Your Path to 3D Success

So you see a video of Joe Smith (see below) and you say “Oh man I wish I could do that” but you know if you try your plane wouldn’t come back in one piece – ask me how I know. I have been practicing 3D for quite a while now and still wish I could do 3D like him. As the saying goes, “One step at a time”. There are a few moves you have to master before you can do any sort of huckin’ like Joe Smith.

And with no further ado:

Knife Edge

How To Do It: Knife edge is one of the simplest maneuvers to pull off, from straight and level, you simply rotate the aircraft 90 degrees and use right or left rudder to fly in a – for example – 45 degree attitude while maintaining a straight line.

The Not So Simple: Maintaining the knife edge attitude requires a delicate play between rudder and throttle, here is a breakdown of what the control surfaces do during knife edge:

  • Rudder: Maintains attitude
  • Throttle: Maintains altitude
  • Elevator: Use this to steer.
This means that while you are performing the knife edge maneuver, you use the rudder to fix an attitude that you want. If you are dropping or rising, you increase or decrease throttle accordingly. If you want to maneuver while maintaining knife edge, you simply use the elevator to steer.

All credit goes to HobbyKing

Slow Roll

How To Do It: The slow roll is a combination of rolling slowly (!) – knife edge – flying inverted – opposite knife edge. As you roll you will begin to drop and will have to use rudder to maintain altitude. You will then have to release the rudder and use elevator to fly inverted. As the roll progresses you will have to do the opposite.

The Not So Simple: Slow roll in order to be performed correctly has to appear as if your aircraft has maintained a straight line and has never deviated from it.

All credit goes to youtube user Thumbskull

Point Roll

How To Do It: The point roll is very similar to the slow roll however, during certain parts of the roll you freeze for a short period of time.

  • 4 Point Roll you freeze every 90 degrees
  • 8 Point Roll you freeze every 45 degrees
The Not So Simple: As with the slow roll, you should maintain a perfectly straight line in order to appear as though you have truly accomplished a point roll.

All credit goes to Josh ‘BoneDoc’ Young

Harrier/High Alpha

How To Do It:  The harrier maneuver is one where the aircraft is in a stalled position but still moving forward. One reduces throttle and increases the elevator until you have found a “sweet spot” where your aircraft is maintaining a constant altitude. The harrier is a relatively simple maneuver to perform however, I would advise the beginner to start this maneuver from a higher altitude and work your way down as you gain confidence.

The Not So Simple: The harrier is a play between elevator and throttle, the elevator is required to maintain a certain attitude and as with knife edge, the throttle for altitude. The ailerons are used to maintain balance and the rudder for steering. Here is a summary:

  • Elevator: Maintains attitude
  • Throttle: Maintains altitude
  • Ailerons: Maintains balance.
  • Rudder: Used to steer.

All credit goes to Josh ‘BoneDoc’ Young

Inverted Harrier

How To Do It: The same as the harrier however, you are inverted.

The Not So Simple: The rudder is inverted so you should be accustomed to flying inverted before you attempt this maneuver. Also, your aircraft is less stable now at low speeds, how much depends on the size and shape of the canopy.

All credit goes to Josh ‘BoneDoc’ Young

Conclusion

I hope this list helps you be on your way to becoming a great 3D flier like Joe Smith or Josh Young. I have found practicing these maneuvers each time I fly or hit the sim has opened the gateway to fancier and more challenging maneuvers. However, I will advise you only to get into 3D if you really enjoy the sport as it is known to wreak havoc on many air frames!

Beginner RC: A Simple Guide

I have spoken before about how to get started on the hobby without spending more than 40 bucks. However, what about the time when you have decided you really enjoy the hobby and are ready to take all of that practice to the skies? Well this post is for you, I will guide you on the selection of your first aircraft.

Looking back at my rocky road to success as an RC pilot there are two categories of trainers that occur to me which would I should have started with: Pusher Gliders and High Wing Tail Draggers. These are very forgiving aircraft both in terms of flight and repair. Let me explain.

Pusher Gliders

A pusher glider from Hobby King.

