Learning to Fly

The single most important aspect of learning to fly is getting an instructor. An instructor does not have to be certified to any particular standard but must be a competent experienced R/C pilot who is capable of giving instructions with patience. Many people think that flying R/C models is easy enough that it can be learned without an instructor and many have succeeded but at great expense. Many have become frustrated and disillusioned because of a crash on the first flight and never tried again. This point cannot be stressed enough that R/C flying is much more difficult that it might seem and that without an instructor to correct mistakes, a crash is inevitable.

There are two ways that an instructor can help a beginner in learning to fly. One way is for the instructor to begin by taking off and turning the transmitter over to the student. When the student has a problem, the instructor takes the transmitter back and takes control of the model. There is a "dead time" that neither the student nor the instructor has control of the model. This can be enough time for the model to crash and be destroyed. The other option is to connect two transmitters together so that the instructor can take control of the model any time that he feels that the student is in trouble. This is the reason that the student should match his radio system to that of the instructor.

Another option available to the beginner is to purchase a buddy box. This is nothing more that a transmitter that has had the battery pack, antenna, and possibly some of the transmitting parts removed. This could be a box that is specifically built for this purpose by the manufacturer of the student's radio system or an old transmitter that has been converted. The big advantage of this is that it allows the student to fly using only his radio gear and not interfering with the instructor's gear. He has the option of using more than one instructor, each of whom might have a different brand of radio. At a cost of $20 - $40, this is very cheap insurance against a possible crash.

The last thing that is required of a beginner before he sets out to conquer the world of flight is to join the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) or the Sport Flyers Association (SFA). Each of these organizations provides insurance to cover the cost of a catastrophic incident resulting from a model airplane accident. Very few clubs will allow a beginner to fly at their fields unless he is covered by this type of insurance. Some clubs will only accept one type of insurance, either AMA or SFA. Joining a club is strictly optional but is recommended since this can be a large resource of information. If the beginner can find a suitable place to fly which does not have an ordinance against this type of activity, then a club is not necessary for success. Insurance should not be looked at as an option but as a necessary evil. There are many other benefits offered by the organizations. These benefits are covered by each organization when a contact to the organization is made. The easiest way to find a local club is to ask the owner of a local hobby shop for information. If there is not a hobby shop in the area, the AMA or SFA has information about the clubs.

When the beginner has acquired his equipment, an instructor and insurance and he understands the basics of flight and the use of the controls, he is then ready to start the steps toward becoming a qualified R/C pilot. Each piece of equipment should be checked out by the instructor to ensure that it works properly. The airplane must be checked for proper balance then test flown and adjusted for proper flight. If the test pilot feels that there is a serious problem with the aircraft, it must be corrected before the student attempts his first flight. Only after all of the equipment and the model have been approved by the test pilot should the training begin.

There are a few things that a student pilot should keep in mind when preparing for each flight. These will help in getting the feel for the model in flight.

The first few flights will begin with the instructor doing the take-off and checking out the model. The student should watch the airplane as the instructor explains each control movement as it occurs. This will give insight into what is required to execute a take-off. The same will be true for the landing. Learning to properly land a model is by far the most difficult part of learning to fly. The model is most vulnerable when on the approach to landing because of the close proximity to the ground, its slow airspeed, the reduced responsiveness to control input, and the disorientation due to reversed control.

When the instructor has flown the airplane to sufficient altitude, usually 150 to 200 feet, he will ask the student if he is ready to take control. It is normal to be nervous at this point. Assuming that the student is using a buddy box, the instructor will give control to the student by pressing and holding the trainer switch. He will tell the student the maneuvers that he wants him to perform and how each one is to be done. He will give him instructions as to how improve each maneuver as it is being done. He will have him perform gentle turns left and right, flying ovals around the field, flying rectangles and figure eights. Each maneuver serves a purpose in building the skill of the student pilot. The student will progress to steeper turns, slow flight and stall recovery, each in itself a maneuver required to learn to land.

If at any time, the student should get into trouble, the instructor can take control of the model simply by releasing the training switch. He can avoid a mishap and take the trainer back to a safe altitude. The instructor will not let a situation build to a point that is beyond his ability to recover yet he will allow the student time to attempt the recovery on his own.

If the student has the time to devote to flying often, he can progress quickly. The day will come when the instructor will allow the student to attempt his first landing. This is a critical time for the instructor since he must react quickly if the student makes a mistake. It may take several attempts before the student actually sets the model down on the runway. Even then, it might bounce and seem to be flying again. Even when this occurs, the student must continue to control the model all the way to the point that it stops rolling.

After what seems like an eternity to the student, the day comes when the instructor is satisfied that the student is proficient enough in his flying skills to fly solo. This can be a harrowing or an exhilarating experience for the student. He feels that he has finally reached his goal but this is only the beginning. At this point, the fun really starts. The student can now spend hour after hour practicing and developing his skills.