Now you are really flying! [Flying RC Planes Essential Guide]

Learning to Fly RC Planes – Lesson 6: Now you are really flying!

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Prerequisites: You can perform a loop, snap roll, or crucifix stall with ease. Low-level low speed and low-level high-speed passes are straightforward and cause you no concern whatsoever. Your landings typically touch down within 10 meters of where you anticipated. You’ve probably done 30-40 flights (maybe more, maybe less – some people pick this up faster than others). You have complete control of the plane in all 3 dimensions and are comfortable exchange altitude for speed and vice versa. You very very rarely lose orientation, and you are able to recover when you do. You probably haven’t had a serious prang (excluding when you were doing something intentionally risky and dumb) for at least 10 flights.

Objectives: Control sensitivity, powered landings, flying in the wind, low-level flying, talk about your next plane.

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Congratulations

If you can do all the prerequisites above then congratulations. I don’t think you are a beginner anymore – you can call yourself a novice. Well done.

Control Sensitivity

If you haven’t already done it yourself it is well and trully time for you to fly your trainer on it’s most sensitive setting. The most sensitive setting is achieved when the linkage goes into the hole in the control horn closest to the control surface.

So, set your trainer up for most sensitive, trim the surface by eye, and then give her a couple of flights to get used to trim her in the air, and get used to the new sensitivity level.

Powered Landings

At this stage, if you’ve been following the course you may not have tried a powered landing (if you have – no probs – you might find this stuff useful anyway).

Powered landings are not something that trainers typically need, as they normally glide pretty well and controllable, and so to make landing simpler we have just gone for dead stick (not throttle) approaches. As we start thinking about your next plane, however, chances are that it will land more easily with at least a powered approach and maybe even a powered landing.

Also, as you take on more challenging wind conditions you may need to do powered approaches and landings to land successfully into the wind.

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Your dead stick approaches have taught you most of what you need to know for powered approaches and landings. The one last thing you need to learn is throttle finesse. Whereas most of your flying occurs in the 1/2 to WOT range, landing takes place in the 1/2 to closed throttle range. So maybe spend some time familiarising yourself with what the stick on your TX feels like in those positions.

In a powered landing rather than diving below the glide angle, we instead just reduce the throttle to the point where the aircraft starts to lose altitude due to the lack of lift. If the aircraft slows so much that it might stall, use the elevator to push the nose down for a little more airspeed.

Just like a dead stick approach about 0.5-1 meter of the ground you are going to flare the model with the power still on, and then let her gently float the last few centimeters to the ground. Either the instant before or the instant after touchdown close the throttle completely. Obviously, if you are belly landing your plane make sure you close the throttle well before touchdown.

Whether or not you need throttle at the point of contact will depend on many factors:

  • Quality of approach – a good approach may mean you don’t need throttle for the last bit. On the other hand, a less than perfect to fast approach might mean you need to close the throttle before you start to flare (think about going around).
  • Surface – if you are landing on a rough surface (not so much with your trainers but with other aircraft) you may find that a bit of throttle will help prevent a nose over landing.
  • Weight and flight characteristic of the model – some models just really need throttle all the time, it will just lose altitude too quickly if it doesn’t have a little bit of thrust, or has a really fine airspeed point between losing altitude and stalling.
  • The wind and heat.

It all sounds kind of complicated right. So why would you bother? Simply because some aircraft just do not land well dead stick, and powered approaches are much much easier. Some examples include warbirds (because the wheels are almost right on the CoG these models are notorious for tipping over as they land – they need to touch down super gently onto a good surface to prevent this), anything with a high stall speed, any aircraft that is heavier than it should be.

So, go out and give powered approaches and landings a go. If you have a super cub you will probably find that this is the easiest way to land the cub once you have your throttle finesse sorted out. Electrafun and Easystar pilots may find that their landings just start running too long using this approach. Understandable, but do try and get some practice, or give it a go on the simulator with another plane.

Flying in the Wind

Your mastery of the aircraft is also now going to allow you to fly in stronger breezes. There are still limits due to the lack of power in the models, but you should find that you can fly a Supercub or Easystar in 10km/hr (6mph) breezes (a medium jog) and an Electrafun in 8km/hr (5mph) breezes (a slow jog).

Flying in the wind will be a good way for you to continue to develop your skills. The frequent adjustments which are needed when flying in stronger breezes will give you a good chance to practice your orientation and use of subtle inputs.

Just talking about some common scenarios where planes are flying in stiff breezes:

Being refused by the wind: You might find it is very hard to get your model to turn into a stiff breeze. Part of this is about power, so make sure you have full throttle. Some part of it is about airspeed, so if with full throttle you still can’t get around then use a dive to build up some airspeed before turning back to the wind. Once you get your nose into it the wind will either try to push you left or right or maybe over the top (particularly with an Electrafun) to try and turn you away from it.

When you fly across a stiff breeze it will try and turn you downwind. Just use a little rudder to compensate, and finesse the elevator to hold the whole thing as steady as possible.

When you fly downwind, just remember you will go much faster and have to turn much sooner. Plan for it.

