My journey from the very basics to scale flight.
Well here we are, the start of 2012, and we are considering the New Year’s resolutions we can sign up to, loosing weight, stop smoking, cutting the lawn more frequently, do more house work, well, as you may have already guessed, I will embark on the road to learn how to fly a RC helicopter… That’s mine!
I have had an association with RC flight over the years, my last ‘tinkering’ was slope soaring in Bournemouth, some years ago, (actually 24 years ago! Hell that makes me feel old…) since then, well nothing really, apart from a PPL. ( Fixed wing)
Over the coming weeks and months I intend to offer some feedback on my personal intention to learn to fly a entry level RC helicopter, and progression to a scale helicopter. A quest I am really excited about and fully committed too. ( Bank balance allowing!)
So with the plethora of entry level RC Helicopters available, I have decided to ‘grasp the nettle’ or should that be grasp the Credit Card, and embark on my journey, that is, to learn to fly a RC helicopter.
My ambition is to end up with a scale helicopter and fly it in a scale manor, very accurate flight envelope and movement… Don’t get me wrong, I have spent many an hour ‘oor aring’ at RC Helicopter pilots flying 3D, and admiring the amazing skill these guys have, but that is not my thing, I guess each to their own. And of course this wonderful hobby caters for all sorts of likes, including mine.
One thing I did learn after successfully crashing many gliders at my early stages of RC flight, is talk to an expert, get advice and guidance, and even better, join a club.. That I did, and many of you will understand this logic, this simple step gave me confidence, and the guidance I desperately needed.
I would imagine there are so many budding RC pilots who buy all the gear and filled with enthusiasm only to be quashed by repeatedly crashing, and giving up, and of course a loss to this hobby, and to the individual, who with friendly help just may have continued and excelled.
I fully understand making ‘unintentional contact with terra-firma’, ie crashing, is inevitable, but keeping this to minimum is of course preferable, so I decided to find a reputable flying organisation to join and receive the advice I desperately seek. After all we ALL, whatever the skill level the seasoned RC helicopters pilot has, everyone had to start at the beginning. As one Chinese philosopher said, ‘’ The long journey starts with the first foot step’’.
My first ‘footstep’ was to discuss my quest with Stuart at RCHA, realising that this was a organisation I need to be a part of, and will, I am certain be very supportive through my early stages of learning to fly the helicopter.
Goal setting is important, a life skill I guess, which applies to all things, but never so pertinent to the learning of the RC helicopter flying skills… Ie not going out and buying a £ 2000.00 super dooper scale turbine helicopter…. Nothing wrong with an aspiration, BUT common sense dictates the purchase of a training helicopter, one that will not break the bank to buy, and perhaps far more importantly repair!
Well, actually, that is not entirely right. There is a view, that buying say a 50 size helicopter, and getting the appropriate learning gear fixed to it, will offer you a more ‘stable’ platform to learn on, and that helicopter will be able to offer you (Stuart mentioned you can ‘down tune the performance while learning) service as a learning platform, once you have mastered the skills, unlimited flight, 3D scale flight etc.. I might be tempted at this approach actually, but my bank balance dictates otherwise… And perhaps my skill level.
Even this decision was not straight forward, ie, go for a twin axial contra rotation hele or fixed head type, both being full 4 channel, I guess if pushed the twin axial version may be more stable to a point, but will not provide a ‘spirited’ flight that the single head will allow once you have mastered the basics of RC Hele fight control. Ie, when selecting an input, you then have to counteract that input. I have seen the contra rotating helicopter in flight, NOTHING wrong with them, but in the main if in doubt, let go of the flight sticks, and the hele (if set up correctly) will just hover, it self corrects….
As I have mentioned my eventual goal, I opted for the single head set-up, which I hope will provide me with the skill set required as I progress… ( I hope!)
