students Tx (slave Tx) is not usually switched on as it draws power from the master Tx, should not have a xtall and need not have the antenna extended. Switching on the slave Tx can cause damage so care should be taken to follow manufacturers instructions.

The instructors master Tx will have a 'trainer switch'. When held down control is passed to the students slave Tx. However, as soon as the instructor releases the trainer switch control reverts back to his Tx . A major advantage of the buddy lead is the instructor decides when to take over , without the delay and potential disaster in trying to 'grab back' the Tx from the student.

Generally each training flight takes between 10-20 minutes (and will seem to last a lot longer - the intensity of concentration required when learning is immense)

Using a simulator4. Simulators       Top of Page
A computer simulator where you can plug in your Tx, (or where a mock Tx is supplied) and replicate the Tx controls, can greatly speed up the learning process. Practice on a simulator is just as relevant as down 'the field' for getting to the point where your thumbs move the Tx sticks automatically according to what you see and what you want the model to do. Usually the simulator will have a variety of models for you to experiment with. Simulators e.g. 'Reflex' and 'Real Flight' are expensive costing over £100 but they will help speed up learning. The major benefit is crashing on the simulator doesnt cost. You always have the option to sell the simulator on when you have finished with it.

The club requires a flying competence test be satisfactorily passed before new members may fly solo i.e. without an instructor and buddy lead. The test is carried out by 2 designated club members. The test is not particularly formal, the emphasis is that a person can fly and operate model aircraft - SAFELY.

5. Learning To Fly - How long does it take ?       Top of Page

Well how longs a piece of string ?
Why are we here ?
Whats next weeks winning lottery number ?

One things for sure - The more often you go flying the quicker you learn and as mentioned a simulator that replicates the Tx controls can greatly speed up the process of making thumbs move sticks automatically. .

Gee Bee In Tree6. After You Have Passed Your Test.       Top of Page

People only learn by experience and one of the aspects that keeps RC flying interesting is there is so much choice and diversity. You never stop learning or run out of new things to try. Wether your into aerobatic models, scale models, electric engine, glow engine, petrol, co2, diesel, gliders, free flight, helicopters etc. From building to designing model aircraft there is something for everyone.

Some things most of us have to learn the hard way. When you hit a tree, you learn to respect trees and understand about 'perspective'. Not sitting in your model it can be very difficult to judge where it is in relation to other objects e.g. trees.

When the engine stops (dead stick) and you try a tight turn that the model is not capable of (so drops out of the sky and crashes) you learn more about a models capabilites and stall point.

The list is endless and it's what makes model flying an achievement and so rewarding.

Keep Flying

Alistair Clinton

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Learning To Fly Radio Control Helicopters

By Adrian Hawley January 2007       Top of Page

Adrian flying CobraWhere Do I Start?

Learnign to fly helicoptersMaybe in the past you may have built Radio Controlled (RC) cars or planes. If so this will give you a slight edge on someone who hasn’t. However, nothing can prepare you for the roller coaster ride that is RC Helicopters! The best advice is ask questions. Lots of questions! Even before you buy your new dream, ask questions. Would you go out and buy the first car in the first showroom or the first shirt you see? Probably not, read up if you can, and do visit a local model shop and ideally a club. Check out the BMFA and track down your local club, we don’t bite, and you will be amazed at the welcome you will receive and information and knowledge gained.

Today there a many different manufacturers all offering very good helicopters. You don’t usually see a bad helicopter only a bad builder/pilot.

As part of your question asking, find out what others are flying in the local area. It doesn’t mean you have to copy them but it will certainly help you if there is someone who has experience with that particular brand or model.

CobraDon’t necessarily be swayed by what the local shop has to offer, shop around, some (not all) could try to sell you what they want to sell you not necessarily what you want or need. A word about Internet sales here. The Internet is a powerful medium for buying everything you require for this hobby and normally at a discount to the local shop. But what it cant sell you is one to one advice, support, training and outright experience. Support that local shop, and you will find you will have support back long after your initial sale. If you buy your new helicopter from an Internet site it’s hardly fair to ask your local shopkeeper to set up or test fly the heli now is it?

So what are the most popular questions?

How High?  How fast?,  How much?   How do I persuade the wife?
Best answers are:
Out of sight (the world record is 6022 feet), Fast! (90mph is achievable!), Around £500- £600 & you are on your own with that one!

