Teaching to fly
|1. Prep info
2. Hovering - with instructor
3. Hovering - no instructor
4. Left/right contol
5. Triangle maneuver
7. Figure 8 - tail in
9. Figure 8 - ground driving
10. Forward flight
|John Vugts has a good page on learning to fly <here>
There are many good r/c resources on the internet. Clearance Ragland has a website you might want to check out.
|I have helped many new pilots over the years
and found the best technique to start them out hovering
is for me to work the collective/rudder stick and let
them do the cyclic. This splits the task in half for them.
I keep the helicopter about one foot or lower from the
ground so if they get wild I just lower the collective
and the training gear will level the helicopter out. With
me controlling the collective/rudder it is not possible
for them to crash the helicopter. After they get the
cyclic under control then they can work on controlling
both sticks. This also works great for teaching nose-in
hover. Even though by this stage they can control both
sticks when tail-in the concept still applies that it is
less for them to have to concentrate on. It is easy for
someone just learning nose-in to have the helicopter get
too high and then get in trouble.
Now if you do not have an instructor to control the left stick for you don't worry. You can still learn on your own but I do highly encourage you to drive however far you have to and get an experienced pilot to go over the helicopter and give you a few flight lessons.
Computer Simulator - A computer flight simulator is a great benefit. I know they're expensive but they can pay for themself if they save you a few crashes. More than likely, someone in a local club will have a simulator and let you practice with it. The simulator will not only help you in the beginning stages but will also help with learning the more advanced tricks.
Equipment - The training gear can be bought or made. I use the homemade kind. They are made using two wooden dowel rods and four wiffle balls. Instructions can be found <here>. Other homemade training gears include the use of a hola-hoop, pvc pipe, and more. Weight is a factor in the way the helicopter performs so you do not want to get too heavy with whatever you construct and end up creating a pendulum effect. The wooden dowel rods and wiffle balls are a well established technique and very cost effective. Now of the store bought training gear the most popular is the Rotopod. It is the most expensive but is very nice to have. Most people by the 60 version even if they are just using it on a 30. The 60 version uses strong carbon rods that can take a lot of punishment. The cost is a little high at $60 but if it saves you from a crash then it has paid for itself :)
Equipment - A common question I get is what do I think about the FMA Co-pilot. I have not used or setup one so I cannot give any hands-on experience. It sounds like a good idea and I have heard from others that said it gave them the confidence they needed to learn. On the down side I have also heard that you can get too dependent on it and develop some bad habits. When you want it to take over you let go of the cyclic stick, this does something that is not so good. The problem is that anytime something goes wrong you get use to going into spectator mode as I call it. Spectator mode is when you have left pilot mode and you go blank on what to do to correct the situation and end up just watching the helicopter all the way to the ground. In this case the co-pilot would level the helicopter but still the habit is to not do anything instead of staying in pilot mode and thinking your way through the situation. Another bad thing about it is the cost. If you learn in a structured manor and most importantly have the helicopter setup right then you will be past the stage quickly that the Co-pilot is the most benefit to anyway.
Pre-flight info - The first step I do is to explain the direction of the controls. If they are just learning tail-in hover then I just tell them left moves left, right moves right, forward/backward etc. However if they are past this stage as in learning nose-in hover then I go over the 'relative-control' technique as described <here>. Another part of the pre-flight info is to describe how the helicopter behaves to the controls. Most people think of the controls like steering a car. With a car when you want it to go right you turn the steering wheel to the right and hold it there until you complete the turn. This is not the same for aircraft. If you are in forward flight and hold right aileron then it will continue rotating right and go upside down. For an aircraft to go right I explain that you move the aileron stick to the right until the aircraft is at the angle you want then return the stick to the center. The aircraft will remain at that angle and make a turn. When you want to come out of the turn you move the stick left until it rotates back to a level position and then move the stick back to center. Once they understand this then I explain how this relates to hover. As an example I have the helicopter move slowly to the left and demonstrate moving the aileron to the right to set the helicopter to a slight angle to the right. This will cause the helicopter to slow down and come to a stop. Now at this moment you have to move the controls left to re-adjust the angle of the helicopter so that it is level again otherwise it will start going right. Their reaction time at this point will determine how steady they can keep the helicopter. If you are too quick then it will drift left, if you were too slow then it will drift right. I also explain about overcorrecting. Everyone does it at first. See not only do you need to learn which way to move the sticks but how much also. Most people overcompensate and end up in a feedback loop where they end up constantly correcting their previous move. You have to learn to make small inputs. Another thing is to discuss how to hold the radio, <here> is a page on how I recommend it.
