Before we begin this discussion, let’s take a moment and talk about what it means to be a beginner in the world of RC hobbies; specifically RC airplanes.
A beginner, by definition, is “someone new to a field or activity”, or perhaps, “someone who is just starting at something”.
Somehow, somewhere along the line, when it comes to flying an RC model, everyone thinks they can do it, as a beginner, without even learning the basics…..why is that ???
Most “beginners” get their introduction to RC flying at a show or demonstration where accomplished, experienced flyers are demonstrating their skills. They make it look easy. Their airplanes are set up correctly, tested thoroughly, and operated with complete control (most of the time). It’s no wonder that in the modern day world of X-Box, PlayStation, and Wii, all “beginners” think this hobby is, or should be easy.
Remember when you first learned to ride a bicycle? All the older kids in the neighborhood were riding, and soon it came time for you to learn. You observed everyone riding their bikes many times….it looked so easy. You were a beginner, and you thought……“you knew what to do”…..so how come when you tried to ride for the first time, you fell off the bike, or ran into the side of the house, or into a ditch? Seems there was some kind of skill to be learned here, huh? After a few scrapped knees and bruised egos, we were all on our way on our own bicycles. We learned a “special skill” that we thought we knew, and learned that we did not know it…..and then knew it when we finally learned it. Once you learned to ride a bike, you had learned to ride a bike, both then and forever after. The brain and body are funny things. Go ahead; prove it; even if you have not ridden a bicycle in the last 20 years, do you have any doubt whatsoever that you can still ride? You learned a “special skill” that you did not have as a “beginner” that enabled you to ride successfully.
Think a bit about other hobbies, sports, or activities that you have tried or participate in today. Anyone can pick up a golf club and hit a golf ball; but can you make the ball go where you want it to go, when you want it to go there?
Anyone can pick up a paintbrush and place color on canvas; but can you paint an accurate replica of the Mona Lisa, or look at a photograph of a loved one and paint a recognizable portrait?
Anyone can pick up a fishing rod and cast their line into the water……but can you catch fish regularly?
Anyone can shoot a pistol or rifle, but can you hit a target the size of a tennis ball at 50 yards on a regular basis?
What about swimming, basketball, tennis……playing the piano, or even knitting?
The point of all this is that there is a point (which by now you are trying to figure out “what is the point” and how this relates to RC flying) or you may just think that I totally lost my train of thought and have been rambling aimlessly.
Well, relax, because there is a point. Successful RC flying involves a learned skill; something that you do not have if you are a beginner. There are exceptions and stories of individuals who flew perfectly from day one; but I was never so skilled or lucky (nor any of my friends either). So if you accept this premise let’s begin to try to understand, what we have to learn, that a minute ago we thought we knew. I am not talking about the academics of how, and or why airplanes fly (even though we will learn that too. I am talking about learning how to ride the bicycle, or in our case, the challenge of retraining our eyes, brain, and hands to make the proper interpretations so that our RC airplane goes where we want it to go, when we want it to go there.
A funny thing about RC flying is that almost anyone can be taught to take off an RC airplane in 2 minutes or less……..just ram the throttle (left stick) forward and pull back a bit on the elevator (right stick), and presto, you are in the air. This is usually the beginning of the end of a “beginners” first flight. The famous last words are very familiar……”I got it”…..”I got it”……”I think I got it”…..”Oops, I lost it”….This process usually takes anywhere from 10 seconds to 45 seconds, and the end result is a smashed pile of stuff and a couple of hundred bucks down the drain. Kids cry, parents are mad, the Hobby Distributor is blamed, and the dream of RC flying is in the ditch.
Here is the challenge in a nutshell. We must retrain our brains to interpret what our eyes see so that our hands and fingers (on the control sticks) are automatically commanded to make the proper control inputs. As a beginner, your eye, brain, and hand programming is intuitive (with a little bit of instruction) and correct for flying an airplane…….but only if your point of view is “like you were sitting in the cockpit”…….but, oops……we are not in the cockpit ! (This is also why all commercial and private pilots of real aircraft make very poor beginners for RC flying)……bet you didn’t know that! I wish I had a nickel for every time a real jet jockey visited our shop, wanted to get involved in the hobby, purchased the sleekest and fastest model we had, and promptly went out and crashed it! I love those guys and girls, and the job they do for our country, but they just can’t accept the fact that real jet jockeys have a bunch of un-learning to do.
So, what do we do! Let’s first understand the basic operation of 3 channel flight on the Hobby Lobby Piper J-5. The left stick is the throttle; push it forward to rev up the engine; pull it back to slow down or stop the motor. The right stick controls the elevator and rudder. Pull the right stick back and the elevator moves up, and the airplane’s nose rises in flight. Push the right stick forward and the elevator moves down and the airplane’s nose goes down in flight. Push the right stick left, and the rudder moves left and the airplane’s nose turns left in flight. Push the right stick right, the rudder moves to the right and the airplane’s nose turns to the right in flight. Pretty simple, huh? Remember that it is simple……but only if you are in the cockpit…which we are not.
