This article will describe the basics of launching, flying, and landing an RC airplane. It will help if you’re already familiar with the forces of weight, lift, drag, and thrust. If you’re an experienced RC pilot, read about building a basic FPV setup.
For more information on the basic forces that act on an airplane in flight, as well as a description of the various axes of motion, such as yaw, pitch, and roll, check out this excerpt from HowStuffWork’s article, “How Airplanes Work.”
Should I Use a Simulator Specific to RC Airplanes?
I grew up playing ‘Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat.’ While playing this game for hours as a kid probably helped me to develop some intuitive understanding of how airplanes fly, it doesn’t help at all as far as understanding how to control an RC airplane with a two stick transmitter.
Compared to the joystick-only simulators of the past, the made-for-RC simulators of today approximate actual RC flying closely.
I’ve only tried a couple of the free simulators available for download on the Xbox 360 platform, but the computer based programs with an actual two stick controller look great.
The only problem is the cost.
The price for a good simulator and controller would easily cover the cost of a simple RTF trainer. I would rather go with the trainer setup myself.
But if you’re the type of person that doesn’t find at least some enjoyment in trying and failing, it’s probably in your best interest to get comfortable with a two stick transmitter on an RC simulator before attempting the real thing.
There are some nice computer based simulators on the market, and one of the best is RealFlight 6.5.
Transmitter Configurations for RC Airplanes
The standard transmitter for controlling RC airplanes has two primary input sticks, left and right, along with various other toggle switches, buttons and scrollers. The two primary input sticks are the most important to discuss, as the motion of these sticks send proportionate signals to the servos on the airplane. These servos in turn move the various control surfaces. The assignment of control surface servo motors to the direction of motion of the control sticks is categorized into four ‘modes’. The basic modes are outlined below.
The setting that most flyers in the US and Canada use is Mode 2. Mode 2 assigns the left stick to throttle and rudder movements, and the right stick to elevator and aileron movements. Outside of North America, Mode 1 is most common. It’s anybody’s guess as to why this happens to be so. Personally, it’s a matter of how you were taught to fly. If you want to fly in Mode 4, most modern transmitters will allow you to change the stick configuration to suit your taste.
Number of Channels for RC Airplane Control
Control of RC airplanes is usually performed by either three channels or four channels. The number of channels refers to the number of control parameters that determine the movement of the plane through the air.
Three channel control refers to having three ways of altering the airplane’s flight characteristics; these are elevator, rudder, and throttle.
Four channel control adds ailerons to the mix.
Of course, there are many other channels that can be used to customize control of aircraft, but these are reserved for flyers of advanced and aerobatic models.
As a brand new pilot, you’ll probably want to select a plane that may be flown with just three channels. These types of planes are usually more docile in the air and more forgiving of extreme control inputs. Beginner pilots have a tendency to over-compensate or over-control, and having a nice slow three channel trainer that will not react as violently to full scale stick inputs is a great help.
Launching RC Airplanes – Hand Launch or Landing Gear?
A lot of beginner RC pilots are scared of launching an RC plane. They think that because of a spinning propeller or a lack of coordination that the plane will either cut their hand or take a nose dive straight into the ground.
Actually, hand launching an electric RC aircraft is not all that difficult. For those of you who like flying wings, YouTube has some helpful videos on hand launching them.
Note we are only talking about hand launching electric RC aircraft, not those that are gas or glow powered. Hand launching an RC plane is easy to do, and if done properly, quite safe. I recommend hand launching an electric plane in most all circumstances. But there are a few tips that you need to remember to make your first few tries successful.
The three keys are:
- You have to believe that it will take off
- You must use 3/4 to full throttle – don’t just ‘give it a little’ throttle
- Give the plane a strong toss, with wings parallel to the ground, and at a slight upward angle
If you’re timid, this is what happens:
(and yes, my wife was snickering at me at the end)
If you have no fear, and you throttle up appropriately, you’ll be airborne in no time:
Although you’d like to have your takeoffs look like this:
If you use landing gear, they’re probably going to look more like this:
Landing Electric RC Airplanes
From my experience, the best way to land an RC airplane or flying wing is to belly land. You can belly land on either grass or pavement. If you land routinely on pavement, you’ll need to put some tape or reinforcement on the bottom of your aircraft. The cylindrical plastic section of a cut-up two-liter bottle works great to prevent friction, but it can be a bit tricky to glue on.
Many beginner pilots are concerned that they’ll crash on their first few flights. A buddy box is just a function of modern RC transmitters that allows one to connect another RC transmitter to the primary. The beginner then uses the second transmitter to fly. In case of trouble in the air, the primary transmitter can take back control and fly the plane.
I personally haven’t used a buddy box, and don’t believe they’re necessary. I would instead recommend starting with a foam trainer plane that will tolerate a few small mishaps.
Now that you have a good idea about the basics of flying RC airplanes, you’re ready to move on to learning about FPV. You might want to read about how to construct a basic FPV ground station or learn a bit about which frequencies are best for FPV and radio control. Take a look at the categories link on the menu for additional reading topics.