WHAT DO I NEED?
Obviously a model aircraft, and we'll discuss the best one for you later on. You can buy the plane ready built or as a kit, you may need accessories like a fuel tank, wheels, propeller, glues and finishing materials which often don't come with the kit. You will also need a suitable engine and radio control equipment.
In addition you will need support equipment such as fuel, starter battery, leads, tools and spares.
Undoubtedly the best way to decide what equipment you need is to visit the field and have a look at what members are using. Our local model shops are also able to get you kitted out for learning.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
The costs in starting up can vary a lot depending on the quality of the equipment you buy. You can save quite a bit by purchasing second hand but make sure anything you buy this way comes from a reliable source. Your local model shop will be able to give you a clear idea of prices of various items and your local model clubs can tell you if any good second-hand items are available.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO LEARN TO FLY?
This varies greatly from individual to individual. You can learn up to the solo stage relatively quickly if you fly frequently. On the other hand, if you only fly occasionally, it can take quite a long time since time is spent at each lesson re-learning the last lesson rather than making further progress. As an average, given reasonable weather conditions and reasonably frequent flying lessons, an estimate would be six weeks to first solo and perhaps three months till you will be ready to obtain your bronze certificate. Seems a long time? How long did it take to learn to drive a car? Model flying is much more complicated.
HOW DO I FIND AN INSTRUCTOR?
Turn up at the field and talk to the members there. We have several club flyers that are recognised as instructors so you should be able to find one to help you start your training. Depending on the days you are able to visit the field, you may have to work with several different instructors. At times there can be a shortage of instructors either due to the number of beginners or because an instructor is trying to sort out some of his own planes. Do not be scared to ask if anyone is available to take you up. You will usually find someone willing.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
Nothing - absolutely nothing! He will teach you for the pleasure of initiating a newcomer into our fascinating sport. But do remember that he wants to fly too, so don't expect him to spend all day with you. On average you can expect to fly up to three times in a flying session. You'll probably find that this is all the instruction you can absorb in one day.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN I FIRST BRING UP MY NEW PLANE?
Make contact with the members at the field that day and explain you are new to the hobby and have your new plane with you. Someone will ask you to get it out and perform a full safety check on it. They will be looking for things that could give difficulties in flight and will test control surfaces are connected securely, servos are screwed in correctly, surfaces move correctly with transmitter inputs and the all important balance point. They may be able to fix any issues there and then or they may ask you to change something and bring it back. If the plane is fine, the next task will be to set up the engine so that the throttle works correctly and the engine can be stopped from the transmitter.
If all the above is okay, an experienced pilot will offer to try your plane out in the air and to "trim" it. Trimming involves making slight adjustments at the transmitter until the plane flies in a straight line. They'll also test control response to make sure there is enough but not too much.
After this, you may be given your first try of your new plane. It'll be taken high and the instructor will get you to try some gentle turns. Normally, he'll have to retake control several times and bring the plane back to straight and level before giving you another shot. The take off and landing will be done by the instructor. By this point you'll appreciate why!
After this, you are effectively in the training schedule. You must not fly on your own until you have obtained the bronze certificate.
Below - Typical trainer aircraft with buddy box set up
WHAT DO I DO BETWEEN FLIGHTS?
You chat and watch others flying and store away the information you acquire. Watch other aircraft in the air and imagine that you are doing the flying. Follow the control movements and try to predict the next move. Study aircraft flying at a distance and make sure you know which way they may be turning and what the appropriate movements will be to straighten up the turn. Talk to other flyers and learn from their experiences. You will undoubtedly find conflicting views. Discuss them with your instructor.
Flying is fun. If you are not enjoying it then something is wrong. It might be your aircraft, it might even be your instructor ...or any number of things. Discuss it with your instructor and sort out where things are wrong.
You may buy new or second hand. As with any second hand purchase it may have inherent faults so try to buy from a trusted source. Club members are unlikely to pass on unsuitable kit. If your flying time is limited, you will want the model to start and fly faultlessly so consider a new purchase.