I do however remember some advice given to me many years ago, that is to buy a good transmitter, with this advice in mind, and further confirmed by Stuart form RCHA, I decided to purchase a Spektrum 6i DSM TX, very cleverly this can be ‘matched’ to 10 aircraft, excellent. This is NOT of course vitally important to do, as most entry level ready to fly helicopters come with a TX, ( RTF) but I do intend to (God willing, and my own skill level) pursue this hobby to the successful progression to Scale helicopters.. So the purchase of the TX was an obvious initial route, for familiarity…
I Opted for the TX only, as the helicopters I was seeking ie the Blade MSR for initial flying practice, and the Blade 120SR once I have mastered the initial flight skills.. The latter offers a more ‘spirited’ flight, more responsive if you will.
Both of these helicopters are purchased in the RFT versions, BUT both can be ‘matched’ to my DX6i, not done as yet, but looking on U-Tube this process is simple, this really is a fabulous feature and one I will be taking advantage of.
These helicopters can be described as ‘interior’ machines, with possible exception of the 120SR, but if there is any wind, the helicopter will become a handful, and unstable… Purely due to size of the machine, ( interesting point made earlier re the 50 size helo, here a slight breeze would not hamper flying in the field…) No, my intention, or first goal, will be find an enclosed area, and practice the basics….
I opted for the Spektrum DX6i (DSM) I decided to get this for the reasons I covered previously, ie if you can afford it, it will provide you with excellent service and in my case, ie wanting to progress to more advanced helicopters, means I can retain this transmitter as I progress… (Hopefully).
Looking around on the internet, I managed to purchase the DX6i 2.4 GHz transmitter for £90.00, which I felt was a reasonable price for such a sophisticated piece of gear, so duly paid for, it arrived within a few days, all in one piece…
The outer box was matt laminated with spot UV varnish, which added a real feel of quality, with very clear graphics, and text.. Opening the box form one edge, the expanded polystyrene unit could be extracted, which separated to show the TX and a set of dry batteries. Secured by tape, within the top of one half of the polystyrene half’s, the instruction manual is housed, very comprehensive it is too. Some serious reading is called for.
I must say, despite the advert saying ‘transmitter only’ I felt is was a letdown NOT to find nicad’s and a charger for the price paid ( £92.00) I would have expected that.. So now I will have purchase a charger.. Hummm… Not happy about that.
The TX has a charging jack plug, so dependent on power usage, the purchase of nicads, and a charger may well be an investment. ( another investment..)
One of the main reasons I decided to select this transmitter was the option to be able to ‘bind’ the transmitter with up to 10 models by the flick of a switch, called not surprisingly the Trainer/Bind Switch mounted on the top left of the unit.
I found out upon receipt this TX has the added advantage of DSMX, great, now I need to find out what this means?!… To the Manual…… Well, the DSMX system it seems is far less likely to experience data loss or interference in flight… Well there are a fair few pages of explanation, but in essence I think I have captured the advantage. An added and important bonus I feel…
My previous radio set up was a Futaba, which form memory resembled a brick in weight, (and near destructible servos as I recall! Used in my RC Boat and RC Car, and Glider) and was a lovely tan colour, oh how times have changed… For the better I may add.
I must say I was looking at Futaba, but budgets made me follow the Spektrum route, which I am very happy with at this stage of my ‘flying’ career.
The TX out of the box is ‘festooned’ with various toggle switches, (7) and a good sized LCD screen with the joy sticks set to Mode 2 (Throttle on left stick), trim tabs have a trusted ‘click’ when selected.
Next to the LCD screen there is a large Knurled Roller selector, this is multi functional, and of course the menu guide at start-up. The programming options are many and very comprehensive, and may well have you baffled, they did me, so I will be seeking some guidance from the club members before I ‘mess’ about with settings.
My first impressions of the Spektrum DX6i are extremely favorable, and have a nice ergonomic feel. Easy to select the various flick switches, and the multi function display with the ‘roller’ select option, are quite superb. I would say, the manual is very comprehensive, and clearly demonstrates the options that are available. BUT, I would suggest you go to your fellow flyer or flying club member to ask for some advice on how to programme the system. This really will save you some time effort and possible parts replacement costs.
