Since I was a kid I've always had an urge to try my hand
at flying R/C planes, but was never quite able to work up enough motivation to start from
scratch and build a balsa kit. The daunting task of building was the biggest barrier in my
mind to actually getting into the hobby. I also didn't know anyone already in the hobby to
get me kick started, so I never even looked into what it would take to get started. Flying
R/C planes remained one of those things that "I'd like to do someday!"
That all changed last Christmas. I was looking through
Price-Costco Christmas mail order catalog and ran across an item that really got my
attention. It was a Hobbico Sky Runner ARF kit. It was advertised as "The complete
R/C package that gets beginners airborne in under an hour!" It had everything needed
including a 2-channel transmitter, all for about $280. Sounded to me like the perfect
place to start. A little on the expensive side, but I had my wife pretty much talked into
buying one for me as a Christmas present. I still wasn't sure this was the best way to get
into R/C, so I went in search of information. I posted a couple questions on the news
group rec.modees.rc.air to get some recommendations. Boy was that ever enlightening.
I was under the impression that the smaller the plane, the
easier it was to fly. I wanted to get an electric motor (no desire to get into gas powered
at all) that was small enough to fly anywhere. Lots of people had lots of advice on how to
get into the hobby and not many of them thought the Sky Runner was the way to do it. Oh
well... I thought I still might buy it and try it out, but I wasn't as sure any longer.
A week later at a friend's house, I mentioned I was
thinking about getting an R/C electric plane. It turns out my friend had built an Olympic
650 a few years back, flew it once and then let it sit in his garage to collect dust.
He generously offered to give it to me along with his
4-channel radio. I tried to refuse because at the time I was pretty set on getting a plane
with a propeller and I had no idea how I would actually fly this thing not to mention how
BIG it was compared to the little Sky Runner. He convinced me to take it and try it out
since his wife would be ecstatic about getting it out of the garage and he wanted to see
it put to good use.
Now that I was over that huge hurdle of actually building
the plane, I needed to learn how to fly it. So the natural thing to do was head to the
local hobby store and ask some questions. That's where I learned about the Torrey Pines
Gliderport and that same day I drove out to check it out.
I'll leave out the story of the 650's instructor-flown
unsuccessful first flight. I'll also leave out the details of my walking down to the beach
and getting my plane from some old naked guy that had climbed up the hill a ways to
retrieve it. (Blacks Beach at the base of Torrey Pines is a
clothing-optional beach.) I'll also leave out the part where my instructor
totaled his Samurai (especially since I was climbing back up and didn't see it happen).
Anyway suffice it to say I had an unsuccessful first
attempt at learning to fly, since I never actually got to touch the sticks while the 650
was in the air. I was encouraged on the other hand since I saw my plane actually flying in
the air. I also got some good advice on how to fix up the sagging covering for next time.
Not to be too hard on my unnamed instructor (I really don't remember his name), he was
very encouraging and spent a lot of time talking with me and getting my plane in flyable
shape. I swore I'd be back.
Luckily for me, I mentioned this adventure to my boss at
work and it turns out he used to fly power planes and sailplanes and still had a couple of
sailplanes that needed a little work to fly. I convinced him to help me learn to fly and
kept bugging him until he did.
While I was at Torrey Pines I learned about the slope out
at Lake Hodges, and since I work in Rancho Bernardo it was a lot easier to convince my
boss to drive 5 minutes down the road than out to Torrey. After straightening the wing
which I had warped by tightening the covering, and trimming it out on the softball field,
we hit the slope. We went out a couple of times with him launching and me taking over and
him grabbing the transmitter when I got into trouble. After only two times out, I was
launching and flying on my own with little help from him except for the landings. I was
hooked! The fourth time out I was doing loops and landing the plane on my own. My boss
started bringing his planes out and we were having a great time. I usually ended up
damaging the plane in some way each time that called for 15 minutes to an hours worth of
repair work. But it was well worth the repair time to be able to go out and soar with the
By now, I was surfing the World Wide Web for everything I
could find related to R/C soaring and I had found out about this email list called Radio
Control Soaring Exchange. I found a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) devoted to R/C
Soaring and really started learning a lot about how to get started in R/C soaring. The
advice that everyone seems to give is to start out with a glider like the Olympic 650 to
learn the basics and then move on from there. It turns out I got into the sport the
"recommended" way although I didn't know it at the time I got the 650. I would
definitely recommend starting out with a rudder-elevator polyhedral plane, but for
newcomers I would recommend starting out with one that is made of EPP foam (like the TG-3
or the 2 Meter Beater). It takes a fraction of the time to build and the repair time after
each outing is almost nonexistent.
I haven't flown my Olympic 650 for quite a while now. It
sits in the garage needing about 30 minutes repair work. I've spent my time recently
flying my foamies. After I was feeling pretty confident flying the 650, I posted a
question on RCSE as to the best way to learn to fly an aileron plane. There were quite a
few people suggesting an EPP foam plane. I didn't know too much about them, but decided on
a Foaminator from Studio B after some RCSE recommendations. I learned how to fly that
plane pretty quickly once I had help trimming it out. In addition to my
Ive also been spending time flying my third plane, a Zagi flying wing. Its
really maneuverable and has helped me improve my flying skills greatly.
After attending the October TPG Newcomer meeting, I
realize that there are many ways to get into flying R/C gliders. I was lucky enough to
have a boss that knows how to fly and was willing to spend time teaching me. If he had not
been there, I probably would have taken much longer to learn.
I heard someone at the meeting say that the best place to
learn is at Torrey Pines. Based on my first experience at Torrey Pines, I tend to
disagree. Torrey Pines, although beautiful, is very intimidating to a beginner. I'm
definitely glad I learned on an inland slope where if you mess up and go down, you only
have to hike down the hill a little way to retrieve your plane (and if it's a foamie, you
can just toss it out again!). I didn't enjoy the long walk down to the beach.
I think the Thursday afternoon instruction sessions at the
Poway field would have been a great place to learn, had I known that was happening. During
the time that I spent with instructors, both at Torrey Pines and with my boss, I learned
much more than I would have by reading or watching how-to videos. I think the biggest
thing anyone can do to encourage a newcomer is just to spend some time with them chatting.
I didn't know what a clevis was or how the servo attached to the control rod or even how a
polyhedral plane turns.
There is a lot of information about how these planes work
that is very intimidating to a newcomer so that it almost seems like magic. I was there
not more than a year ago, and I'm amazed at how much I didn't know and yet how easy it is
to learn the basics. I just wish I would've started when I was younger and had more free
time, now that I know how precious free time is.