You might ask, why a pusher and not the other way around (tractor). Excellent question. You see pusher gliders hardly get phased by hitting poles or nose diving into the ground, since the motor isn’t located in the nose. You simply brush it off, glue it up and fly again. Here is a perfect example.

The second reason for owning a glider as your first plane is because there is no landing gear. Yes this is great for landing in grass fields or if you don’t have the skill or the confidence to pull of a nice flare to landing. The flat belly allows you to not worry too much about  your orientation on landing, as long as you are nearly parallel to the ground everything will be okay!

Tip: If already own one of these, take a long strip of Fiber Tape or Clear Duct Tape and place it on its belly to inhibit foam damage on impact.

Summary:

  • Can tolerate nose damage.
  • Easy landing.
  • Easy to repair.

Trainer (High Wing Tail Dragger)

Tail dragger trainer from NitroPlanes.

If you really feel confident about landing, are dying to give it a try, or for whatever reason, getting a tail dragger is the best first option. Why tail dragger over tricycle? Simply because the nose gear on a tricycle configuration is highly prone to snapping on a bad landing which can be very difficult to repair. Ask me how I know…

I actually own the plane shown above and in my early days the most “horrible” of accidents would come from the front landing gear ripping out (easily repairable with glue) and nosing over on a bad landing (brush it off and fly again).

Tip: I highly recommend getting a tail dragger trainer with a removable landing gear. It allows you to land safely in tall grass areas.

Summary

  • Great for landing training
  • Easy to repair broken landing gear
  • Very Forgiving

Conclusion

In the end it is up to you what type of RC trainer you want to get. However, I have presented these two types of trainers simply because of their forgiving nature and absolute ease in repair. I have flown most types of trainers and honestly nothing compares to these two categories.These planes are relatively cheap and will only cost you in the neighborhood of $50 to $100 ready to fly!

I honestly wish someone told me this before I started flying since it would have saved much time and frustration in repair. Please place your thoughts about trainers in the comments below, I would love to hear from you!

Fly Safe, Fly Easy!

Maiden Flights: My Take…

I am by no means a seasoned pro, however, I have maidened and re-maidened (post crash fixes) quite a few aircraft and each time there have been fewer accidents and cleaner flights. Not only because the more I fly, the better I get, however its because I follow a few simple steps to ensure that my airplane is in the best shape it could possibly be before I fly it.

I go through a simple checklist which helps prevent any shenanigans that may force and unsolicited landing.

Center of Gravity (CG)

Me finding the CG of my PZ Sukhoi.

The CG is the first obvious. One cannot stress the importance of having your CG in the correct spot (manufacturer specified). The CG is specified by the manufacturer as a distance from some reference point, typically the leading edge of the wing. Once I find the CG and place the battery there, I take the plane and balance it on my finger or anything skinny like the edge of an open box. After I have flown my aircraft a few times and have found the sweet spot, I like to take a pen and mark the exact spot where battery should be.

 Control Surfaces

Although the control surface check is done before I fly the aircraft, I’m placing it here to keep the flow of the article.

One I measure the CG and make sure it balances well, I make sure the control surfaces are properly centered and that they have symmetrical travel both up and down.

If it is a foam trainer or something of the sort which did not come with special hinges and is only attached by foam, I use CA hinges. I have had a rudder nearly rip of on a glider once. Do not underestimate the weakness of stock foam hinges.

Dual Rates & Expo

Dual rates and expo vary from plane to plane obviously. However, here are the rules of thumb I use.

* I really don’t use Low Rates on a trainer because that is what they are meant for.
Mfr Sug. – Manufacturer Suggested.
My reference numbers for dual rates and expo for various types of planes. I am sure some trainers have suggested throw settings but so far I haven’t had to set any throw settings on a trainer.

I use these numbers as a starting point for my maiden flight and vary from there until I get the feel I am most comfortable with.

Final Word

After everything is set up properly remember to tug on your control surfaces and pull hard on your control rod screws – I have had many screws get loose inexplicably (no pun intended). Also, don’t forget to bring an extra prop and some CA if something goes terribly wrong, gust of wind, bad landing, name your poison. Finally, stay calm! Its easy to get the shakes when flying a brand new plane – ask me how I know this.

