Flying Tips and Beyond

Its very hard to teach someone how to fly with pure text. I will obviously not be able to cover a lot of important things in this training module, but hopefully I will be able to convey some useful information to you. If you have no one to offer you instructions on how to fly, I recommend you spend extra time in the simulator, and discover the nuances of flight for yourself.

Turning Your Aircraft

There are actually a few ways to turn your aircraft. One of the most basic ways is to turn solely with the rudder. It is the only option on 3 CH trainer planes, and is very easy to control. As I've said in earlier modules, the rudder will turn the plane the same way a car turns when you drive. There will usually be a slight bit of roll when you use the rudder, but it will not be the dominant force exerted on the plane. The picture above shows how you'd turn with the rudder.

Banked turns are a bit more fun, and therefore more common while flying an RC aircraft. By rolling to the left or right (like in the picture above), and pulling up on the elevator, the plane will make a very sharp turn in the direction you have rolled. The movement produced by the elevator is often substantial, unlike the movement provided by the rudder, which is relatively minor. When you are performing such a turn, you will start by inducing the desired amount of roll with the right hand stick (on the x-axis). When you have reached the desired amount of roll, you will pull up on the elevator. It is important to have centered the stick after the roll, but before you pull up. If you pull up while the stick is still in a non-centered position, you will continue to roll. The end result of this is often a spiral directly towards the ground. While you are turning, you may want to add some rudder in the appropriate direction to keep your plane at the same altitude. In a banked turn, the nose of the plane might pitch up or down, and adding some yaw in the right direction will correct this.

A mixture of ailerons and elevator are used for all sorts of aerial maneuvers. The above picture shows an illustration of a dog fight. One pilot performs a simple banked turn, while the other performs a barrel roll into a banked turn. Once you become comfortable with this type of turning, you will have much more freedom and fly in a very three dimensional way. Usually, rudder turning will restrict you to more of a 2D type of flight, and in comparison it can be a little boring.

Taking Off and Landing

Taking off and landing are crucial points of the flight. Although I went over most of the key points in the previous module, I will quickly touch on some of them again. For takeoff, your main goal is to get airspeed, thus allowing you to lift into the air. You will always want to check the direction of the wind, and try to take off directly into it if possible. If you are using a runway, try to keep the plane straight by using the steering/rudder, and let it gain some airspeed before you start pulling up. Remember that using the control surfaces (like the elevator), will slow the acceleration of your aircraft. You will want to let the aircraft accelerate before you make movements that will slow it down. When you think its time to pull up, do so at a relatively slight angle. You don't want to launch at too steep an angle, or you may stall. Instead, try to point your nose slightly up until you have plenty of airspeed.

If you are hand launching, most of the same principles apply. Don't over-control the plane, and try to gain airspeed by flying with only a slight upwards pitch. Hand launching can be tricky, and many people try to throw the plane too hard. If you set your throttle to 75% or so, and give it a moderate throw, the plane should have no problem maintaining lift. Its far more important that your throw does not induce any rolling or rotation, and is at a 30 - 45 degree angle upwards. After you throw the plane, you will need to get your hands back to the controls, but be careful not to bump anything on the way back (I've done this!). Its usually easier if someone else does the throwing for you, so you can keep your hands on the controls at all times.

Whether you belly land, or land with gear, your goal is the same: to bring the aircraft down to a low speed and touch down very lightly. Setting up the proper approach is the key. You don't want to take an approach like shown in the above picture, it will make landing much harder for you. If you've been flying around at full throttle, the first thing you'll want to do is bleed off some speed. Lower the throttle to bring the plane down to a comfortable speed, and then make a few wide arcing turns to help decelerate it. Decrease your height to a comfortable distance above the tree tops, then head down wind a few hundred feet. Once you are a decent distance away, try turning towards your landing strip at an angle that is parallel to your runway. Your approach should take you into the center of the runway, and if you are of course, then try to adjust your approach using the rudder. Do not force the approach - if you cannot get into the right approach the first time, feel free to take a wide arcing turn and try again.