Lets look at what’s on offer.       Top of Page

Micro HelicoptersIn its basic format there are two main sizes of model helicopter, known as 30 and 60 size. Now the size actually relates to the engine capacity rather than any real dimensions of a model, but its fairly safe to say that a smaller engine will need a smaller frame and a larger engine a larger frame.

However, there are nowadays helicopters in between these. E.g. 46 and 50 size, and those bigger than 60.  90 size and turbines (jets) are now commonplace but are normally beyond the wallet and flying capability of the humble learner. There is also a large market now for mini battery powered helicopters suited for indoor flying. (more of those later!)

Models are powered by either an internal combustion 2 stroke engine (known as i.c), fuelled by model fuel or petrol (gas for the American market), gas turbine or electric, running on batteries (becoming very popular), or even an umbilical cord from the mains. So quite a choice.

Helicopter invertedSo by now you have probably decided on the first purchase, based on all that research you did! But before you finally part with all that hard earned cash, why not just check with that local club member you met, and discuss your pending choice. He will probably have a better know how of parts and costs, and more often or not offer advice to make you feel confident in that purchase
In the UK the most popular choice for a first helicopter appears to be the 30 size, i.c powered.
You can purchase a collective pitch, or a non-collective pitch machine. The collective pitch version is very much the way you should be heading. To be fair there are not that many fixed pitch helicopters out there these days, as a collective pitched version, is slightly more expensive, but is by far the more versatile and will help you enjoy more advanced stages of the hobby after you have learned to hover and control the thing!

Keep in mind, when learning to fly a helicopter you are more than likely to have a crash or two, (or three or four in my case!) and parts are going to have to be replaced.

So we have decided, a good place to start would be a heli designed for a .30ish size engine, a stable flyer with collective pitch, and one with a good availability of parts.

One thing to add here is to if possible, purchase the kit version as opposed to the ARTF (Almost Ready To Fly).

The logic here is that
A. You built it and when you crash at least you will know how the thing went together in the first place, and of course you now have the technology/experience to rebuild your new “toy”(as your wife will term it!), and
B. When you get to the stage of the first flights, it is amazing the feeling you will have seeing your creation lift off.

Adrian Hawley 

Part 2 (added May 2007)       Top of Page

Old Helicopter FlyingSo we have established what sort of helicopter we want, we have asked lots of questions, and we have our new pride and joy purchased and sat at home ready for all to admire!
Helicopters are probably one of the hardest R/C models to build and operate. The very nature of a helicopter is that they are unstable, practically un-flyable, but when mastered one of the biggest buzzes you can get!   They're mechanically more complex than cars, boats or planes. And in theory at least, if the engine stops your in trouble, we will challenge that theory later, by the way!

Heli history
Model helicopters have like everything in life evolved and changed over the years, and those vintage models of the 1970’s still bear many similarities to today’s models. 30 years ago a model heli would have cost a months wages and taken even longer to learn to fly. Today, pilots can be in the air in hours, with minimal cost. But, enough of the history lesson. Back to your new heli.

Helicopter EngineEngines & stuff       Top of Page
With your new helicopter you will have purchased an engine to match the size of your frame and flight characteristics. Heli engines differ to car or airplanes as they have larger heads (to help dissipate heat) and a carburettor that can stand the mid range needed. (most heli engines seem to be run about the mid point). They offer a surprising amount of power from such a small package. 10cc is not uncommon! More often than not you will not have muffler, (occasionally wrongly called an exhaust!), so you will have got one of those too!

Helicopter Transmitter (Tx)Amongst all the other boxes you came home with would be one containing the radio gear. This is more often than not in the RC world referred to as the TX. Obviously without this there would be no radio control, in fact no control at all! The opposite end to this is the receiver, (titled the RX).

The whole heli package has so far cost you several hundred of pounds, but a good choice of radio equipment here will pay dividends later… me! As with everything so far choose the best you can afford, and indeed one you like, or are happy with, again advice from others may help.  The logic here is that as your flying skills improve you will want to do more with your helicopter. A budget radio will help you no doubt, but you are then limited by what the radio can do. It can be frustrating. The second part of the logic is that should you wish to give up the hobby (god forbid!), you stand a better chance of selling  a better specification radio.