I have to say, I found my Transmitter very easy to use and programme, and if I can do it, any one can…
Phoenix V3 RC Simulator
So where now? Buy a helicopter, and several bags of spares, blades, hit the windless field, gym, or another large interior space… Well that was going to my path, BUT, HORIZON Hobby, have stepped in, and suggested the sensible and more cost effective first step, would be the PHEONIX V3 RC simulator…
Now I have to come clean, I think I mentioned I have a PPL, via a flying scholarship (way out of date due the incredible cost.. A sport for the rich, which I am not..) But I have reviewed Microsoft flight simulation software for many years, so, when Horizon said they would forward me a copy for evaluation, my heart skipped a beat with anticipation.
I have to honest, and say I have never heard of this sort of RC Simulator, but after some quick u-tube visits, blew my socks off with the seemingly incredible graphics and highly accurate flight dynamics, aircraft models to select. Be it amphibious, fixed wing, helicopter, trainer options, performance options, electric nitro, glider the choice is yours.
I was informed via e mail that the package was on its way, the very next day, the postman was carrying a large box, ( Now that is service) I leaped towards the door, and dully signed the receipt, and took ownership.. Once I had carefully opened the package, the product box was on show, very professionally presented, with nice graphics showing a small selection of aircraft available, and plenty of text covering what was inside, including a real, Spektrum DX 5e 2.4 Ghz(DSMX). Now I have to say, for the money, this is an incredible deal, to get the programme, and a ‘real’ Transmitter, one that you can use on the sim, as well as take to the field to fly your fancy is a real marvel, and obvious advantage. OK, I have not yet used it, but I will be…
Installing the sim is a breeze, and starts without a hitch, via the quick start icon, installed on the desktop.
When prompted, you connect the lead provided, via a USB connector into a spare port in the computer, then again you are prompted to calibrate the Transmitter with the sim… Al very straight forward I assure you.
So, after selecting auto update option, of which there quite a few, which once selected downloaded quickly and without any drama, I selected the icon, and there we have it, a fabulous screen, with a default field… But I decided to select one of my newly installed UK Helicopter club field, which was an add-on… Excellent. Selected my helicopter form the incredible number available, I selected the Blade MSX plugged in the jack plug to my transmitter, hit OK, and there we have it, my selected helicopter, on the grass of the field as selected form an incredible array of fields, from across the world… Desert, snow, mountain top, or inside a Gym… Actually I selected the latter, mainly because the MSX would really suffer if you flew it outside with a breeze. Ok, there are some examples for exterior flight on Utube, but, I believe the ‘safer’ option is to select the GHYM, this I did.
Throttle up, try and keep to a hover, and fly the square, keeping the tail pointing away from me… A sound impressive does it not? Almost as if know what I am doing, as I selected the throttle, my MSX resembles a trapped wasp on speed up down left and right, you name it, it did it! …. Ooooppps… lots of plastic took to the air, wow glad it was in my simulator!
As if by magic, a nice new hele, appeared just for me to have another go, that I did, almost every evening, a session resulted in me gaining control, not crashing, and starting to execute ‘flying the square’. I know what you are saying, you wait until you fly in the real world, wind, ground effect, the subliminal ‘voice’ saying, ‘’now don’t crash it’’ and we all what happens next!….
This is a micro hele for heaven’s sake, I must get to grips with it! And I think I am getting the ‘feel’. Without doubt, the Phoenix V3 is an incredible tool, to get used to the hele of which there are over XXXX to choose form… Electric of Nitro.
I feel I understand what I should do, and I think flying the hele will not be to daunting, ( famous last words..)
So where to fl;y it… Now that is a conundrum, back garden, to many trees, and there has been a constant breeze, so a micro hele is not designed for this application… I appreciate, all of seasoned hele pilots are either laughing, or saying ‘’what does this guy want??’’ Well, a large area of still air for my inaugural flight…
With this in mind, I decided to visit the local church, which has a great Scout Hut in its grounds, a firm knock on the ample church door a vicar appears, I think I lost him when I said, ‘’I want to learn how to fly a RC Helicopter’’ you could see the glaze appearing across his face, you know, I think I would have got a more favorable response had I said I was selling Double Glazing, Solar Panels and Wind Turbines, and a free years membership to the Witchcraft book of tips, potions and merriment. So, no Scout hut for me……
So my quest continues, found a local Gym, with masses of spare rooms, ideal for my purpose, a friendly word with the manager, and learning by my previous mistake, I took the micro hele with me, so he would not be able to imagine some 600 size nitro whizzing around the newly purchased gymnasium equipment… This did the trick… I now have permission to use one of the rooms, so a phone call to Stuart, date and time sorted, Stuart agreed to ‘set it up’… So a real flight is but a few mins away….