The lesson we will learn (and hopefully our brains will follow) is this:
Moving the right stick left turns the airplane to your left, but only when the airplane is flying away from you. Moving the right stick to the left turns the airplane to your right when the airplane is flying towards you. Up and down remain the same whether the airplane is flying away from us or towards us when the airplane is upright. So….
1. Flying away from you: left is left; right is right; up is up; and down is down.
2. Flying towards you: Left is right; right is left; up is up; and down is down.
To further complicate things, if the “beginner” happens to get the airplane inverted (upside down), then things get a little bit stranger, still. If the airplane is flying away from you inverted (upside down), then moving the right stick left turns the airplane right, and moving the right stick back makes the nose of the airplane go down in flight. So….
3. Flying inverted away from you: left is right; right is left; up is down; down is up
4. Flying inverted towards you: left is left; right is right; up is down; down is up
Whew…..and as beginners, we thought we knew it all! The problem is: now that we know this we must figure out how to make our responses automatic and intuitive, like riding a bicycle. If you have to stop and think for a couple of seconds about which way is which, under what circumstances, then your model airplane has either flown away or more likely crashed.
Thank heavens for the left stick (throttle)….it remains the same, always. Push forward to go……pull back to slow down.
So, all this sounds a bit complicated, but the purpose of this is to simplify things and make you a real beginner….who can fly an RC airplane.
And how are we going to do this? One of two ways; first even if you have already purchased your Hobby Lobby Piper J-5, I would highly recommend that you consider buying a flight simulator program such as the Phoenix Flight Simulator available at Hobby Lobby for $174.99. And no, I am not trying to sell you other stuff that you do not need. Every RC pilot worth his or her wings owns a flight simulator program. Why, you ask? You have just spent about $200 to purchase your new PiperJ-5 aircraft, and if you decide to stay in this hobby, you will soon have many more planes in you hangar. Destroyed planes do not look very appetizing in anyone’s’ home or hanger and they definitely do not fly very well. If you buy a simulator and follow the instructions I give you, your chances of success increase a thousand fold. Additionally, as you gain experience you can practice new maneuvers time and time again without damaging any aircraft! You will use this simulator for the rest of your flying career! And if you mention this article to Hobby Lobby and include this secret code…..”I want to fly, today”, they will give you 10% off the purchase of any flight simulator.
So let’s consider that you go ahead and buy the Phoenix Flight Simulator. If you follow the instructions below, we will have you ready to pilot the J-5 in an hour or two.
Go to the aircraft selection tab and pick one of the high wing trainers (force yourself to ignore the jets and other really cool airplanes and helicopters, for now…please!)
Go to the flying site tab and select a flying site that is wide open with no trees or other stuff to fly into.
Now, picture in your head the flight plan we are going to execute. The airplane is on the runway facing away from us (into the wind). We are going to push the throttle (left stick) all the way forward, and after a takeoff run of about 100 feet on the ground, we will pull back gently on the right stick (don’t jerk the stick back). You do not have to pull the stick all the way back….just enough to get the nose up a bit and the airplane will rise gently into the sky.
Let the airplane gain about 50-100 feet of altitude, and then gently ease the throttle (left stick) back to about one-half….while letting the right stick return to neutral.
If the aircraft is flying straight and level at this point, then everything is good. If it wants to turn a little (left or right), then add in a notch or two of opposite trim on your radio.
Now flying straight and level, lets begin a gentle left hand turn…..push the right stick to the left (just a bit) and let go….continue to do this until the airplane is headed back towards you.
As the airplane comes back to the takeoff point, begin another left hand turn in the same manner……basically we are just going to make a giant left hand circle in the sky.
As the airplane circles and heads away from you again, just focus on making another smooth left hand circle in the sky. Use the right stick gently to turn left and pull back as needed (gently) to maintain your altitude in the turns.
Fly three circuits around the field like this, and then let’s try to land.
As the airplane completes the final left turn (pointed back the same direction you took off)….gently ease the throttle (left stick) back until the motor is “idling”…or running slowly. Try to line up with the runway using the right stick, but do not worry too much about this right now. The airplane will be losing altitude and approaching you from your left shoulder. Just focus on using the right stick to gently pull back as necessary to allow the airplane to “settle” on to the ground……again, do not worry if you do not land on the runway. We will work on that later.
The flight plan you just practiced:
1. Take off into the wind
2. Make three left hand circuits of the field
3. Land somewhere (left to right, without damaging the plane)
is the same flight plan we will fly when we put our Hobby Lobby Piper J-5 in the air!
Now practice this flight plan; takeoff, three left hand circuits of the field, and land…..on the simulator. Practice this until you can fly this flight plan 10 times in a row without crashing !
We are retraining your eyes, brain, and hands (all that complicated stuff we talked about earlier)…..You did not even have to think about it, but if you have managed to do the 3 steps above 10 times in a row……..then…….
Let’s assemble our J-5 now and go flying for real!
- Larry Powell