Rockingham Model Aero Club at Lake Walyungup

Getting Started

Getting Started in Aeromodeling.

Flying model aircraft is a challenging sport. A lot of people think it’s a cinch and find out about four seconds after they’re airborne that it’s not. If you’re reading this, then hopefully you haven’t had that experience or if you have, this little guide will help you get through the basics a whole lot easier with less pain and more money in your wallet. I should point out that there are no hard and fast rules about what to do here and these are only suggestions but this is what works for a lot of people.

Lets go!

Firstly, we start with the model. These days most toy shops and hobby shops are selling RTF (Ready to fly) or ARF (Almost ready to fly) models. Please resist the urge to go out and buy that mammoth scale Spitfire, as you’ll only damage it learning-you wouldn’t hand a set of Ferrari keys over to a L-plater would you? On the other end of the scale, don’t go too small either. While little models may appear to be a smart move they’re generally more fragile than the big ones, and more importantly, small models can get away from you really quickly. If you’ve never flown before it’s very easy to get disoriented and find yourself not knowing whether a model is coming or going, right side up or upside down! I recommend models with 1.4 meter wingspan or greater. They are easy to see and fly slower which gives you more thinking time.

There are models that work great as basic trainers that are rugged, easy to put together and fly well. A good way to go here is something with a high wing and lots of wing area. Hobbyking produces a few good foamy models based on a mid engine (good for saving props) electric powered glider. Bixlers and Cloud Flys are great, and cheap. If you want to build one take a look at: the Seagull Swift, the Classic 40 trainer, and the good ol’ Boomerang. Most of these are set up for glow powered engines which are powerful and light. The Swift can be built for electric if you wish and now that brings us on to the next thing, power!

Depending on how you want to fly, you can go for either electric power or glow power. If you love the noise and stink (like I do) and don’t mind cleaning up the model at the end of a days flying, glow is great. It’s simply a case of fuel the model, flip the prop and fly. If you can get an instructor for a period of time, it means you can make back-to-back flights and really get your air time up. The engines do take a bit of learning, but there’s more than enough knowledge amongst the club to sort out most issues.

Conversely, if you find the noise annoying and hate the slime on your pristine model, then electric is the way to go. The initial cost is more, as you will be buying a motor, electronic speed control, charger and batteries however, once you’ve got that it’s cheap flying. The only down side is that either you buy a lot of batteries to fly back-to-back or wait for the batteries to charge between flights. If you don’t mind waiting or can’t get an instructor for a half hour or so (remember they like to fly too!), then it’s no big deal. A lot of people struggle to figure out what to buy, as you need to have all your ducks in a row for a great electric model. As for what to buy, it’s very model dependent, but once again a few chats to the right people should have all your questions answered.

Radio is another big one. My advice is always to buy the best radio gear you can justify. There’s nothing worse than buying a radio and getting good enough to progress onto another model only to find out you have outgrown the radio. While 4-channel radio is enough to get flying, you’ll outgrow it quickly. They are so basic that you will only be able to give it away and even then, it might be hard to find takers. I recommend a minimum of 6 channels, even though you may not use them straight away, you will utilise them later. Most 6 channel radios also come with end point adjustment on the servos, dual-rates and 5-10 model memory. This means that you can really fine tune the radio to the model and more importantly, fly more than one model with the radio (not at the same time of course!). I prefer radio brands that have been around a while such as: JR, Futaba, Hitec and Spektrum. If you’re not going to buy one of these, it’s worth checking on the MAAA (Model Aeronautical Association of Australia) as to whether your radio is approved for use in Australia. These brands all make quality gear that you can rely on. Also, most of those radios can be ‘buddy boxed’ to the instructors transmitter, so that he can pull you out of that screaming nose-dive and give you time to stop your knees clattering together and wipe the cold sweat of your brow. It’s the best way to learn in my opinion, you will progress quicker and the model will last longer! Trust me!

Now it is time for your first flight. Before you take off it’s best to have the instructor check the model over. Some kits have dubious hardware, and you may have missed something small, that could be a problem in the air. He will tell you whether it’s good to go, so stick on that wing! If it’s held on with rubber bands, you want to use as many as it takes to ensure that the wing is held on firmly. If you can push the wing off its seat with your thumb, you need more bands! The instructor will check the engine; complete a range test of your radio to ensure a good signal; take it out to the flight-line and yell “Take-off” and you’re away!

Once test flying is done, then it’s time to buddy box. Your instructor will take off and at a safe point he will give you control. He will then talk you through how to fly. It’s not as easy as it looks! Now, while we’re on the subject of teaching, don’t forget that the instructors are teaching you for free, and taking time out of their days to do so. It’s really disheartening to see a new modeller come down once every few months and try and learn as he has likely forgotten everything he’s learnt in that time. A solid commitment to appear one day a weekend is the smart way to go. That way you’re building on your knowledge every weekend and not starting from scratch every time you take off.

Well, that’s about it. Hopefully with all this in mind you will progress from a wobbly student to a confident flyer, and then it’s time to come out with that mammoth scale Spitfire!