Getting Started in RC
Written by Jay Smith
Get on the path to an enjoyable hobby
As seen in the Winter 2017 issue of Park Pilot.
Video: Getting started in RC
For many years, the most common path to getting started in flying model aircraft has been to join a local club and be paired with an instructor who will teach you not only how to fly, but also how to safely operate your model. This person can also help you choose a good first aircraft, help ensure that it is properly assembled, and provide guidance for a successful first experience.
Your instructor can get you flying while maintaining the ability to take over the aircraft at a moment’s notice, if and when additional assistance is required. You can find out about clubs in your area by using the AMA Charter Club Search (modelaircraft.org/clubsearch.aspx), which gives you access to nearly 2,500 clubs.
Conventional wisdom also suggests that you should visit your local hobby store, where you will also be imparted with valuable information and assistance in choosing the hobby products that best match your interests and goals.
This path is still likely the best way to proceed and provides hands-on training and the skills and knowledge needed to be safe and successful. But what if you have neither a club nor a hobby shop in your area?
Working with an instructor allows for hands-on training and the ability to begin flying right away, with the instructor able to take control of the model if and when required.
The manufacturers/distributors of hobby products recognize the importance of you having a successful flight experience. No one wants to spend his or her money and time on an aircraft and then have the excitement and enjoyment dashed by a crash.
One way of providing a new pilot training and practice, without the risk of crashing his or her model, is by using a flight simulator. An RC flight simulator allows you to pilot many types of aircraft (fixed-wing, helicopter, multirotor) in different environments. Make a mistake that leads to a crash? No problem; press the reset button and all is forgiven.
The key to being successful when using a flight simulator is to use it as a tool and not a toy. Muscle memory allows you to take a specific motor task into memory through repetition; however, that memory can be good or bad, depending on how you use the simulator.
Prospective pilots often overlook using a simulator, concerned about the cost of investing in one; however, preventing a single crash and possible loss of an aircraft can often justify a simulator’s cost. An RC simulator can usually be purchased used for much less than retail price.
A simulator is a good investment and can continue to be used even after you have become comfortable flying. It can help you learn new maneuvers or be used for a flying fix when you can’t make it to the field.
Another form of technology that helps pilots is the stabilization systems that are being incorporated in aircraft to make them easier to fly. They offer a panic button that will return the aircraft to level flight. These technology advances help the pilot and lower the risk of a mishap, but they fall short of having an actual instructor available.
Several aircraft can be purchased with everything you need to get started already included, and with only minor assembly required.
A beginner aircraft should be easy to assemble and fly. Foam aircraft are good choices because they are easier to repair in case of a mishap.
An important aspect of the hobby is safety, and if possible, that is best learned through the help of an instructor, club, or hobby shop. When you are starting out, you simply don’t know certain things that are important.
Be sure to visit your local hobby shop. It can be a great resource with valuable information and assistance throughout your time in the hobby.
Examples could be the distance to the nearest airport and if notification is required; the proper size of the flying site to accommodate your model aircraft; and how to safely arm and disarm your aircraft and complete a range check.
The AMA Safety Code (modelaircraft.org/files/105.pdf) is a great resource to get you started thinking about safety. Online resources such as AMA Flight School (amaflightschool.org) and model aircraft forums can also be places to reach out to others and learn more.
It is also a good habit to refrain from flying alone. In the unlikely event that you are injured while working on or flying your model, it’s best to have help available.
Having a helper or flying buddy with you at the field is always wise.
If you’re not already a member of the AMA, you should strongly consider joining. Membership will provide you with insurance coverage while you are flying your model aircraft. You will also receive a magazine (Park Pilot or
Model Aviation) to keep you informed about your new hobby. The AMA promotes all types of aeromodeling and continues to ensure that your right to fly is protected. Visit the AMA website (modelaircraft.org) to learn more.
If you fly outdoors and your models weigh between .55 pounds and 55 pounds, you will need to register as a pilot with the FAA. Registration can be completed online and costs $5 for three years. After you have registered, you must place your registration number on or inside of your aircraft.
A multifunction battery charger, such as this one from Hitec, is a good investment and will be able to charge all of the batteries that you are likely to use.
Building and flying model aircraft is an exciting hobby that has been safely enjoyed for more than a century. Getting started is simple and inexpensive, but as with most hobbies, it makes sense to do a little research, such as reading this article, to learn more.
After you learn how to fly, you will discover that there are many types of aircraft that might pique your interest. From early aviation aircraft to jets, helicopters, and multirotors—all aviation is open for you to enjoy.
When shopping for your first aircraft and equipment, here are some things to consider:
• Radio gear: A four- to six-channel programmable radio system that can expand as you grow in the hobby.
• Molded-foam trainer: Several have built-in flight stabilization systems that make learning easier.
• Multifunction battery charger: These are adjustable and can be used with all types of battery packs.
• Model maintenance stand: Minimizes dings and dents while you are working on your aircraft.
• Field box: Can be used to organize your flying accessories.
• Basic tool kit: Contains screwdrivers and wrenches in the sizes you need for your models.
• Quality sunglasses: You’ll be spending plenty of time looking up at the sky.
• Pop-up shade tent and folding picnic chairs: For creature comforts at the field.
• Small roll-up rug: To put under your model at the field. It helps prevent the loss of screws and nuts.
• Flight logbook: To document your successes and challenges, and learn by not repeating mistakes.
• Spare hardware: In case something breaks or gets lost.
• RC flight simulator: This is the best way to train your thumbs and gain hand-eye coordination before you go to the flying field.