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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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Introduction to Mini RC Helicopters


Introduction to Mini RC Helis



If you’re reading this, then you’ve no doubt seen a micro RC helicopter at the mall or at Wal-Mart. The vendor sure does look like he’s having fun as he zips one around the mall. They’ve come down in price and it sure is tempting to pick one up and see what all the fuss is about! Can you really bring them home, flip a switch and be flying around your living room in just a few minutes?


Flying an RC Heli

A helicopter is a complex machine that takes a skilled pilot just to accomplish something as simple as a steady hover above the ground. There is a lot more to flying a heli than just an accelerator, brake and steering wheel, as on a car! The pilot uses pitch, yaw, throttle and a combination of controls to allow the heli to move almost at will through the air. A micro heli simplifies these controls, to make it easier to fly. This means that you might not be able to sweep through your living room, banking left and right as you wind your way through furniture, but it is still a huge amount of fun!

A full frame RC helicopter generally has 6 channels of control. A micro heli starts off with 2, throttle and rudder. This allows you to lift off the ground and spin left and right. Forward flight is only possible by weighting the nose of the aircraft, but this generally makes it unstable when you want to hover and keep it still in the air.


Toy VS Hobby?

The majority of mini and micro helis found at department stores are classified as toys. They are inexpensive, easy to fly, and the perfect fit for the kid (or kid at heart!) with only a casual interest. If you’re even considering taking the interest further and taking up the hobby of Radio Controlled helicopters, then it is best to shy away from the Wal Mart helis and read a little further before you buy!


With a few exceptions, the toy helis tend to use unconventional controls such as a pistol grip or joystick control. Pretty neat stuff, but it will make it more difficult to later grow accustomed to the standard two-stick radio that most hobby kits utilize. Start off with the standard format, and you’re a few steps ahead if and when you take the next step. As addictive as this hobby can be, you might want to go ahead and plan on it!


Even if the $25 toy heli does have a standard two-stick control, it is not likely that replacement parts or upgrades are available for that kit. What goes up, must come down, and when helis crash, they can break. Small, micro helis are super lightweight and are less likely to break in the small impact of a crash, but it does happen. Spending a little bit more on a hobby-grade heli often allows you to buy inexpensive repair parts, or even go wild with trick aluminum and carbon fiber upgrades! Ebay is full of inexpensive upgrade parts that can improve the flight of your heli and make it more robust.


NEXT: Choosing the right heli for you


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Beginner’s RC Heli Buyer’s Guide - Part 2

We’ve discussed various formats of helicopters and you’ve probably (wisely) decided on a coaxial heli on which to learn basic flight skills. But there are more decisions to be made before you place that order for the heli of your dreams! All too often, hobbyists make the mistake of jumping directly to the most extravagant large format model with 6 channels, carbon fiber and anodized aluminum everywhere and end up frustrated when they are unable to fly it and end up breaking expensive parts.


2-Channel Helis

There is a lot to think about when you are flying a heli. It can be very taxing so it is best minimize the number of things to consider and focus on basic flight at first. A basic 2 channel coaxial micro heli will get you flying in no time at all, as they are very small, stable and will allow you to quickly master the basics of tail-in hovering. The two channels of control give you lift (throttle) and yaw (rotation left and right).

One of the most popular manufacturers in this class is Syma. The Syma 9093 Dragonfly and Syma 9083 enjoy a strong aftermarket of replacement parts and upgrades. While these are conventional tail-rotor helis, their micro size and 2-channel operation makes them easy enough to fly right out of the box.

Popular coaxial models in this class include the beautiful AH-64 Apache that looks good enough to display on the bookshelf!


3-Channel Helis

This is the most popular entry-level hobby-class helicopter, as it allows forward flight. Moving the left stick forward or back gives throttle and causes the heli to lift up or drop down. Moving it side to side spins it around to allow you to turn around. Adding a third channel of control allows the heli to fly forward. This will allow the pilot to practice one of the most basic maneuvers in the learning process, tail in flight away from you, then a turn and flight back. This is harder than it sounds, as left become right and right becomes left on the return trip!

Syma also manufactures several popular 3CH kits such as the Syma S001 and the more recent all-aluminum Syma S006 model. While the S006 does offer some very nice upgrades, and does share some parts with the S001, the beginner may want to consider the availability of replacement parts as the S001 has been on the market for a while, which makes it pretty easy to find replacement parts.


