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Learning To Fly RC Aircraft



I've always been a fan of aircraft. Since I was a kid, I visited air shows, was a member of the Air Training Corps, and started building an RC plane with my Dad. I say started, it was never finished. But, now I'm older, after seeing an air show again, and have a little bit of spare cash, I want to learn to fly RC planes properly. This is where I'm at right now, and this page will serve to show the path I take and share any knowledge I learn along the way. If I help anyone else, the page will be worth it, if not I hope that at the bottom of the page I'll be flying.

Learning to fly RC Aircraft header. Image of an XtremeAir XA41 Red Bull stunt plane.

So, where do I start?

It seems like a pretty straight forward list, but with so much information out there, knowing what is right and wrong can lead to confusion. For example, there are people that believe the last thing a beginner should learn is how to take off and land, yet there are other schools of thought which has that as one of the first. Then there are the debates about which are the best first aircraft to get, to go solo or to join a club, the list goes on. What I have here is what I've seen as good advice so far.

Research

Before you even think about getting a plane, you need to research the hobby (some call it a sport) and aviation/basic aerodynamics in general. The more you learn at the beginning (easy for me as Autumn/Winter is coming) the easier it will be to get in to flying and understanding what is happening to your aircraft.

The first thing I'd recommend you do is watch a beginners series of videos on YouTube by a group of people called FliteTest. The shows are headed up by 2 guys called Josh, one of which is an experienced flyer, designs aircraft, and even has a series of planes for sale from Hobby King; the other Josh is an intermediate level flyer who makes sure to ask the dumb questions (sometimes too dumb, but is all light-hearted so helps with the learning). There are 10 videos, each ranging from about 15-20 minutes long. I'd recommend subscribing to their channel too.

FliteTest Beginners Series

Unfortunately, it's not all videos, there'll be some reading too. The first place to visit is the BMFA where you can download their Members Handbook and amendments, as well as a guide on LiPo safety. I'd also recommend reading the BMFA - Flying Start - Flight Training Manual (in the Training Manuals section).

This should all give you a pretty good heads up on what you're getting yourself into.

Advice

You can get advice from many places, this being one of them. The world wide web is a wonderful tool for such things, and I'll be sharing a few places that I've discovered. As good as the world wide web is, the world in it's self can be much more useful in this case. I think one of the most popular pieces of advice is to go along to a club, see what it and the people are like, and they may even be able to give you a sample of flying a plane before you've even thought about what plane you want. Regardless of this, the wealth of knowledge and experience held by people at a club is priceless. Not to mention that when it comes down to specifics, you're both there, you can clarify what you're talking about, they can see the aileron that you think may be misaligned, they can take you through performing a split-s, and it's instantaneous. Needless to say, the internet is a wonderful thing, but, you can't beat real time help.

Clubs & Insurance

BMFA logo

The next question should be, "Well, where is my nearest club?", and the answer lies on the BMFA web site. One thing that is blatantly obvious to me is that you need to get insurance before flying your aircraft. The easiest way to get insurance in the UK is to join the BMFA, which is a small price to pay for the piece of mind you'll have. Don't think for one second that it's impossible for your aircraft to fly into someone's car, or for your prop to cut someone. Sod's Law states that if you're not covered, it will. The yearly membership fee is much, much less than the costs you'll face if something were to go wrong, and it has, and people have lost everything because of it.

However, you can kill 2 birds with one stone. By searching for a club on the BMFA web site, you are searching for your closest BMFA affiliated clubs. By joining one of these clubs, you are also joining the BMFA. I'm currently contacting my local club, to see what it's like and take it from there.

The Interweb

As I mentioned, there are plenty of helpful resources online, mostly in the form of forums. I have compiled a list of useful places which you can find in the menu under RC Plane Resources, which i will keep updating whenever I find anything new that could be useful.

Update

On Sunday I went to visit my local flying club, I just popped in on the off-chance that someone was there who could give me some information. It turns out it was a damn good decision. I spoke to a couple of the guys there, who all seem really friendly and helpful. They gave me some advice on radio choice, information about the club and the fees, etc.

I also got the good advice of not buying anything straight away. Wait until I've had a chance to fly first as from those initial flights they'd be able to judge how quickly, or slowly, I may be able to learn to fly and therefore could have a different recommendation for a first aircraft. I've since been in contact with the club secretary and arranged an official visit on Saturday, where (conditions permitting) I'll be able to experience the clubs ST Models Discovery trainer.

Other things I've decided since speaking to the guys at the club is that a simulator is a must have, and I have changed my mind on the TX to get. I was looking at the Spektrum DX6i, or a used DX8. However, after listening to their advice and reading some more reviews afterwards, the TX I'm aiming for is the new DX6. In essence, it's a DX9 with less channels, a far superior radio to the DX6i and has more modern features than the DX8. Hopefully with the next update I will have been flying.

The first flights

On Saturday the conditions were perfect, warm, sunny, and low wind. I met a few more of the guys at the club, and finally got to fly the Discovery. I had 2 flights with 2 different instructors and enjoyed them both. The first flight consisted of learning to turn the aircraft with ailerons and elevator (you need to use more elevator than you think), performing left and right turns avoiding the sun. On the last circuit, I was shown (me in control) how the aircraft reacted with lower throttle, and ended up in a descending approach pattern. If I hadn't got a little confused with left and right with the aircraft coming towards me, I would have landed the Disco on my first ever flight. This got me pretty excited to be honest, and I was told I did very well.

The second flight was made up of an anti-clockwise circuit (always turning left) and having to deal with the fairly low sun. This was a little trickier as I had to control the altitude a lot more to duck under the sun, then get back up to a decent height to allow for mistakes. I felt there were a couple of occasions when control was taken back a bit prematurely, as I had got myself out of similar mistakes on the first flight, but no complaints, I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have 2 more flight sessions with the club before I have to join (rules set out by the BMFA for insurance purposes, and rightly so), and I can't wait to get these under my belt ...weather permitting. I think I'm going to get hours of simulator training under my belt over the winter, then sign up to the club and the BMFA at the beginning of January. It seems a bit silly paying for 6 months with only 3 months left in the year, when that money can be used on a TX for Phoenix.

Update

It's been a long time since my last update as I was unable to pursue RC flying any further at the time. However, I'm now back on it and today have joined my local club, the Solent Model Aviation Club. I have bought myself a couple of planes, a trainer, a park flyer, a plane for FPV, and a 3D/aerobatic plane that I'll keep in the "hanger" for a while.

In the meantime, I have been flying quadcoptors. I have a DJI Mavic Pro, which is a great, portable video and photography drone, and have built myself a freestyle quad, which I'm still getting to grips with. All great fun and the quad was good to build and learn the technicalities behind it, I think it will help me a lot with the planes.

Eflite Extra 260

My 3D/aerobatic plane is too advanced for me at the moment, but I'm looking to the future and it was an absolute bargain. I'm going to be sensible however and install an FrSky S6R receiver into the model, which has inbuilt stabiliser functions and auto-level, which may help me avoid a painful crash; this is a balsa aircraft after-all.

I have a web page for my RC flight stuff, and have created a section for my Taranis settings. I have used an alternate way to set the switches on the Taranis to activate the various stabilisation modes on the S6R, which I feel are easier to use and can avoid accidentally knocking the craft into an unwanted mode, such as knife edge. I'll also include my settings for timer resets and smart throttle cuts.