From the Albuquerque Radio Control Club, Albuquerque NM
Getting Started in Model Aviation
Glenn Bontly, editor
This past summer, I was asked if I would be interested becoming a flight instructor. Having been an instructor pilot for the Air Force many years ago, I jumped at the chance to share my knowledge and skill with new student pilots. In preparation, I did a lot of research in various books and on the Internet, and compiled a training manual in order to help me provide a comprehensive and methodical approach to training students from Ground School through Solo and beyond. I would like to share some of the things I learned during this process for the benefit of those who are currently learning to fly.
In my opinion, model aviation is one of the most exciting hobbies available. You are introduced to many new interests, disciplines, and skills including: aerodynamics, electronics, mechanics, engines, model building, and of course flying. As you know, radio-controlled airplanes are not toys; they are true airplanes that fly and operate under the same principles as full-size aircraft, the primary differences are size and weight. The average .40-size model will weigh roughly 6 pounds and can fly at speeds from 25 mph to 50 mph. The force of the model hitting an object can be devastating, especially if it hits a person. As such, a model must be controlled properly for both enjoyment and safety. An experienced RC flight instructor can provide you with the knowledge and teach you the necessary skills to safely and successfully achieve your goal of becoming an RC Pilot!
The first step in your journey will be to purchase an airplane, engine, radio, and field equipment. Expect to pay approximately $400-$500 to get started, with the understanding that your radio, engine, and field equipment will usually all carry over to future airplanes. Often a prospective RC pilot will visit a flying field, see a sleek-looking warbird, and decide to run out and buy one as a first airplane. Hangar 9 recently came out with its P-51 Mustang PTS (Progressive Training System). I'm sure it's a fine model, but the fact remains that it's a low-wing tail dragger—not the best choice for your first airplane in my opinion. I believe you will be much more successful if you start with a standard basic trainer.
A trainer is a specific type of model airplane that is designed to be stable. Absent of control input, it has an inherent ability to correct itself and return to straight and level flight (assuming sufficient altitude is available to do so). Most trainers are designed to remain stable in slow flight as well, so they are easier to land than more advanced airplanes. A typical basic trainer is moderately sized (.40-.60 engine), with tricycle landing gear, structurally sound construction, and a high, flat-bottom wing.
There are several good trainer airplanes on the market. These range from the most basic kit (that you must build from individual pieces using plans, cover or paint, and install all of the hardware, including the engine and radio system), to Almost-Ready-to-Fly (ARF) models (requiring only assembly of the major components and installation of the engine and radio system), to Ready-To-Fly (RTF) models (complete with pre-installed engine and radio system). The two primary considerations when choosing a trainer are time and money.
For many aeromodelers, building provides a significant portion of the fun. Purchasing a kit gives you the pleasure of building your own model, the option of selecting your own color and trim scheme, and the knowledge of the structure of the airframe (making it easier to perform repairs if required). The biggest disadvantage of building a kit is the time required to construct the model—time you may rather spend learning to fly. Another disadvantage, in some cases, is the emotional attachment you may develop, having spent many hours on your creation (it "hurts" more when you crash!). As far as cost goes, although the kit itself will be much less than an ARF model, once you include tools, covering, and hardware, the difference in cost is negligible. Often, the final cost of an airplane built from a kit is higher than an ARF.
The big advantage of ARF models is that they can usually be assembled over the course of just a few days, and you will be ready much sooner to start your flight training. On the down side, you typically don't have a choice of color schemes, so your model looks like everyone else's. With the covering already complete, you usually can't inspect the quality of the structure, so it would be wise for the beginner to get an experienced modeler to check it out before you start assembly. They will be able to point out areas that may need to be re-glued or reinforced. On the other hand, the quality of ARF models is getting better and better. Most are built and perform as well as any of the kit models on the market today.
Finally, today's RTF models can literally be assembled faster than the time it takes to charge your radio batteries! They cost a bit more, but if you absolutely must get into the air in the shortest amount of time, this is definitely the way to go.
Click here to view a diagram that shows the various components of a typical trainer airplane listed below.
Aileron: one on each wing; the moveable control surfaces on the trailing edge of the wing that cause a change about the roll axis
Cowling: the part of the fuselage that covers the engine
Engine: an internal combustion machine that provides motivational power
Elevator: the moveable control surface on the trailing edge of the horizontal stabilizer that causes a change about the pitch axis
Fin: also know as the vertical stabilizer, the fin provides stability about the yaw axis
Fuselage: the main body of the aircraft
Landing Gear: the supporting structure of an aircraft consisting of landing gear struts and wheels
Propeller: the device that converts the power created by the engine into forward thrust for the airplane
Rudder: the moveable control surface attached to the trailing edge of the fin that causes change about the yaw axis
Spinner: an aerodynamic covering over the center hub of the propeller
Stabilizer: also known as the horizontal stabilizer, the stabilizer provides stability about the pitch axis
Wing: the horizontal surface that provides the lifting forces for the airplane
This is a reprint from the March issue of the AMA Insider Newsletter.