The two main providers of radios in the UK are Futaba and JR, both very fine manufacturers, and you may need to decide you own way to go. Without copying someone else, you may find it easier if others on your new model club have the same make.
Also in your radio kit, you will undoubtedly have found the servos (normally 5 of them), batteries and fixings, and other “bits and bobs”. Although not in that same box, you will have purchased a gyro, a second box of electronics.  Everything you need is now available to you.
The servos you have in your box are more than adequate for you, and as with everything you in this hobby, there are upgraded versions of practically every part or component. You wont need any of these extra “bling “ parts just yet. Save your money until your ready.

Helicopter Gyro and servo picGyroscopes (gyro in pilot language).       Top of Page
As we already know a helicopter is unstable, (both models and full size). Because of the rotation of the main rotor blades, the body of a helicopter wants to rotate about the main rotor shaft axis. The tail rotor was devised to counteract this. On a model helicopter this action is somewhat sensitive, and still makes the model to some degree unflyable. A gyro is fitted to in its basic format dampen that reaction and give you the humble pilot chance to react to what is happening at the tail end. 
Mechanical gyros were in the beginning, and as we already know time and technology takes over and we have now peizo gyros, all clever stuff!  The installation of this will be covered in your builders manual, and indeed most modern kits have a pre determined space made for that part!

toolsTools& building       Top of Page
To build your helicopter kit there are no really unusual tools, and you may well have most if not all of then anyway.  Screwdrivers, spanners and Allen/hex keys are more or less all you need for the job, and that nice big glossy manual you got with the heli kit will tell you anyway. Other tools will come up in the fullness of time. So on to building.

building heli  Take your time. Simple as that! Quality of build should be your aim at all times. Don't rush construction and always use thread lock where advised.  The people that made the kit ask you to put thread lock on for a reason.  Don’t try to be clever, and if you follow the manual you will have a helicopter that is well build and probably needs minimal setting up by your club mentor, so in the end you both win!  As you progress into the hobby buy tools as you need them and they will soon build up.

After you have bought your helicopter, (and associated equipment), you will be itching to get started. Please resist the temptation to build it immediately. There are many examples of helis that have been started by modellers, never finished, and all because they didn’t read the manual and take their time. READ the instructions a couple of times, and get familiar with all the parts in the box, take each bag out and line them up, feel the parts, and get a feel for where they go  and what they eventually do, and check nothing is missing. Once you have started you may be looking for hours for something that was never supplied (experience taught me that one!).

All kits will have a sequence of jobs to complete, this is done this way for a reason so do the steps exactly as instructed, and you should not be disappointed with the results. Always work in a clean environment. Wait until you can get a nice clean table with no real distractions. You would be surprised how much quicker this makes it go together. Work on the dining room table with care, they seem to scratch easily, we don’t want to upset anyone just yet! And if you drop a screw/nut, you will discover that your carpet will eat it! You then spend the next 15 minutes on all fours looking for that one tiny nut! (Again ask me how I know!)

Once you have built your nice new helicopter you will need to install the radio equipment. Any defects or omissions here will certainly cause a crash. Ensure that you protect all installed equipment from vibration using proper servo mounting bushes, Gyro mounting pads, and I would suggest fitting your receiver in a well-designed crash protection box. (They are available from you local model shop and are fairly inexpensive. Fit the largest size battery pack you can get for your helicopter. (Largest in capacity not physical size of the pack!) This means that you get more time to fly and less time spent charging up. But even if you are a “normal” club flyer, you will at least have some power left in reserve.

Make sure all wiring is neatly routed throughout your helicopter and again your manual may well give you tie wraps or similar to said this part. Any extension servo leads used tie the plug and socket together to avoid separation during flight. The plug from the gyro is a common one.

starter tools picStarter equipment
Keep the box and all the packaging until the end, you will be surprised at how often you will miss something, and of course by now you have thrown the bag away it was supposed to be in!
Before you can fly your helicopter you will need some of the other “stuff” you would have purchased. These ordinarily comprises fuel, and some form of starter kit, normally a 12v starter, something to add power to the glow plug, a 12v battery (Maplins/Radio shack are good for those!), fuel pump, either hand or battery powered.

So lets check where we are. You have bought this nice new easy to build, radio controlled helicopter, persuaded your loved one it isn’t a “fad”. Sought lots of advice along the way, got it home, lovingly built it, installed the radio gear, added the engine and muffler. So all seems well in the world! But of course you now, like Dr Frankenstein, you want to see you creation come alive!
So charge up your batteries, don’t forget there are three, one in the helicopter, one in the TX and one in your new flight box. Get everything together and make that appointment with your club help.

Adrian Hawley

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