Interested in learning to fly a radio controlled aircraft?
Originally written by Gary Peterson
Added content by Ralph Bucci
Lone Star Aeronuts
Contrary to popular opinion, radio control (R/C) model airplane flying is not an expensive or difficult hobby (or sport to some) in which to participate. In fact, this is a pastime that the whole family can enjoy!
FIRST TIME PILOTS SHOULD SEEK THE HELP OF AN INSTRUCTOR
First Airplane, Equipment, and Various Expenses
Your first plane should be one of the many trainers (not the fancy airplane you really want). These generally have a high wing design (the wing is at the top of the airplane) and tricycle landing gear (a wheel at the nose instead of the tail). Many newcomers favor the ARF designs, which means it’s "Almost Ready to Fly." These airplanes can be assembled and, for some models, ready to fly in as little as three hours. The approximately five-foot wingspan typical of trainers makes them easy to store, transport, and fly. Computer simulators also work well for many people to reduce, but not fully replace, the time it takes to learn to fly.
If you are interested in flying a helicopter, there are many "beginner" models that range from $200.00 and can go as high as $2000.00 to $3000.00 for the larger 50 and 90 size machines. The Trex 250, Trex 450 SE, Blade 400, Walkera, and the E-Sky Belt would be considered a starter helicopter, suitable for most novice pilots. The Trex 450 pro, Trex 500, Trex 600 Nitro and Electric, Rave, and the Protos would be considered more for the advanced pilot. There are many experienced heli pilots that fly at the Lone Star Aeronuts field who would be glad to answer any questions that you may have.
The traditional engine used on trainer planes is a gas powered "40," meaning it has a displacement of .40 cubic inches. During the last decade, however, advances in battery-powered electric motors have created new options for the R/C beginner. Electric power is appealing for those modelers who enjoy a quiet airplane that is easy to start without the fuel and oily mess. Generally, try to purchase the largest trainer you can afford. Larger trainers are easier to see, easier to react with, and handle the wind better.
Another major component of R/C flying is the radio equipment. The standard entry level radio system has four channels to direct the throttle & flight controls. As several manufacturers produce radio equipment, it is advisable to consult with the club to ensure that your purchase is compatible with the club’s training equipment.
Total upfront cost for equipment can range from $250 to $400 for a 40 to 60 size ARF trainer plane packaged with an entry level gas engine & radio system. This cost can fluctuate significantly if you purchase by mail (lower cost), at the local hobby shops (personal service & advice), or if you choose a smaller electric powered aircraft. Another $50 or so is needed for basic support equipment (glow ignitor, extra props, fuel, batteries, etc.). After these initial costs, there are on-going expenses for consumable items and repair supplies; it is important to keep this in mind when entering this hobby.
Finally, dues are required for local and national club memberships. Most local clubs, including the Lone Star Aeronuts, require membership in the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) for insurance, safety guidelines, and educational purposes. AMA dues for this past year were $58 for adults and $1 for youth under 19. Lone Star Aeronuts dues this past year were $48 for adults and $24 for juniors and seniors (under 16 & over 65). A one time $10 initiation fee is required for new Aeronuts members.
Why Join a Club?
Many people wonder why they need to join a club at all. For starters, we need a suitable place to fly. A group of modelers, with umbrella insurance provided by the AMA, are usually able to secure and maintain a quality flying site much more easily than one individual. Without the collective effort of the Lone Star Aeronuts membership, it would not have been possible to develop our flying site at Old Settler’s Park.
Another significant benefit of belonging to a club is having the support and help of the members while learning to fly. Most clubs have flight training available, which shortens the learning curve…not to mention saving airplanes! The buddy box system of flight training, which allows an experienced instructor to have a set of master controls to the airplane, has saved countless aircraft from crashing while providing the student with the comfort that the instructor can take over if needed.
The Lone Star Aeronuts is an AMA chartered club, number 3669. We meet once a month, usually at the club field or at a local restaurant when it gets chilly, and visitors are always welcome. In our club, new pilots will find a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience, as well as many friendships among the members. Club membership is a two-way street, however, and it is hoped that all members will participate, try to attend meetings, and help shape the character of the club (and a bunch of characters we are!).
The club flight instructors are club volunteers who give freely of their time and knowledge, and only asks for your patience, helpfulness, and enthusiasm in return. Accordingly, they are not responsible for rebuilding or replacing a crashed trainer nor will they guarantee that you will successfully learn to fly. Professional flight schools, on the other hand, are able to make such guarantees, or will refund a portion of their fees. We're not currently aware of a professional flight instructor(s) in the Round Rock area, however, they are available in other areas of the country.
Of Crashes …
Buddy box or not, there will come a time when you crash an airplane. There is an old saying among R/C pilots that if you don’t crash once in a while, you aren’t flying enough! Mechanical or radio problems, or more often than not, pilot error will result in damage to or complete loss of your plane. Pilot error, or "dumb thumbs" as we call it, has generated more jokes and tall tales than anything else in the hobby!
On the bright side, the vast majority of crashed airplanes can be repaired and flown again. A crash in which the airplane is totaled is fairly rare, and one in which the engine and/or radio are also lost is very unusual.
Finally, remember that another big purpose of a trainer airplane is to learn how to make repairs. Don't expect your trainer to remain pristine and new for long; in fact, most pilots feel like they fly better once they relax and stop worrying about scratching their new plane.
In addition to our club, a number of resources are available to help a newcomer learn more about this hobby. The first are our local hobby shops. The folks there are usually avid modelers and can help you select an appropriate plane and equipment. The following hobby shops are convenient to the Round Rock area:
Hobbytown USA, 2500 W. Parmer Lane, (near Fry's Electronics) Austin, TX, (512) 246-8904 www.hobbytown.com
Exercise caution when dealing with individuals at any hobby shop as some shops won't "tell you straight" but will just try to make a sale. It is best to contact an enthusiast at The Lonestar Aeronuts field for technical questions you may have!!
The following online resources are also good sources of information:
Finally, magazines such as Model Avaition, (AMA publication) Model Airplane News, and R/C Reports are excellent sources of information about our hobby. These may be found at hobby shops or at local magazine stands such as Wal-mart and Barnes and Noble.