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Learning to Fly RC Helicopters — Part 2 27Aug08

Posted by tanker in Beginner, General Heli.
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Well if you are reading this we assume you have read our Learning to Fly RC Helicopters — Part 1 and followed our advice there. If so then you must have been bitten by the heli bug and are looking for more! Now it is time to move from the small coaxial heli and/or flight sim on to a ‘real’ heli.

Your next step though should be, again, the flight simulator. If you have not acquired a quality sim yet now is the time. It is not impossible to advance without it but you will spend more money in repairs than you will on a sim. If you do not have access to a computer that can run one of the better sims then at least get one of the lower-end choices.

On the sim you will want to choose a ‘real’ heli model now, if you had not before, that reflects the real heli you are going to fly. So now is the time to choose what size heli you are going to get for real so pick a sim model that reflects your real-world choice. On the Real Flight sim the Ion-X model (in Expansion 1) is very good for the T-Rex 600 in a beginner configuration, Expansion 5 has the T-Rex 500, and you can download a good T-Rex 450 model. The goal with the sim now will be to perfect your hovering skills. You should be able to do tail-in hovers without any problems and begin moving to side-in and even nose-in orientations. You should also be able to fly the heli side-to-side and forward and back in all of these orientations. Once you feel reasonably comfortable on the sim it is time to move on to the real thing. You can of course mix in real flight with sim training but the more you practice on the sim the more you will get out of the real flights and the safer you will be. Wind, nerves, and other factors can put the heli in orientations you are not yet comfortable with or able to handle. This can lead to a crash. Sim time helps you deal with those unexpected situations in your real flying.

Obviously the best way to learn is to have an instructor or someone who can buddy-box you (Note: A buddy box is two transmitters connected together where an experienced flier can give/take control of the heli to/from you) or at the very least verify your heli is setup properly and flies ok. For this article we assume you do not have such a resource. For your first flights with your real heli you are going to want to get some training gear. Which gear you pick depends on the size of heli you are using but they all serve the same purpose of helping keep you from striking your tail or main blades while taking off and landing and they also provide a bit more stability in a hover due to their weight.

You are going to notice a number of differences from your previous experiences. If you have not flown a coaxial heli before simply handling all the various hardware will be new to you. Even with coaxial experience the power and complexity of a real heli is going to be a jump. If you are flying a larger heli then the power and danger are going to go up dramatically. Also there is no reset for real helis. A crash will mean you need to fix something. You want to be very careful with everything you do from now on and double-check all your work. Make sure you are familiar with your hardware. Always keep safety in mind.

A few definitions:

-Flight modes (Normal, Idle-Up or Stunt): Flight modes are changed by a switch usually on the upper left of the transmitter. They change your pitch and throttle settings for inverted flight. Set all modes the same as Normal Mode when first learning. This is basically a linear curve with zero (or maybe a bit of negative) pitch and zero throttle with no collective (low stick) up to whatever you choose for your max pitch and throttle at full collective (high stick).

-Throttle Hold: Usually the upper right switch on your transmitter. Throttle Hold turns off your motor and sets a pitch curve for autorotations. It is also essentially a power switch and it should always be on (turning your motor off) when you go to start and shutdown your heli. Without it an accidental bump of the collective will send your blades spinning.

-Gyro Normal and Rate (Heading Hold) modes: A Gyro can be set two ways. For almost all purposes you will want to be in Rate (Heading Hold) mode. Each gyro sets these differently.

Before you can fly you will need to setup your heli and radio (transmitter). This is a topic all in itself. The best resources are the various heli DVDs as well as the various heli user forums such as HeliFreak. You will want to make sure your gyro is set in the proper direction as well. You want to be very careful with this and make sure you have the heli and radio setup as best you can. A poorly configured heli will not fly well. You will also need to learn some of the basic settings of your radio. Each radio is a bit different in how it does things. If you have a good RC heli hobby shop nearby you can also bring your heli in to them. At the very least they should be happy to check your setup to confirm it is good to fly and they may even be willing to walk through a setup with you (Note: the more mainstream hobby franchises may be less helpful in this regard than dedicated RC hobby shops because the staff often will not have experience with larger/advanced helis. If you are not certain ask the staff what they fly themselves).