The choice of suitable training aircraft is wide to say the least! Some are more suitable than others. The ideal trainer is a high/shoulder wing aircraft of around 50 to 60 inches wingspan. The wing position makes it more stable so that it is easier to fly and the reasonably sized wingspan means that it can be seen clearly at a fair distance. It should be of simple construction, yet robust since it will have to stand some rough handling. It is best if it has a tricycle undercarriage for easy ground handling and straightforward landings. The wings should be held on by rubber bands to enhance its crash-proof qualities. Finally, and importantly, it should be inexpensive!
To some extent, your choice depends on whether you wish to build it yourself, assemble a part-built aircraft (sometimes labelled "ARTF", Almost Ready to Fly), or simply buy an aircraft already completed. Building the aircraft yourself from a kit or plan is only recommended if you have already had some experience of model construction or if you have experienced help readily available.
At this time the club does not recommend learning on an electric powered aircraft. They are generally lighter, smaller, less controllable and offer short flight times. In addition, there can be an extremely steep learning curve around batteries, motors, speed controllers and charging technologies. A glow fuel engine is recommended. They are robust and will last a long time, even surviving a crash or two. Whatever aircraft you buy, make sure that your intended engine will provide adequate power to fly it. It pays to go for the engine recommended for your aircraft. If in any doubt seek advice from your instructor.
You will also need a suitable propeller (and some spares). The size will have been recommended by the manufacturer of your engine. By the way, if you have a 10 x 6 propeller, the 10 is the diameter in inches and the 6 is the pitch or distance it theoretically moves forward in one revolution. When you buy your propellers, clean off the "molding flash" on the edges with fine sandpaper and get the propeller balanced. A club member can show you how to do this.
You can buy your fuel through the model shop to meet your requirements. Fuel is a mixture of methanol and oil and some nitro methane, 5% nitro fuel is perfectly adequate for your needs, and higher levels add expense and are only used where performance really matters.
Now we come to the single most expensive part of your equipment so you need to get it right first time. The whole success of your operation depends on your radio gear. The range of radio equipment is formidable. Each model shop will tend to specialise on one or two brands of equipment. However, you must have some guidance so here is a tip or two.
There are two aircraft frequency bands available, 35 MHz and 2.4 GHz. The 35 MHz band is rapidly disappearing from flying sites as flyers move on to the new 2.4 GHz system. If buying new kit, go for a 2.4 GHz system. Second hand sets on 35 MHz are often available very inexpensively as experienced flyers upgrade to the more modern 2.4 GHz sets and can still be used if budgets are tight.
In each brand range you will find sets with varying specifications. Do not buy a low specification radio, it will not meet your needs once you are past the beginners stage and will have little second hand value. It should have a minimum of four channels but typically six is desirable.
In terms of "what to buy", again your model club members are the most reliable guide to this. The market and pricing changes rapidly so come to the club and have a look at what the more experienced members and the other learners are using. Listen to their experiences and you will be able to make an informed choice. You have more chance of finding an instructor who can help you with your radio and being able to use a "buddy box" system if you buy a brand in wide use at the club.
For 35 MHz kit the channel it operates on is determined by the crystals fitted. There are two crystals in your gear, one in the transmitter and one in the receiver. You MUST ALWAYS obey the code of conduct laid down by the club on the control of frequencies; the peg system will be explained to you as part of your training. NEVER, NEVER SWITCH ON your transmitter unless you have the clearance the club requires.
When you first start out club members will help you get in the air and you only really need the model, the radio and some fuel. Eventually you will want to gather some kit together. Flight boxes are available or you can make your own to house all this kit.
- Fuel and a means of pumping it into and out of the tank.
- A re-chargeable glow-plug battery, with a suitable charger.
- A battery checker to ensure your flight pack is safe to fly.
- A small selection of tools, screwdrivers, spanners, etc.
- Spare glow-plugs of the right type for your engine.
- Spare propellers, again the right size.
- Electric starter and battery, or a chicken stick for flicking the prop.
- Rags or paper towel roll to wipe down the model after flying.