After being in the hobby for a few years, I really wanted to learn how to hover an airplane. I remember watching people doing it, setting it as one of my bigger skill goals for myself. I would see people who could make it look like they were barely moving and I would think to myself, “I want to do THAT.” The longer I was in the hobby, the more I noticed it was a big deal for pilots to get this trick down. So, I thought it would be an impressive goal to achieve.
To hover in 3D flight, you have to have a specific type of plane called a 3D plane. These have really large control surface, and are generally incredibly agile and highly controllable for the user. The airplane itself has to have a pretty specific weight-to-thrust ratio that is proportioned delicately enough so that it can perform the trick. A proper ratio for something like this would be like 2:1 or 2.5:1. With a ratio like one of these, you should not only be able to hover the plane vertically, but also accelerate straight up. Impressive to watch!
To save my planes I practice on a simulator. This particular trick, much like any other difficult maneuver, takes quite a bit of simulator time to master. You need to get to a point where you are able to make adjustments in your controls at the exact moment (or even a little before) it is absolutely necessary. Once you get it down, you can watch your plane hover pretty much like you would see an R/C helicopter hover. Now THAT’S a pretty sweet feeling!
Hovering is definitely an acquired skill that takes patience and requires you to be actively flying the whole time. As convenient as it would be, you can’t just pop your plane into hover and watch it do the work.
Essentially, what is happening when you are performing this trick is that your plane’s flight is being controlled by the tail while the nose is pitched straight up, vertically. In this state, the wings are stalled out and the plane is being held in the air completely by the power of the motor. In this orientation, the prop thrust (prop blast) blows air over the control surfaces and allows you to have some sort of control during that form of flight. The first time I managed to successfully hover, I felt like I was sweating bullets while the plane seemed to barely hold up. Now that I have put in the extra simulator time and much more field practice, I can pretty much hold it there and predict the pitches and make adjustments on instinct. It’s a pretty nice feeling for any pilot to master especially when it’s something that used to make our palms sweaty and our knees shake.