Pre-flight setup - First make sure the blades are not loose. You should be able to hold the helicopter on the side and with a slight bump the blades do not try to fold. If they are too loose then with a slight bump on the ground you could get a boom strike and crash your helicopter :-( Next check the pitch setup. For learning to hover make sure the pitch at the bottom is zero degrees, the middle is 5, and the top is 9. You do not want any negative pitch on the bottom for tail-in or nose-in hover. For other flight levels refer to <this> page. Also set the pirouette rate of the tail to slow. You can use the rudder end points to do this and I often set it in the range of 80% for right and 70% for left. If the radio has expo for the rudder then set that to 20% (-20 for Futaba). Most radios do have dual rate for the aileron and elevator and I set that to 80% each to help cut down on overcompensating. Also the head speed should be about 1600, the higher the head speed is the more sensitive the controls are.
Important Flight Info!!! - When flying you have to keep a minimum safety distance from you. This is about 30 feet from you. If you get any closer then you need to set the helicopter down and either you move back or spool the blades down and move the helicopter away.
|Hovering - with an instructor|
Hover - As mentioned at the top of this page I start out
by only letting the student control the aileron/elevator
and I control the collective and rudder. I first have
them hold the radio the way it feels most comfortable to
them. Some like the radio up high and some like it low.
Once they get it the way they like it then I explain that
it is best to use the pinch method instead of moving the
sticks by the thumbs. If they are new to the hobby then
it will be to their advantage to use the pinch method as
Now if they are an airplane pilot that was taught with
thumbs then I just add 30% expo to both the aileron and
elevator to compensate for them using their thumbs. Next
I have them place their left hand (collective/rudder for
mode 2 radios) either on the side of the radio or
directly under the radio. When I control the left stick I
have to rest my hand on the edge of the radio because the
student will tend to move the radio as they control the
helicopter. This helps me to maintain control. I move the
throttle up slowly and explain that you have to let the
rotor get up to speed before lifting off. Otherwise the
tail speed would not be high enough to compensate for the
torque of the blades spooling up. Once the helicopter is
light on the skids I explain that just as you lift off
the helicopter will tend to go left on level ground. On
unlevel ground it will go in the lowest direction. So
just as the helicopter begins to come up move the aileron
and/or elevator to make the helicopter lift straight up.
After the helicopter is off the ground I will help when
needed by saying the direction they need to move the
stick. I keep the helicopter a foot off the ground and
the tail point back at us. I try to keep a little offset
in the tail because if it is pointed directly at us then
it is more difficult to tell if the helicopter is tilted
forward or backward. The most often thing you will keep
repeating is to tell them to "make it level".
You do have to tilt the helicopter to stop the movement
but once stopped if they do not get it level then it will
start drifting in another direction. If they have a lot
of trouble making wrong corrections then I have them do
what I call control direction maneuvers. I get the
helicopter light on the skids but still touching the
ground then have them slide the helicopter in all
directions. I may have to get them to do this a few times
for them to get the hang of it.
I still continue to work the throttle/rudder stick for these steps: left-right control, triangle, and circle. After that I use a buddy cord to hook my radio to theirs. This allows them to have control of both sticks and if something goes wrong I can take control. With the student now controlling both sticks I have them work all of the steps listed from the next section onward.