I hope this list helps you as much as it has helped me. After a few crashes from rush builds and minor oversights I have learned to slow down and double check everything and will not fly until I am satisfied with the aircraft in ‘perfect condition’.

Happy Flying. Fly Safe, Fly Easy!

Your Guide to Dual Rates and Expo

If you are just getting into the hobby and are starting to fly sport planes or maybe want to start flying 3D then surely you have heard of the terms ‘dual rates’ and ‘expo’ and are a little confused. I certainly was confused too. For a long time I thought the two were different names for the same thing! However, this is far from the case. Without further ado, let us get on with the explanation.

Dual Rates

Dual rates are simply settings which limit the travel of your control surface which in turn limits the rate at which it can move. These settings are typically provided by the manufacturer usually in terms of the travel distance of the control surface from its zero position. Lately though, I have seen manufacturers provide dual rates in terms of percentages as well as travel distance. This is great because your transmitter only allows you to set dual rates in terms of a percentage. Lets use my Pole Cat as an example.

Taken from the manual.

Taken from the Pole Cat’s manual showing the dual rates in terms of travel distances with an accompanying note on the corresponding percentage for low rates.

ParkZone was nice enough to give us a note with the Low Rate percentage already. Great! Now you can set the Low Rate on your transmitter and be fairly confident you have the correct setting. However, before we take 70% as the law, lets check to make sure the percentage is correct. For the sake of not being redundant I will use the elevator as an example:

Using the given deflections calculate the limit percentage for the Low Rate.

Interesting, I seem to get a higher number. However, this makes perfect sense considering the 5mm throw is 100% deflection. Now let me dial this in my transmitter and see what happens.

From left to right: Neutral, Low Rate (4mm at Full Deflection), High Rate (5 mm at Full Deflection). These shots were very difficult to do by myself. Hopefully you can see the measurements.

As you can see my 80% works out! So which one is better to use for the Pole Cat? Their 70% or the calculated 80%? Honestly, Dual Rates is a feature which is used to the comfort of the pilot. So why did I go through the trouble of calculating the precise percentage of the Low Rate setting? Well imagine you were about to take your balsa Extra 300 on a maiden flight with control deflections up to 70 degrees, 10% can make a HUGE difference (almost 10 degrees!). So you may want to buckle down and thoroughly check and recheck everything out yourself, down to the number.

Question: What would you do if the manufacturer only provided the distance of travel and no percentage?

You will have to go through an iterative process:

  1. Guess a percentage*
  2. Measure the travel.
  3. Repeat steps 1.-2. until you find the percentage that corresponds to the given measurements.
  4. Fly it.
  5. Adjust if necessary.

*Well you’re not really guessing a percentage especially if you follow the calculation I did above. However, note that the given high rates are not always the max deflection allowed by the control surface so make sure to measure that also.

Or if you really don’t like the numbers you got, you could visit one of the forums on the right and search/ask for a better number to start with.

Here is a graph depicting what rate limiting looks like.

Graph showing stick movement to servo movement. Lower rates moves the servo slower and limits its maximum travel.

Note that the original configuration for servo transmitter is a linear and one to one mapping.  Meaning, the servo moves exactly how your stick moves.

With the iterative method like this you probably won’t end up with 70% exactly. It will depend entirely on how good your measurements are and the alignment of your plane and measuring instrument, so don’t be surprised if you don’t get an even or nice looking number. All that matters is that when you fly it you feel comfortable and can properly handle the aircraft.

Exponential (Expo)

Exponential or Expo for short, is a term which describes the travel of the servo versus the travel of the stick on your transmitter.This is best described in terms of a graph.

Stock servo movement and servo movement with 50% expo. Note: This is not a true expo graph. This is just the closest interpretation I could plot.

The idea behind expo is to allow the pilot to have finer control of the aircraft around a limited region but still allow large deflections to get out of sticky situations. The use of expo is highly advised for sport pilots and a must for anyone attempting 3D maneuvers. It can also be used for less powerful aircraft for landing especially if you are the type (like me) who tend to over correct and have rough landings.