Once you are pointed in the right direction, and you are at a relatively low height, you will want to lower your throttle. You will want to get the plane as slow as possible, while staying a bit above your stall speed. As you get closer to the runway, use your throttle to adjust your height. Lower your throttle so that you start falling at a constant speed. This will be difficult to do perfectly, so you will likely have to add a slight bit of up elevator to fall at a steady pace. If you find yourself adding a lot of up elevator, increase the throttle. As you get closer to the runway, start using the elevator to level your approach until you are flying parallel a few feet from the ground. Finally, start lowering the throttle (slowly) and using more up elevator to smooth out the landing. As you get very close to ground level, you can kill start lowering the throttle until you get to 0%. If you do everything right, you should have a nice smooth landing. If you have issues with stalling, simply make sure you come in faster next time.


The technical definition of a stall is "the speed below which the airplane cannot create enough lift to sustain its weight". In other words, you will stall when the airspeed and the pitch of the plane do not provide enough lift to keep the plane from falling. Contrary to popular belief, stalling does not only occur during a climb, or just when you have pitched up too much. A stall can easily occur, even at level flight, once the aircraft has reached a low enough air speed.

Increasing the pitch (pointing the nose upward) will typically provide more lift, to a certain point - once you pass a certain angle, the amount of lift your wings provide will go down. Its also important to note that an increased upwards pitch will also slow your aircraft down (the greater the pitch, the greater the horizontal decceleration). Since the stall speed of an aircraft is determined by both pitch and velocity, you will have a different stall speed for each possible pitch angle of the aircraft. The slowest speed you can fly will typically be achieved during a slight to moderate upward pitch. Of course, the actual angle, and speed, will vary for each aircraft.

Its important to keep in mind that there are situations that will increase your likelihood of stalling. Overuse of the controls will slow you down very quickly. Turning the airplane, especially at a steep angle, will cause the plane to lose a lot of airspeed. If you are close to the stall speed of your aircraft, its very important that you increase the throttle going into a turn, and try not to take it too sharply. Finally, as we will discuss in the next section, the wind will have a great impact on stall behavior. Be very careful when flying with the wind, or even INTO very gusty wind, as stalls are more likely to occur.

There are ways to tell if your plane is about to stall, even before it starts to lose altitude. One of the most obvious signs of an impending stall is the lack of control you have over your aircraft. Just before a stall, the controls will become "sloppy" and less effective. The plane may be sluggish to roll, yaw, or pitch in any direction. It is important to take note of this because an unexpected stall could prove disastrous while close to the ground. Typically, adding more throttle and/or nosing down will help you gain air speed and recover from a stall.

Wind Effects

The wind has a major impact on your flight, and it is important to know how it effects your aircraft. Basically, the speed of the wind, relative to the ground speed of your plane, determines the actual air speed of the aircraft. Flying 40 mph (relative to the ground) into 20 mph winds will make your plane fly like it was moving at 60 mph. Consequently, flying 40 mph (relative to the ground) in the same direction as 20 mph winds, will make your plane fly like its moving at 20 mph. The airspeed will have significant impact on how responsive your plane is, and whether or not it will stall. Most of this was covered in "flight basics", and you should review that module if any of this is still confusing to you.

In previous sections, we've also covered why taking off and landing INTO the wind was important. For taking off, the wind blowing toward your plane gives it extra airspeed despite its slow ground speed. This gives the plane extra lift and you get off the ground easier. In regards to landing, flying towards the wind will slow you down. This can actually make landing significantly easier. With the plane flying slower, and maintaining lift, you will have more time to land the plane. its also more difficult to stall.

Being perpendicular to the wind on takeoff or landing isn't recommended. Other than moving you sideways, the wind will likely roll you over if you fly too slow. If you happen to tip one of your wings upward, the forces on the plane will likely cause rotation and almost certainly cause you to crash. During normal flight, you need to just be aware of the crosswinds, and how it will move you. Cross winds will actually just push your plane sideways, and it may not usually be apparent at first. While this is normally not a problem, you will probably want to keep your plane from getting too far off course by using the rudder. If the cross wind is blowing you to the right, yawing to the left will negate this effect.

Gusty Wind

Wind gusts can make the flight of your RC airplane much more difficult. Dealing with steady wind is predictable, but gusty winds will bring your flight into complete chaos. The larger the gusts, the harder it is to fly. Picture this: you are flying with the wind, just above stall speed and a +10mph gust comes along. Your aircraft speeds up a little, but actually begins falling like a rock! You may not have even felt the gust, so this could be a complete surprise to you. If you are flying too low to the ground, you may crash because of this.