Hovering - no instructor
Okay, so either you have passed the above section with an instructor or you are starting out with no instructor. I know some of you are in countries in which you are the only r/c helicopter pilot so do not worry I have some steps for you. First off the throttle stick should be in the center for maintaining a hover. If you go above center then the helicopter will go up and if you go below center the helicopter will go down. Now as you start up do not accelerate the throttle very quick from idle to hover. If you go too fast there are a couple of issues. First the engine could quit because the engine tuning could be such that it 'loads up' at idle (in other words it is a little rich either due to tuning or due to a cool crankcase from just being started). Second if you accelerate too fast then the sudden increase in torque would be too much for the tail rotor to compensate for.
1. Are you ready? Start the helicopter up. First do not try to control the aileron/elevator at all. Don't even move the rudder. Just move the throttle/collective up slowly until the helicopter just barely lifts off the ground and sit it back down. Do not let the helicopter get over a couple inches off the ground.
2. Which way did the helicopter go? Straight up... I don't think so. If you have a clockwise rotor system (like on the Raptor helicopters) and you were on a flat surface then it started going to the left. This does not mean you need to reset your aileron trim. The full size choppers do the same thing. Watch one next time and you will see that it lifts off crooked. This is perfectly normal and is due to the sideways thrust from the tail rotor.
3. Whichever way your helicopter went, think about the direction you need to move the stick to counteract that. If your helicopter moved left then next time you lift off, you need to add right aileron. Any elevator or aileron stick movement should not be applied until the helicopter just starts to get light on the skids. This is because you would put the mechanics under a strain. You would be telling the rotor head to move, but it could not because the rest of the helicopter is still on the ground.
4. Note that you don't know how much to move the stick. That's okay, just make a guess. Now lift off again. Did it still continue to go left? Then next time add more right. Do this a few times and you will get used to how much your helicopter needs to compensate. BTW: You should still at this point go up no higher then a couple of inches.
5. Continue to do these hops until you can just nearly lift the helicopter straight up instead of it sweeping to the left/right forwar/backward or any combination of that.
6. Next you need to work on going up to between a half to one foot. But from this point on, you need to commit these rules to memory:
A. If the tail gets more than 45 degrees away from you SIT IT DOWN
B. If the helicopter moves faster than a slow walking speed then SIT IT DOWN
C. If the helicopter moves too far away then SIT IT DOWN
D. If the helicopter get closer then the minimum safety distance to you then SIT IT DOWN
E. If the helicopter gets too high then it will pick up more and more speed before you are able to sit it down so watch your height.
F. Don't chopstick. That means don't slam the throttle/collective stick down when you get in trouble. You could end up with a tail boom strike if you hit the ground too hard and the blades are too loose in the grips. Let it down easy.
7. Work on keeping the helicopter contained within a 3 foot circle. This will take some time so practice a lot. Don't get more than a foot between the bottom of the helicopter and the ground until you can hold the helicopter fairly stationary.
NOTES: I try to keep a little offset in the tail because if the helicopter is pointed directly at you then it is more difficult to tell if the helicopter is tilted forward or backward. And remember that you steer the nose, not the tail. When you move the rudder stick to the left the nose will rotate to the left.
|Left/Right Control - rt training02|
|After you become stable in a hover then it is time to start in on the ground maneuvers. This starts with just moving from the right to the left and back again. Do not pick a point on the ground to get to because you will concentrate too much on the points and not enough on the control. The point of moving right to left and back is just to develop control of the aileron. When you first start out just go a few feet to the right and then come to a stable hover. Now go to the left and again obtain a stable hover. Start increasing your distance from center and eventually go 15 to 20 feet each side of center. As you increase the distance between the points you will notice that you have to work the elevator some to keep the helicopter from going too far away from you or too close. Also during this stage if you do not have an instructor controlling the throttle/rudder then you will notice that you may have to work the rudder to keep the tail pointed toward you. Remember that you steer the nose, not the tail. When you move the rudder stick to the left the nose will rotate to the left.|
|The Triangle - rt training03|
|Now we add in a third point. This will be like we are tracing a triangle on the ground. Start on the right and obtain a stable hover then go to the left. Just as in the previous step you need to obtain a stable hover at each point. Now from this left point move forward and right to reach the top of the triangle. This will develop your skill at using both aileron and elevator together. Again after you obtain a stable hover then move back and to the right to get to the right point of the triangle. This is the position you started from.|
|The Circle - rt training04|
|The circle will be passing the three points
of the triangle you did in the previous step. Start out
on the right point of the triangle and move back and to
the left. As the helicopter passes the center position
continue left but move forward. In this direction you
will be passing the left point of the triangle you did in
the previous step. As you pass this point go forward and
to the right. This will get you going toward the top
point of the triangle. As you get to it go right and to
the back to head back to the right point of the triangle.