Another consideration at this stage is whether to setup your heli in a ‘standard’ configuration or a ‘hover configuration’. By standard we mean a regular configuration any seasoned flier would use to fly a heli around in Normal Mode and the hover configuration is a limited setup designed for just hovering and simple flight (see our setups section). Which one you pick probably depends on how you are doing on the sim. If you are comfortable hovering in the sim and moving the heli around you can probably go with a standard setup. If you still have moments of disorientation or have a habit of zooming the heli into the sky or crashing it then you might want to go with the hover configuration. The difference between ‘standard’ and ‘hover’ is simply the amount of pitch and throttle set in your pitch and throttle curves. In a hover setup you will lower your max pitch and reduce your negative so that any drastic collective applications will not have a huge effect on the heli. With just a few degrees of negative pitch it is very easy to slam the heli into the ground if you pull down on the collective in a moment of panic. Conversely the heli can zoom dozens of feet into the air in a blink of an eye if you go to full power. A hover setup will moderate these two extremes. The only disadvantage to a hover setup is that your collective stick position and the responsiveness of the heli will be different when you change to a standard configuration later. If you are not sure which to pick try the hover setup first and if all goes well on your first few flights change over to standard. You also probably want to program your Idle-Up (Stunt1/2) modes to be the same as your normal mode in case you hit that switch by mistake. You will use the other modes only after you are very comfortable with basic flight.

Now that you have your heli set up and your training gear installed it is time for your first flight! You will want to have an open space appropriate for your size heli and any spectators should be well behind you. For your first few flights you want to have no or very little wind. Being on a hard smooth surface is best so you can slide the heli around but grass is ok especially for larger helis. It is very important that the heli starts and lands on a level, flat surface. If the heli is tilted in an way at start you will almost certainly crash. Start with a tail-in orientation. Make sure all your stick movements are slow and small at first until you have a feel for them. Turn on your transmitter (make sure Throttle Hold is on) and then turn on your heli and take your position. Depending on the size of your heli you will want to be 15-30 feet directly behind the tail. Before you give it any throttle check your controls. Make sure the swash tilts to the right when you give it right cyclic, etc. and that your tail blades are moving correctly to your rudder inputs (make sure you know which way it is supposed to move so you can verify it is correct). If all is well then make sure you are in Normal Mode and that your collective is all the way down. Now turn off Throttle Hold. The heli is now ready for flight! Now slowly give it some collective (throttle). Start with just a tiny amount. Your heli may spin a tad on startup. This is normal (if it spins around like crazy then your gyro is probably set backwards). If the heli moved a significant amount either move yourself so you are directly behind the heli again or, depending on the type of training gear you have, give it a tiny bit of rudder to straighten it back out. Now you will begin to see the advantage of the training gear. With the blades spinning just a little bit get a feel for the controls. Move the cyclic and rudder just slightly to see how the heli reacts. If anything seems wrong drop your collective, hit Throttle Hold and go check it out. Now very slowly increase collective until the heli gets light on the training gear. If you are on a hard smooth surface you might want to just slide the heli around at first. Be careful you do not give too much control and tip it over or too much power. If you are on grass you might want to just keep adding collective until the heli lifts in the air. Once it does, just a few inches, set it back down again. Keep doing this until you feel comfortable.

Once you are comfortable getting the heli a few inches into the air and setting back down bring it up into a hover about three or four feet high. When the heli is within a couple feet of the ground it is in ground effect and reacts a bit differently than when it is higher. You do not want to get any higher than head height at this point. The training gear will allow you to set the heli down in a less than perfect attitude so if you feel the heli is getting away from you reduce collective slowly and set it down. Do NOT jam the collective up or down. Keep practicing bringing the heli up and setting it back down. Once you are comfortable with that bring the heli up and begin to turn it slightly in each direction. Do not turn it too far. You will soon learn how comfortable you are in the various side-in orientations. All of this will take multiple flying sessions. How quickly you progress is an individual thing and it may take days or weeks. At this point you will realize a real heli reacts very differently from a coaxial heli and a bit different from even a good sim.

Once you get comfortable taking the heli off, hovering it, and turning it a bit it is time to start to move it side-to-side and forward and back. Again, do this slowly and in small steps at first and increase the amounts as you feel comfortable. Once taking off, moving around a bit, and landing feels comfortable it is probably time to take off the training gear. Up to this point the gear was there to soften any landings and allow you to easily set the heli down if you felt uncomfortable. With the training gear off you will need to be much more precise in your landings and takeoffs because the tail blades will be very close to the ground and the main blades can easily strike the ground if you tilt the heli too much. For your first takeoff without training gear make sure you are on a flat surface. Power the heli up and then give it power smoothly and it should lift right off. Landing will be a bit harder. For landing bring it down a few inches from the ground and try to get it as motionless as possible before setting it down on the skids. This will be a bit harder than a regular hover because of ground effect but take your time and do not be in a hurry to set it down. If the heli is moving at all when you set it down you will risk the skids grabbing and the heli tilting and causing a blade strike.

So with some patience and lots of practice you will be hovering a real heli in no time. Once you are comfortable with basic hovering in all orientations then it will be time to start learning forward flight. Good luck!!

Also see Crashing Your Heli.

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