As with all things when you are trying something new make sure you have enough altitude. With your experience somewhere around 10-20 meters should be okay. I would say a little higher normally, but wind tends to get stronger as you go higher.

Landing in a wind, particularly a gusty one can be tricky. There are a few things to keep in mind.

The wind is going to reduce your speed relative to the ground, so your landing approach will be shorter relative to the ground (the plane travels the same distance through the air though).

If the wind is up to, or less than the numbers I gave above for wind you can fly in, then a normal powered approach should work just fine. Let’s have a talk about landing in more difficult conditions, just in case you take off in just flyable wind, and it deteriorates from there.

If it is gusty you want to aim for a “hottish” landing. Hot landings are those where you come in a very low angle of attack, at a higher speed. Particularly when it is gusty one problem on approach can be where the wind suddenly dies off leaving your aircraft with no lift. Also, if the wind is quite strong you may need to go for a hot approach simply because you need significant throttle to make headway against the wind.

By having a little more speed we help to overcome the problem of the wind suddenly dropping off – hopefully, enough to ensure that the model will stay in the air if the wind suddenly drops away.

Also, if the wind is strong enough the usual principles of a powered approach won’t work. You cannot reduce the throttle to a point where you are slowly descending because:

  • The model might be flying backward (if the wind was really strong)
  • The model now doesn’t have enough authority to keep its nose pointed into the wind

You need to keep your throttle up and use your elevator to fly the plane to the ground. Flaring will be a particular challenge because you have more than enough airspeed to climb, even if your ground speed is not high, so you will need a lot of finesse on the controls.

Once you get close to the ground you need to check your landing speed and figure out how to get down the last 6 inches/15 centimeters. If it is really windy and you are only just making forward progress at say 1/2 throttle, then use the elevator to gently lower to the plane to the ground, shutting the throttle once you touch down for the cub (or other planes with undercarriage), or the instant before for belly landings. For aircraft with undercarriage be aware your work is not over when you touch down because you still have enough airspeed to fly. You need to use the elevator to hold the plane level while the airspeed drops – to much down and you will nose over, too much up and you will pull away from the ground, probably stall and come down with a thud.

If however, you still have good forward airspeed, then bring the throttle back (maybe even close it) and go for a nice long flare finessing the elevator until you settle in for a normalish landing.

Low-Level Flying

On calm days you can safely fly between 5 and 15 meters as your low altitude. Whether you want to or not you want to is largely up to you.

There are some reasons for keeping your cruising altitude over 10 meters, and even higher, but you should be able to safely fly in that 5-15 meter range all day without anything you do causing a problem.

However, there are some things to be aware of as you bring your altitude down:

  • You won’t have as much energy for tricks.
  • If you get a trick wrong, or the trick requires more altitude than you allowed for it a pretty serious prang is a distinct possibility.
  • Something can always go wrong in RC flying. A glitch with you close to the ground could end in a crash. A momentary loss of orientation might lead to you giving an input with less time to recover, or your battery might give up whilst close to the ground.

So, what am I saying – you are now more than experienced enough to make your own decision about flying altitude, but do keep in mind that things can and do go wrong, even when it is not you doing them. Provided you understand and accept the consequence, more power to you.

And if you are helping a beginner yourself, make sure they are flying at an appropriate altitude (30-50 meters) for their first few flights. Yes – you know enough about this now to be helping others if that is something you enjoy doing.

Your Next Plane

Radios

Before we talk about planes lets talk about radios. Assuming you bought an RTF trainer you might want to now consider getting a proper radio with your next plane. Although it is a sizable investment, it is something you should only have to buy once for many years.

If you are going to get a Transmitter separately (rather than buying another RTF that includes it) I would be awfully tempted to look at the Spektrum kit at the moment, and particularly the DX7. The DX6 seems to only support the more expensive receivers. All the Spektrum kit uses 2.4GHz technology which eliminates glitches. Although you may not have noticed them so much in your trainers, as you go to more advanced models glitches can quickly spell disaster.

Planes

I are going to talk about two types of planes. Aileron trainers and “others”. Aileron trainers are planes which anyone who has completed the prerequisites to here should be able to transition to. “Others” are a few more advanced aircraft. I’ve listed them because not everyone advances at the same rate and some readers will be ready for more advanced aircraft sooner.

So which are you? If you like pushing the plane around the sky at 2/3rd throttle just enjoying the sheer thrill of flying, put together a couple of loops and just love flying smoothly then an aileron trainer is probably the right way to go. However, if your trainer flights have become a process of building attitude just so that you can lose it all in a sequence of 4 or 5 high energy maneuvers then you might be ready for one of these “others”. To be ready for any of these models you need to be able to take off with your trainer, fly easy circuits all day at 5-10 meters with no issues, and bring them back down to land without incident.

Sitting in front of your computer without your ego on display to the world make your own decision about this. If you go through the aileron trainers you will probably make a better pilot than if you skip the trainer and go ahead, but not everyone has time or money for another intermediate step, and there are a few people who this comes so naturally to that they can go ahead without adverse effects too.

