Tools to Take to the Field

Written by Chris Mulcahy
Find the "Goldilocks Zone" in your field repair kit.
As seen in the Fall 2014 issue of
Park Pilot.

I try not to spend too much time working on my helicopters while at the flying field. I figure that with the short amount of time I am able to be out at the field, I’d much rather be flying than fine-tuning my helis. More often than not, however, I find myself needing to tweak something or the other while out there.

Throughout the years, I have found that there is nothing more frustrating than wanting to adjust something and not having the right tool on hand. Having the right size Allen wrench, screwdriver, or wire cutters can mean the difference between continuing the fun or packing up and going home.

Another truth I’ve discovered is that no matter how big your flight box is or how many tools you carry with you, we are all moving inexorably toward that point where we find ourselves missing that one tool that we can’t proceed without! The day that happens, we add one more tool to our box, and all is good until the next time it happens. Ultimately, if you’re like me, you will need both hands to lift your toolbox into and out of your vehicle.

Chris’ trusty field toolbox feels like it weighs about a half ton.

I’ve tried many times to determine the right balance of not too much and not too little in the toolbox. That “Goldilocks zone” has eluded me so far, mainly because I am loath to discard anything from my toolbox on the off chance that I will “need” it someday. The problem is that more stuff finds its way into my toolbox than actually gets used.

I might need that 3/32-inch cap-head bolt, or I might use that length of wire attached to a servo lead that caused glitches. The fear of needing something immediately after I discarded it has resulted in my toolbox slowly, but surely, growing in size, and it’s gotten a little out of control. I suppose that makes me a hoarder of sorts, which is a little disturbing, and got me thinking about what I really need to bring when I go flying.

A glimpse at the chaos inside Chris’ toolbox. Even he’s not sure he knows what’s in there.

I went back to basics. I started to think about the absolute minimum that I could get away with. I’m not referring to battery chargers—that is another article entirely—but the bare necessities to work on an aircraft.

I started with a small Allen wrench set. Working on helicopters usually requires Allen wrenches, and it seems impossible to do much without them. You’ll have to decide if you need metric, standard, or both. You could just take the couple of wrenches that your helicopter requires with you, but I like to at least have a small set with me. (See how the hoarding has already begun?)

Next on my list was a pair of needle-nose pliers. These are handy for gripping nuts while removing a bolt from the other side with an Allen wrench. With these two things, I can perform most tasks on my helicopters.

I also fly nitro-powered helis, so I had to include a glow igniter, as well as a plug wrench that doubles as glow-plug storage. This was the minimum that I felt I could get away with and still be equipped to deal with any small issues that may come along. It was a stark contrast when compared with my heavy field toolbox.

The bare minimum: pliers, wrenches, plug wrench, and glow igniter.

If I was going to expand this list, I would probably add an X-Acto knife and some CA glue. This way, if it didn’t move and it should, I could cut it free, and if it moved when it shouldn’t, I could glue it in place.

Okay, there might be one more thing: some plastic zip ties. I just can’t do anything without zip ties. They do such a great job of holding things in place.

If Chris were to expand the list of tools that he needs at the field, he would add an X-Acto knife, CA glue, kicker, and plastic zip ties.

So here I am, back on that slippery slope where I’ll end up carrying everything I own out to the field each time I fly. I only have myself to blame, but I’m okay with that. It’s better to have it and not need it, right?

What are your invaluable tools out at the field? I’d be interested to know what others feel they can’t fly without. How much or how little do you take flying with you? Do you do a lot of repairs at the field, or do you prefer to just fly and tinker when you get home? Drop me an email and let me know.

Some of the more obscure tools found in Chris’ toolbox. Do you know what they are used for?

-Chris Mulcahy



Refreshing... I usually have the opposite problem, tools I need on the bench are usually in the box in the car!!
I think your idea of "Going minimal" at the field is a good one. Unless of course you are at an event that is far and last a few days.

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