Maiden Flight Checklist
Before you do take off, you should complete a number of preflight checks. Click here to download your own maiden flight check list. You don’t want something to unexpectedly go wrong, causing you to shed a tear or two (or maybe not) when it suddenly takes a nose dive into the mud. (If you are fortunate to live in a year-round warm-weather state, don’t rub it in.)
There are a number of components that need to be ready and inspected before your aircraft takes its first outdoor flight of the year. Some could mean the difference between a nice, easy flight and landing and, well, picking up a bunch of foam pieces or balsa wood and lecturing yourself for not carefully reading and following these tips.
If you are new to the sport, the term preflight may be foreign to you. If you are an experienced pilot, I hope that doing a preflight isn’t something that you occasionally do when you feel like it. All pilots should do a preflight inspection before each flight!
If you were never taught this, shame on your teacher. If you were taught to make a preflight check, but still don’t, shame on you. Not only do preflights help keep your aircraft intact for many years of enjoyment, they also protect you and anyone who happens to be in the vicinity when you take off. Preflight checks make flying safe. (If you’ve read some of the readers’ tales in Dave Gee’s “Safety Comes First” column in Model Aviation, you will know this is true.)
Foamies, multirotors, FF aircraft, helicopters, and even airplanes that are not considered park flyers, need preflight inspections. Some of the inspections I’m about to suggest that you conduct will not apply to all of the aforementioned aircraft, but most will.
The first thing you need to do is consider the weather conditions. Because park flyers weigh 2 pounds or less, flying them in 30 mph wind is not ideal. You could try it, but you may never see that baby again. In addition to wind speed, wind direction and the sun’s position should also be pondered. If the sun is shining directly into your eyes, it will be easy to lose sight of your model. Also, aircraft with dark paint schemes may be difficult to see if the sun is low in the sky. Brightly painted airplanes and ones with lights are typically the easiest to see in the sky.
You should also evaluate the field or park at which you want to fly. Is there sufficient space for your model to take off, fly around, and land without bumping into a tree, building, or person? If the answer is no, look for a new flying site. If your airplane has trouble taking off or landing in grass, find another location with an adequate concrete surface.
After you have checked the weather and decided where to fly, it’s time to inspect a number of your aircraft’s components.
One of the most important things to check is the motor/engine. Make sure that it runs well in all throttle positions.
All of the power system components should be inspected. The battery should be fully charged and in good shape. The transmitter and receiver batteries need to be fully charged and hold that charge. The ESC and BEC must operate within their stated limits.
The control surfaces should be inspected and tested before flight. Make sure that they are moving in the correct directions.
Inspecting the propellers/blades is essential. Cracks or chips could lead to disaster. Replace any that show these signs of wear, and make sure you have extras available.
All of the model’s components should be properly mounted and attached so they can’t fall off or jiggle loose during flight. The control surface hinges, wing/tail/hatch, and all servo extensions need to be secured. Make sure that the servo extensions are correctly plugged in, and that the servos operate without binding and center accurately.
It’s important to make sure that the CG is in an acceptable location. An off-balance model may not move the way you would like it to. The wheels and ground steering system must be inspected for the same reason. A disobedient aircraft is frustrating, and could be downright scary.
So, you have thoroughly inspected your helicopter, foamie, multirotor, or whatever it is you choose to fly. It must be time to take off, right? Nope! It won’t fly unless you tell it to do so through your transmitter. It’s time to head out to the field, but make sure you bring tools, spare batteries and parts, or other equipment that you might need.
There are a few inspections that you need to complete in relation to the transmitter/radio. The dual rates and exponential must be set up for the appropriate channels. If you wish to add any mixes—such as rudder-aileron, flap-elevator, etc.—do that now. Obtain the correct frequency pin for the radio (if applicable) and make sure the correct model memory is selected. Conduct a thorough radio-range check.
Before the first flight, have a plan in your mind for what you would like to accomplish. Are there certain maneuvers that you want to try? Know roughly how long your battery will last so you can determine if you have enough time to accomplish your goals.
If you have any questions about how to get your model ready for its first flight of the year, you can always consult its manual. There also are some tips, learning tools, and videos available on AMA’s Flight School website. You can find it at www.amaflightschool.org. Enjoy the skies!