If you choose one of the “others” you will crash it. Seriously. The planes suggested have been put forward because they are tough and reasonably easy to repair. Some stuff you will learn a little faster, but some things you may never actually learn taking this approach.

So, starting with the Aileron Trainers:

GWS Tigermoth 400 (aka Big Moth)

This foamie has great scale looks, floats along nicely, and has a nice gentle roll rate on ailerons only. When you are ready, start building rudder into your turns and this plane becomes seriously aerobatic.

The biplane wing configuration does make this plane a little more fragile (than say the estarter below) but she repairs easily.

This plane is an Almost Ready to Fly (ARF) so there will be some building involved, and you will need a set of avionics (TX, RX, 3 servos, ESC and battery {2s 2200 recommended}).

Price: $110 AUD for airframe + motor.

GWS Estarter

While not the prettiest plane lots of people swear by the estarter as an aileron trainer. She has nice gentle roll rates, and is fairly robust as well as being easy to repair.

She is probably the superior aileron trainer to the Tigermoth but obviously is not as nice to look at.

Like the TM, this plane is an Almost Ready to Fly (ARF) so there will be some building involved, and you will need a set of avionics (TX, RX, 3 servos, ESC and battery {2s with the capacity to suit cavity}).

Price: $70 AUD for airframe + motor.

Multiplex Mini-mag

I don’t know much about this plane. It is here mainly on the recommendation of forums etc. Ailerons are described as “optional”.

The elapor foam that Multiplex models are made out of is top stuff. It can take some serious impacts and is easily repaired using normal CA glue.

Price: $115 AUD for airframe + motor although doesn’t seem to be widely available in Australia.

Now – the others:

Awesome RC Extrafun

This plane is quite challenging, even for capable pilots, and you have to expect a couple of serious prangs even if you are quite accomplished. It is unforgiving of mistakes in terms of the flight envelope, but is reasonably tough and will probably take a couple of impacts pretty well.

If you go this direction you must set the control throws to the minimum otherwise you will be on the ground in no time flat. I think this plane is a bit underpowered for her weight. Because of her weight, she has to fly fast which is another challenge for the transitioning pilot.

The pricing isn’t bad as the plane is RTF including a battery. However, I think she really needs a brushless upgrade for decent performance.

If you are a transitioning pilot you will crash this plane. However, it may be tough enough to survive these impacts until you sort it out.

It will take you some time to get bored of this plane, but it is an awfully big step from a 3 channel trainer too.

Price: $200AUD full RTF including fairly average TX.

GWS Zero

One of the best flying low wing warbird parkflyers available. The GWS Zero has no bad habits (provided you do the wing incidence modification) but would still be very challenging for the transitioning pilot.

Apart from a somewhat forgiving flight envelope (forgiving in low wing warbird terms anyway) the main advantages of this model are its weight (meaning it can fly slow on a 2s LiPo but still have interesting performance), its robustness and ease of repair.

If you are a transitioning pilot you will crash this plane. However, the model is reasonably tough and repairs pretty easily.

A brushless upgrade later will enhance this aircraft considerably.

Price: $90 AUD for airframe + motor.

Parkzone Stryker C

The Parkzone Stryker is a brushless powered fast delta wing elevon airplane. For the transitioning pilot trying to tackle this plane the main problems are going to be coping with ailerons (quite a high roll rate) and the speed of the model. Also because of the model’s speed, it can cause orientation issues by getting a long way away quickly.

The Stryker flys well, and does exactly what you tell it too. It has enough power that it can be put into almost any pitch or yaw without adverse effects. It is also quite easy to repair.

As a transition plane there are a couple of drawbacks – first is no rudder. The second is that the power of the Stryker does mean that learning when an aircraft is going to stall, how an aircraft reacts to a significant elevator in a nose up the corner with decreasing airspeed and a whole lot of other interesting scenarios are not things the Stryker can teach you. All the same, they are fun and predictable to fly. Keep your throttle under control while you figure her out.

Comes as either an RTF or Plug and Play.

Price: $360 AUD RTF, $300 AUD Plug and Play.

Other planes:

There are tons of other planes out there that would make good transitioning aircraft (from rudder steer to aileron steer). In anticipation of the questions:

What do I need to look for?

4 channel, or 3 channel with ailerons but best is 4 channel. High wing is best. Mid and low wings only if you have a high level of justified confidence, the plane can fly slowly and will survive impacts well and be easy to repair.

How about Parkzone P51/FW190/Spitfire?

All of the Parkzone warbirds are quite heavy and brittle. This means they need high flying speed, and if (when) you go in the plane will be quite badly damaged by the impact. The P51, in particular, is very tricky to launch as well.

What about modifying my Supercub/Electrafun/Easystar/etc to have Ailerons?

It is possible. It is a matter of whether it is worth the effort. For example, the dihedral in a trainer’s wing makes ailerons much less effective, and often you need to reshape the wing to make ailerons viable.

I’m happy with my trainer. Do I need another plane?

Of course not. However, from here the course is going to start talking about things related to aileron flying so it may not be as relevant to you. But feel free to read on anyway.

Next part – Aileron flying

Back to Learning to Fly

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