Also note the graph above depicts positive expo. Negative expo is the complete opposite. It provides more servo movement for less stick travel. Below is a graph of the three expo curves (-30%, 0% and 30%) together.

Depicting positive and negative expo together. Negative expo is badNote: These are not true expo graphs. They are just the closest interpretation I could plot.

Conclusion

There you have it, Dual Rates and Expo. Dual rates limit the travel and the rate of your control surface can move and expo allows you to have finer stick movements near its center position. These are useful tools which every pilot should know, especially if you plan on flying 3D or sport.

I hope I have explained it well enough. If there is any concept missing or not laid out clearly enough please let me know in the comments. Fly Safe Fly Easy!

RC Sims for the Budgeted

If you are like me and live in an area which can get pretty windy or rainy for days at a time with no indoor facilities available, you can certainly understand the pain of not being able to fly for some period of time. Furthermore, I have learned my lesson and have opted for a less destructive way of flying on a windy day, using simulators. Yes simulators can get a pretty expensive, however, I am here to tell you that not all of them are. As a matter of fact, there are simulators which are worth less than a stick of bubble gum (free!) and only require a $6 cable from your local audio store.

FMS Flying-Model Simulator

Not as pretty as the others but $Free is a pretty good deal don’t you think?

Cost: $0.00 + Cost of TX or USB adapter

Pros: It’s free!

Cons: Only seems to work for Windows Vista (with tweaks) and lower. I couldn’t get it to work on my Windows 7.

What you will need: Your own transmitter with an adapter (see below) or a USB Remote

My Take: Its not as pretty as the other fancy sims but the dynamics are there. That is, learning to fly in FMS will translate to flying in real life.

ClearView

Graphics are getting a little better!

Cost: $40.00 + Cost of TX or USB adapter

Pros:  Unlike FMS, Clearview actually has support for later operating systems and decent graphics! Also you can create your own model or fly models others have created.

Cons: Again, good for the basics but if you are planning on getting into more advanced/precision flying this is not the sim for you!

What you will need: Your own transmitter with an adapter (see below) or a USB Remote

My Take: Not a bad price for support and custom models. You will definitely still learn to fly or keep your skills sharp, and physics are a better than FMS (to be expected).

This is by no means an exhaustive list of RC simulators however, these are the most popular sims for the budgeted. There are other free sims such as ReflexXTR which I did not include because it is in German and I have never used it before. Below is a small summary/list on things to do to get your transmitter working with your PC and sim.

Adapters for your Transmitter

In case you were wondering on how to hook your transmitter up to a simulator here is a small list of adapters:

USB adaptors:

Other adapters:

Visit Smartproproplus.com for a near exhaustive list of sim cable adapters and programs to interface between your TX and sim. Note: if you are following their guide and use a Spektrum with Windows 7, vJoy did not work for me! I had to install PPjoy and then download txppm.

NB: Spektrum transmitters can work with a mono cable only.

Lastly I would like to leave you with a small list of the most popular not so cheap sims. However, these sims are great especially if you have already covered the basics of flying, have invested yourself in the hobby and you want to get into sport flying, 3D or hone your precision flying skills.

List of the Not-So-Cheap RC Sims

Hint: toss a coin between RF G6 and Phoenix RC.

I hope you found this article useful. I think its important to know that there are other options out there other than the most expensive of sims. Also, getting the cheaper or the free ones will give you time to evaluate whether or not you enjoy flying RC as a hobby or a pastime without burning a hole in your wallet.

Remember Fly Safe, Fly Easy!

Owning Your First Ultra-Micro

So you are relatively new to flying RC and you see a cheap RC aircraft on the market around about 100 bucks, much like the one shown below, awesome! So you’re anxious and take it on the field to fly. So far so good. The the winds suddenly start picking up and you find it increasingly harder to maintain control. In comes a gust and blows your precious micro away and you crash and end up breaking your rudder. No big deal, you glue it up with some CA (Cyanoacrylate a.k.a hobby glue), you see no other damage and you send it off again after the winds calm down. Now you realize that you’re barely getting any pitch for some reason and end up crashing again! Looking at the model you realize the elevator is now broken too. How can this be? Nothing was wrong with it before!