At first you will not have a perfect circle shape but you
will get better with practice. And it does not have to be
a perfect circle shape, the important thing is that you
are keeping the helicopter in control and developing your
Again here are the steps you think through when doing the circle.
Starting from the right point go back and to the left.
As you pass the center position continue left but go forward.
As you pass the left triangle point continue forward but go right.
As you pass the top triangle point continue right but go back.
As you pass the right triangle point continue back but go left.
Continue this pattern to practice the circle.
|Figure 8 - tail in rt training05|
|In the previous step you did a clockwise circle where the center of the circle was straight out in front of you. In this step you will take that circle and shift it off to your left. The right side of the circle will be straight out in front of you. Do the clockwise circle and as you come to the right side of the circle stop and obtain a stable hover. Now do a counter-clockwise circle on the right side. These two circles will form a figure 8 pattern. Each time you get to the center point obtain a stable hover and switch to the opposite circle. Work on keeping the tail pointed toward you and do not let it get over 45 degrees away from you.|
|Lazy Figure 8 - rt training06|
|This is the same as the step you did before but you get use to adding a little rudder to point the nose in the direction the helicopter is going. Again do not let the tail go over 45 degrees from you.|
|Nose-in Hover - rt training07|
|Read <this> page.|
|Figure 8 - driving it like an r/c car rt training08|
|This step will teach you the correct way to
operate the sticks in forward flight. It is especially
important if you are an airplane pilot that is learning
to fly the helicopter. Most r/c airplane pilots use what
I call the bank-n-yank method to make turns. This means
they rotate the aileron to the direction they want to go
then pull back on the elevator to make the turn. Really
you should be using some rudder to make the turn. On a
helicopter with a heading hold gyro you will have to use
rudder. This step will help you learn that.
In this process you will use forward elevator and the rudder stick. The forward elevator is to keep the helicopter always going forward and the rudder is to 'drive' the helicopter through the figure 8 pattern. Start off in the center with the helicopter pointed to the right. Get it light on the training skids but not fully off the ground. Push a little forward and have the helicopter roll on the ground 10 feet. Hold a little left rudder and keep the helicopter moving. It will enter into a counter-clockwise circle. As the nose points back to the center (the point you started from) then move the rudder stick back to center and let the helicopter continue straight. As it passes 10 feet the other side of center then add right rudder and trace out a clockwise circle. Keep the helicopter low and if you get disoriented lower the throttle and think what you needed to do then start over again. At first making the transitions to nose pointed at you will be a little difficult but you will get use to it the more times you do it.
|Forward Flight - rt training09|
|Continue the practice in the previous step but keep the helicopter a few inches off the ground. As you get comfortable go up a little higher. On each end of the figure 8 strech it out a few feet at a time and as you do so go up a little higher on the ends. The more times you do this the more you will be able to go further out and higher up. Before you realize it you now are in forward flight :)|
|Other places to get info on r/c helicopters.|
|ModelSPORT has some useful info oriented toward beginners. These are video magazines that you can get at places like Rick's RC. It's great for someone new to the hobby to be able to see video of how the helicopter works and flies. The Raptor is in the October 2000 issue.|
|Wind tip: When you are learning to hover in
wind, just keep in mind that the helicopter will raise up
with the increased air flow. Try your best to stay a foot
off the ground and don't go over three feet. There are
two ways to get the heli lower. When you have a gust (brief
increase) then lower the collective, when not a gust then
use forward elevator.
Tip: Make small inputs! When learning to hover, most people over compensate on the controls. An example is the helicopter is drifting left then you give too much right, now you have to give left to correct for too much right. You will end up working hard to keep the helicopter in one place. Helicopters only require slight corrections to maintain a steady hover.