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Learning To Fly

This article will be geared towards the prospective student and the aspiring student. Instructor should read through but also please read my instructors corner.

First off remember that these machines are not toys. Many look at them as such but if you do not respect them they will bite you, or worse, hurt someone else. Now lets get down to business.

If you have not had any experience with radio control before you run out and buy a plane, helicopter, or glider find a local club and visit it. To find a local club go to the AMA website. Click on "Membership Services"  then "Clubs" and "Find a Club". put in your zip code and a list of clubs in your area. Now go visit them and do not be shy. Talk to some members. Most fliers are pretty good at sharing knowledge and the hobby. Ask about the instructors and if they have contact information so you can meet up with them at the club. When you talk to the instructor ask if you can try to fly a club trainer. The AMA allows for instructors to give a trial flight to a prospective pilot so they can get an idea if this is a hobby for them. For the most part I have never given a trial flight where the student did not love it. So do not be afraid to ask as this is provision through AMA's  club insurance plan.

Now the question that comes up first most often when I am asked about R/C Flying. How much does it cost? Well this is an easy one actually. It will cost you as much as you want it to! Don't get me wrong... This is not a cheap hobby/ sport, but you do not need to spend a fortune on it either. The initial cost will include AMA membership. This is a necessity and required to join any club or to fly in any public flying field. The AMA supplies you with insurance for flying your R/C aircraft. Yes,  in today's world we do need insurance to protect us from the hungry lawyers. The cost for AMA is a mere $58 dollars per year and includes a monthly magazine to boot! If you have a child or two that share the passion of aviation you can cover them for $1 each. Then you have the cost of a club. this can vary greatly from club to club, but most are very reasonable. Our club charges $50 per year with a $25 per year fee for non residents (which includes me) with a one time fee of $60 to cover initial setup costs and balance the startup cost of the club between all members. This is very reasonable and well worth it if you have a club that works for the members. Our club has a holiday party and hosts family picnics for all members and family. If you are considering venturing out on your own a the local school field, or have met up with a group that flies in a local empty field, just remember the big "L" for liability. Even if you have AMA insurance it will not cover you at none sanctioned fields, unless you have written permission from the land owner.   Now that you have an idea of the logistical costs we can look at the hard costs. First we need a plane, with an engine and a radio! First decide if you want to go with glow or electric. When I started flying some 30 years ago electric was not much of an option. The available motors where heavy, underpowered and expensive. Today the available options make it very viable but keep in mind your start up cost may be slightly higher.

Now, you can buy used to start off. Ask if the club puts on swap meets. Also check the AMA website under contests, they list under "non-flying events" some swap meets. Also check the websites of clubs in your area on their calendars. Craigs list and local newspaper classifieds can net great deals on the unused present or purchase. Also garage sales can be a great source for bargains. Just be aware that some seemingly great deals may be money pits. Make a friend or two with some knowledgeable members of the club and ask them along on your hunts. An experienced eye can go a long way from saving you from a deal that will cost you in the long run.  

If you want to go with all new you can do that too. Again decide which form of power you want to start with. Just a word of wisdom (and I know I will get some flack on this), with electric I have found students have a harder time determining how the plane is running. In a decent a glow engine speeds up and as you climb it slows down. You can hear the engine transition and know if you are holding altitude in a turn. This becomes a little more difficult with an electric as the audio queue is harder to pick up. This however is a very minor shortcoming and is offset by the ease of maintenance. Let us look at some of the options and  define some of the confusing terms associated with the purchase of a new plane.

First the easiest way to start out is with a RTF or Ready To Fly aircraft. These are available in both electric or glow. The advantage of this type of airplane is that everything but the ground equipment is in the box. The air frame, engine radio, servos, fuel tank, even the hardware is in the box. Plus the building is done for you and most of the assembly is complete. today's RTFs have a high degree of pre fabrication. In many cases all that is needed is basic tools to complete assembly. Both electric and glow are available and in many flavors. Just keep in mind that to start off with the greatest possibility of success  you will want to work with an instructor and using a buddy box. So you may want to talk to the instructors at the club you will be joining and find out what buddy boxes are available for you to use. Some clubs keep a stash of buddy boxes otherwise you will need to buy a system that will work with your instructors system(s).

The second option is an ARF or Almost Ready to Fly aircraft. This type of kit has most of the building done for you. You will just need to assemble the major components. Some knowledge of adhesives and the ability to follow directions is required but minimal. You will have to purchase an engine and radio system to complete your model . Installation of the radio and control rods may require some experienced guidance so do not be afraid to ask for help. Some clubs run clinics to help guide the new comer on some of the more technical aspects of our models. If your does this are great for picking up knowledge from expert builders and the experienced pilots in the club. If yours does not seek help from a fellow club member, the web or stay tuned here for some step by step web clinics.

The third option is to purchase a kit. These are becoming harder to find every day. very few manufacturers are making kits anymore and fewer retailers stock them. But if you want to tackle building your own plane from a box of balsa, ply and plastic parts kits can still be found. Some of my all time favorites are no longer in production, like the Midwest Aerostar or the Great Planes Trainer series. However, some are still around like the Sig Kadet, the Goldberg Eagle and the Telemaster series from Hobby-Lobby. These are excellent building and flying kits and if you do decide to tackle a kit remember the knowledge and ability to repair your plane and the feeling of accomplishment when you see your creation take flight for the fist time is priceless.

Last but certainly not least is to scratch build. This is almost a lost art. to be able to take a set of plans and a pile of wood and build an airplane out of it seems almost impossible to most.  However if you take the project step by step you will see it is not as difficult as it may seem. Start with producing your own kit, cutting out the components all at once so you can then just concentrate on building. For someone who likes working with wood and their hands it can be the most satisfying and rewarding part of the hobby. Especially when someone walks up to you at the club and asks "what kit is that" and you say "Mine, it is scratch built!" . Of coarse this is not a project for a beginner but I had to add the option in to be fair and show that it is an option for future builds. In fact I have Aerostar plans and will be scratch building one in the near future.

Well that is it for now. Just remember that no matter which start you choose the idea is to learn, and most important enjoy the hobby. Go fly and God Speed!

Doug Serrand


Download My Student Flight Log This is a log and has a fist full of information to help you get started. It is in pdf format and if your printer has duplexing (prints on both sides) you can print it out in booklet form. You can also print the even odd pages then flip the pages and print the back side with the even pages. Be sure to set your printer in landscape mode.