Archive for February, 2009

Beginner’s Heli Flying Guide

Beginner’s RC Helicopter Flying Guide

There are more people learning how to fly RC Helis than ever before, largely in part due to the fact that low cost micro helis can be found in malls and department stores everywhere. You can pick up a 2 channel micro heli that fits in the palm of your hand and take to flight immediately, buzzing about and spinning around with ease.

It usually isn’t long before a greater interest takes hold and the enthusiasts finds themselves opening the package on a brand new 3CH or even 4CH heli. These low-cost RTF (Ready To Fly) kits are generally assembled, and ready to go. Just charge the batter and away you go!

Not so fast!

The beginner pilot will be tempted to start flying around the house and immediately begin terrorizing the cat, but will often quickly find this to be more challenging than anticipated, resulting in crashes and broken parts. This Flying Guide will walk you through some essential steps that will enable the new pilot to quickly learn the basics of helicopter flight with minimal damage to the heli, furniture and people/pets!

Before we begin, it cannot be overstated that helicopters can be dangerous. Younger pilots should only fly with the supervision of an adult. And adults should seriously consider that those rotating blades are fast and sharp, the two things that make it easy to break the skin or cause eye damage. Smaller micro-sized helis don’t pose quite the danger of large framed aircraft, but can still sting if you run into an unsuspecting bystander! Keep the area clear.



So you found a nice, open indoor space that is free of bystanders and curious pets, set the heli on the ground and experience liftoff for the first time. The best way to start is to keep your hand off all controls except throttle. Simply power up the main blades with the throttle control and increase their speed until the heli gets “light on its feet”. It will start to squirm around as the landing gear starts to lose its grip on the floor and may even spin around. It may be easier to practice this step on a carpeted floor (which will also soften the impact if you lose control). 

As soon as the heli has enough lift to get light on its feet, increase throttle a bit further and allow the heli to hop into the air, and then reduce throttle slightly, to allow it to descend back to the ground. Don’t cut throttle too quickly, or the heli will fall into its “wash” and drop to the ground, possibly breaking the skids. Practice these “bunny hops” for a battery pack, increasing the height each time and practicing a smooth and gentle landing that doesn’t jar the heli.



During the bunny hops, you may find that the heli starts to spin around. Use the rudder trim to counteract this motion until it climbs into the air and stays relatively straight. Since there is a great deal of turbulence near the floor, you will find it necessary to use the second channel of control, Rudder, to rotate the heli and keep oriented straight ahead, with the tail pointed towards you. This is a “Tail In Hover”. In order to achieve a stable hover, you will need to be at least a foot or two off of the ground in order to stay out of the turbulent air in the wash zone. The beginner pilot should spend many hours practicing various forms of hovering before beginning any type of flight in motion. 

Don’t be frustrated if this turns out to be more challenging that it at first seemed! A helicopter is a complex aircraft with many different controls that all work together to move the heli and counteract external forces. Small, lightweight helis are easily affected by even a breeze, and you don’t have to be outside to experience a breeze as the main blades do a pretty good job at creating one! As the air rushes down and washes across the floor and up the walls of the room, it will try to destabilize the heli. Work the throttle and rudder to try to keep the heli as steady as possible. If you can keep it in a 1-2 foot area a few feet from the ground, you’re doing good.

Don’t forget to slowly cut off the throttle when descending back to the floor. If you start to get close to a wall or object, try not to cut off the throttle and let the heli drop to the floor. Ease off the throttle and softly descend. If you do hit an object, or the heli falls on its side on the ground, quickly let off the throttle to prevent electronic damage from the motors overloading against an immovable rotor blade.

A new pilot will typically burn through several battery packs practicing basic hovering before it is time for forward flight. It sure helps to pick up a spare battery or two to prevent long waits while the battery charges back up (which typically can take an hour or so). 


Tail Out Hovering

You can practice “Tail Out” hovering by applying rudder until the heli turns 180 degrees. Seems simple enough, but a key change has now occured. Left is Right and Right is Left, when considered from the perspective of the heli. This is disconcerting enough that many pilots choose to spend time on a Flight Simulator (Such as E-Sky’s FMS) practicing this orientation before repeatedly crashing their brand new heli and breaking parts! It’s important to try not to think of each individual control but rather learn to integrate the inputs together to create the desired motion (or lack thereof!). This takes a great deal of practice, and the mastery of the technique can be exhilerating when it is finally perfected!


Forward Flight

You probably found yourself using the third channel of control, fore/aft pitch, as you became more comfortable during a hover, didn’t you? Well, that’s ok, as it often becomes necessary to make corrections not only in altitude or yaw, but also in position when keeping the heli in a stationary hover. To begin your first forward flight, it is best to start in the Tail IN position. From a stable hover, practice flying forward, coming to a stop, rotating the heli with the Rudder control, and then flying “forward” back to your original position. This fundamental method of flight is critical to master before continuing to the next challenge. If you have a 4CH aircraft, you may find it necessary to roll the aircraft Left or Right somewhat to dodge furniture and walls, but try not to jump into 3D flight just yet. Use all of the controls in unison to fly in straight, controlled patterns.


Flying Across Field

Most pilots find this even more challenging than Tail Out flight, as it is no longer as simple as inverting Left and Right in your mind. It is recommended that this maneuver not be attempted until the pilot has spent dozens of flights practicing the previous steps. Some careful pilots go through 100 battery packs before migrating to this stage of heli flight. At this point, the pilot is comfortable with the controls and has learned to use them together rather than thinking “Left rudder to turn back towards me. Oops, that’s the wrong way, quick turn around, oops, sorry kitty!”. Practice a basic square, flying forward, turning 90 degrees, flying straight across, turning 90 degrees, flying back before turning 90 degrees a final time and returning to the original position.

Once these maneuvers have been mastered, the pilot will soon find themselves navigating the room and flying through doorways into other rooms and down hallways! Learn to enjoy the learning process and don’t rush too quickly to try uncomfortable maneuvers.

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