My first micro.

Parkzone’s amazing ultra micro P-51, which I crashed many times learning to fly and learned many other important lessons. R.I.P

As you can imagine by now, this has happened to me. Although I doubt it has happened to you (or I hope it hasn’t already), I brought up this story because it illuminates several important things about owning a micro fixed wing. The first one should be very obvious, do not fly in high winds. Yes I am talking to you Mr. Anxious (myself included). I recommend capping winds off at 5 – 7 mph, make sure to keep tabs on your local aviation weather for wind speeds. Too many times I have raced off to the field so anxious to fly and disappointed myself with a crash because of high winds. But I will detail more on how to tame that dire urge to fly when Mother Nature gives a resounding ‘No!’ in my next post.

The next important lesson to be learned is that after a crash with a micro (or every other aircraft) its always a good idea to check all of your control surfaces, even the ones that don’t seem broken. For an ultra-micro like the P-51 above, all you need is a hairline fracture in order for your elevator or rudder to bend, stick or snap. Yes, I had a fracture on my polecat‘s rudder once which allowed it to slide up the control rod and stick, yuck! So what do I do now after any accident, small or cringe worthy? Well I check all of my control surfaces with a nice rub of my finger and make sure they feel nice and sturdy or better yet, sturdy and they feel approximately the same.

I  flick my rudder and my elevator firmly with my finger placed on the control surfaces just like the images above. The ailerons on a micro are usually really thick so no need to worry them.

I also want to add that after a few crashes or just the rough surface of the CA leaves, your micro will undoubtedly have some chips and grooves. This can be easily patched up with some clear scotch tape. Its not cosmetic but it gives that smooth aerodynamic surface so that you don’t drift in any axis: roll, pitch or yaw). Also known as roll, pitch or yaw bias. Make sure to trim your micro after!

Last Words

I want to leave you with two more tips. The first one is a  (very) worst case scenario which I hope never happens to any of you out there (or me). What happens if the wing of your micro snaps in two? Well, you don’t have to rush to the hobby store to buy a new micro. You can use toothpicks to support your wing and glue it back with some thick extra strength foam safe CA. Be careful of that nasty bulge of excess CA. I will update this post with how-to pics soon when I am back home.

Lastly I would like to say, bring extra props. Much too often I fly and bend, scratch or break a prop which can quickly end a fun flying session. When you get a new micro (or any other RC plane for that matter) make sure to buy a few spare props and keep them on hand when you are out on the field. It only takes a short time to change and will save you from having unnecessary down time.

So lets wrap things up. What did I learn?

  • Don’t be anxious and fly in high winds!
  • Check all my control surfaces after a crash.
  • Tape can cover any nicks or grooves.
  • Trim after every repair.
  • Toothpicks can be used to repair major crashes.
  • Bring extra props.

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something from my experiences. Its important to take very good care of your micro since they tend to break VERY easily. Happy flying and remember: Fly Safe, Fly Easy!

Welcome to Fly Easy RC!

Secret F-35 Project

This is me holding my RC F-35 project I did as an undergrad in ’11. It was meant to be a VTOL RC plane and this was phase one (hover only). This thing weighed 6 lbs (!). More on this to come later.

Hi everone, I am happy you chose to check out my new blog, Fly Easy RC. Here at Fly Easy RC I want to bring you helpful tips and answer questions about beginning to fly RC. This is not a you-should-do-this, or you-should-buy-this kind of blog. I will provide information based on what I wish I knew when I first started out flying RC which would have saved me many crashes and lots of money.

Fly Easy RC is aimed toward the beginner who for what ever reason wants/needs to begin flying RC aircraft by themselves or are simply looking for a one stop place for a lot of helpful tips and suggestions. My initial focus will be on fixed wing aircraft and I will chronicle my knowledge and provide useful tips as I progress in this awesome and addictive hobby! So please join me on this roller coaster ride and learn from my successes and failures.

Remember, Fly Easy!

P.S. If you want to understand more about why I wrote this blog or about me, head over to my ‘Mission‘ or my ‘About Me‘ page.