Its this type of scenario that makes flying in gusty wind so dangerous. If you experience a gust when you are flying with the wind, the result is that your aircraft will pick up speed (relative to the ground) and the airspeed will decrease (increasing the likelihood of a stall). When the gust subsides, the aircraft will be travelling at a higher ground speed than it was before, and it will also have a higher airspeed. When flying into the wind, this scenario is reversed. When a gust comes along, you will move slower (relative to the ground), but your airspeed will increase. This is because more air is moving under your wings. When the gust subsides, you will be moving slower relative to the ground and have lower airspeed.

When taking off and landing, these wind gusts can have a devastating effect, even when you launch/land INTO the wind. Why is that? Lets look at an example. Lets say we are about to take off moving 15 mph, and then a 10 mph gust of wind comes along. With our elevator raised, the plane shoots up in the air. Its ground speed might lower to 10 mph (due to wind resistance), but its airspeed will be roughly 20 mph (combined ground speed + wind speed). Now the gust subsides and we have no wind. Our plane is only moving at 10 mph (relative to both the ground AND the air), which is way too slow to maintain lift. From the height it just reached at takeoff, it will basically drop like a rock.

The same thing will happen on landings, except you will now be in the air when the gust occurs. As you slow down on your approach to land, a gust of wind hits the plane. The plane will probably rise with the gust, but also will slow in the speed relative to the ground (due to wind resistance). This could be problematic once the gust fades, as you might now be moving well below stall speed. The plane could drop quite fast, and make contact with the ground in a different way than you had pictured. In order to prevent this, its a good idea to increase throttle if you get hit with a gust. This will cause the plane to increase its airspeed and stay above stall velocity after the gust subsides.

The Sun and other Potential Dangers

Its very important to stay aware of your environment. There are also some things you will want to avoid. The sun is obviously a common problem for pilots, especially when its low in the sky. I recommend you wear a hat and sun glasses to help with this. Its also a good idea not to fly directly towards the sun, and try to keep the plane from passing through it in the sky. That being said its sometimes inevitable, like when the sun is positioned near your landing approach. Its important you do not panic if you cannot see your plane. Try to adjust the controls so the plane stays in the air, and puts it in a path away from the sun. Use your hearing to try and track position and direction Try not to follow the plane so that you end up looking directly towards the sun, as you might lack the capacity to track the plane when it emerges from the blinding light. While this one is pretty obvious, its important to understand how you should deal with the situation once it arises. The last thing you want to do is panic if it happens during flight.

There are other situations that will cause you to visually lose your plane. Two such conditions will be when you fly your plane over your head, or when you fly your plane at yourself. Such situations should be avoided at all costs. Flying over your head will cause you to lose orientation, even if you maintain sight of the plane (which you usually don't). When you fly over your head, it is also virtually impossible to know how your aircraft is pitched, and by the time you turn around to look at it again, it could very well be heading into the ground. Flying at yourself is very similar. Other than being extremely dangerous, there will be a brief moment that you lose sight of the plane as it passes you. It goes without saying that you want to maintain sight of your aircraft at all times. Its also very common for beginner pilots to use the incorrect control directions when the plane is moving directly toward you (you might roll left, when you should roll right). Neither of these are situations you want to put yourself in.

Aside from the aforementioned issues, you will want to keep your plane away from anything else it may clip or crash into. Lamp posts, trees, building, etc. all need to be avoided. The problem is that when you are flying your plane, you will tend to have a bit of tunnel vision. I've seen a few very large buildings "sneak up" on people, right before they crash into them... and it can be quite embarrassing to nonchalantly fly directly into something so large and obvious. To avoid this type of problem, survey the area before you fly, and keep a mental image of where everything is. Don't rely on your visual senses to detect these things in order to avoid a crash, your plane simply moves too fast for that. As always, be mindful of people and animals when flying. Birds can be especially troublesome, so try to keep an eye out for flocks of nature's aviators. Its also worth mentioning that dogs and small children seem to want to chase planes, so its best to avoid them at all costs.

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