4-Channel Helis

A 4CH helicopter is a little bit more challenging to fly, and may not be the most suitable for some beginners, but is capable of much more realistic flight. In addition to throttle/lift, yaw/rotation and forward/backward pitch, it adds left/right roll. This allows for not only more advanced turning and sideways motion, but generally improved forward flight as the swashplate has more movement, generally being controlled by two servos.


Flight control would look something like this:



We’ll go into the physics involved in cyclic blade motion in later articles, as the mechanics involved are very complex. These are remarkable machines in both their flying ability and engineering/construction. The fact that a beginner can pick up a Ready-To-Fly 4-Channel helicopter complete with electronics, battery, charger, and transmitter for well below a hundred dollars is causing the heli segment of the RC hobby to see massive growth in the past few years.


Some of the more popular coaxial 4CH models include the E-Sky Lama V4 RTF, the Walkera 5#6-1 and the E-Flite Blade CX2. These are considered “mini” helis and require a larger indoor space in which to fly. There are some micro 4-Channel models, but they are few and far between due to the added complexity. The Walkera 4#3 Dragonfly is one of the smallest in this class.


Again, it is important to take into consideration the availability of replacement parts, as the beginner is sure to go through many sets of main blades, skids, and even drivetrain gears in their quest to learn to pilot these machines. It is relatively easy to find replacement parts for the Esky Lama V4, and even upgrade parts to customize your heli, improve flight and increase durability.



NEXT: Learning to Fly


Beginner’s RC Heli Buyer’s Guide

Okay, so you’ve decided that you want to buy a cool RC heli. You’ve either decided to pass on a toy heli, or you already bought one and are ready for something more. You might be surprised to find that there are a good number of RTF (Ready-To-Fly) Helis available that only cost marginally more than a toy heli, and are much more capable, as well as repairable! First you’ll want to educate yourself on the various formats available to choose the one that’s best for you.


Coaxial VS Tail Rotor

Conventional Tail Rotor Heli

Conventional Tail Rotor Heli

Coaxial Helicopter

Coaxial Helicopter

A helicopter uses rotating blades to provide lift. The speed at which they travel (throttle) and the angle at which they cut through the air (pitch) dictate how much thrust is produced. The problem is that the torque produced by the rotors would spin the body of the aircraft around if there weren’t a sideways thrust to compensate. A conventional heli uses a tail rotor to control yaw (the left/right spinning action). While this does produce a slight amount of sideways movement, on board electronics automatically compensate for this motion using a gyrometer, or gyro, for short. A gyro senses tilt using the acceleration of gravity and the on board computer compensates for this tilt by changing the pitch of the blades as they travel around in a circle.

But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves! We’ll talk more about the physics involved in later articles. Right now, we just want to choose a heli that suits us best.


A coaxial heli uses counter-rotating blades that both produce lift, but counteract the torque each one produces, since their motion is equal and opposite the other set of blades. While it looks somewhat unusual, this arrangement makes for a very stable helicopter without any built-in sideways thrust since it lacks a tail rotor. To spin around, all that needs to happen is for one set of blades to spin faster relative to the other blades.


So why aren’t all helicopters coaxial? Well, for one, they are generally heavier, as there are two sets of main blades, complete with propulsion, gear drives and two main shafts (usually a hollow shaft that contains a solid shaft within). Using a tail rotor keeps the heli lightweight and nimble, capable of unimaginable acrobatics! This is not to say that coaxial helis aren’t nimble, but they do have limitations. One of them is blade strike.

Blade strike occurs when one or both sets of counter-rotating blades is at full pitch, twisting and angling until they hit each other. Most coaxial RC helis have sufficient blade spacing that this will not occur unless you are a very advanced pilot indeed. And extended main shafts are often available to increase the heli’s capabilities as your skills improve.


Ok, so it’s fairly obvious that a beginner would be best suited with the stable flight characteristics of a coaxial heli. Some choose to go directly to a heli with a tail rotor design and have great success, as advances in electronics have enabled for much more stable flight. Particularly indoors, were there is little breeze apart from that coming from the rotors. So what else should the beginner pilot take into consideration when choosing their first heli?


NEXT: Number of Control Channels.