Blade mSR-X.. Unpacking and Flying
The box arrived, with plenty of explanatory pictures on all sides, showing quite a little beauty. I noticed SPEKTRUM logo on the box, which indicated the TX system included in the RTF offering. It has a FLYBARLESS SYSTEM, (whatever that means) but looks impressive. Stuart assured me, this would allow for more accurate responsive flying at my initial few tentative steps towards flying my ideal helicopter.
Although these are my tentative’ first steps, I am really looking forward to get cracking.
Opening the box you can’t help but be impressed with the packaging, all the items inside are held securely in place with polystyrene foam, an excellent job.
Immediately opening the box I noticed a DVD( Repair Videos) a lovely move, let’s hope I do not have to refer to it too many times! Various text instructions, all well worth reading before you take to the sky’s. Spares wise, you get a small screw driver, and a spare tail rotor, with two other connectors, O’ rings, all in self seal plastic bags.
Lifting off the styrene lid, you get your first glimpse of the collection’. My first reaction was how small the helicopter was, I guess it called a ‘micro’ and that it is. BUT it is incredible in terms of technology it has on board, more about that later.
You get a 2.4 TX which I have to say, I am sure will be just fine, but I decided to buy a Spektrum 6i, so I will bind this to my new little micro pack of tech, called the mSR X. Start as you mean to carry on.
You get a DC Li-Po Charger, for the included 1 cell 3.7V 0.3A battery. There is not the facility to plug-in to the mains, despite there is a power supply jack, this can only happen if you have the mains power link, which is not included (shame…At £139.00 I would expected that. Looking on U-Tube the same package in the US comes with a mains charger..Why not in the UK me wonders???)
You get 8 AA sized batteries 4 for the Lipo Battery Charger, ( You could I guess use this as a field charger…But buying a few more LiPo’s and charge then up before flying is my preferred route. The remaining 4 AA batteries are to be used in the TX.
To assist you linking the Li-Po to other chargers there is a small connector included.
Now the Helicopter, it is a real full-on helicopter but in a micro form…Not a ‘toy’ and worth every penny…(try persuading my wife is a tad more difficult!) it is serious piece of technology, beautifully engineered.
Oh boy… To the flying area…..
Battery all charged, and my TX Binded to the mSR-X, where to go for my inaugural flight??
I want a decent area, with no wind at all…. Oh boy was this difficult, I tried our local Sports Centre, Community Centre even a local Church, who has a Boy Scout Hall…. A very polite… ‘’What! Get Lost’’ was the common theme. Not daunted by the wall of negative’s, I called yet another sports centre, and they agree to let me hire a Squash Court! Good enough for me… Booked, Stuart arrived to assist.
All ready, hit the throttle and the little offering went all over the place like a demented flee…. At this point I am sure Stuart was wondering if Stamp Collecting was more my thing, until he took over, and discovered that the settings were all over the place, with a careful section on adjustments, he had it ‘stuck’ in mid-air perfectly hovering….
One quick point here, I am a complete novice, with a passion and great admiration for RC Helicopters, I have the fortune of Stuart, a RC Helicopter professional to offer me advice and assist me getting the Helicopter to a ‘stable’ state. His advice and encouragement has and will continue to invaluable.. My point, if anyone is considering starting in this incredible hobby MUST seek out a club they can get practice advice form. I wonder how many people ‘fried-up’ with enthusiasm who have destroyed so many helicopters, and become totally disheartened, and given up… Many I am sure. Remember, everyone in the club of your choice will have started at the beginning, and made the same mistakes… The advice is free, and everyone irrespective of the skill level has the same passion for RC Helicopters….
Over to me, told to get the helicopter up, out of ground interference, which I did, ‘‘Keep the helo facing in front of you adjustment to the tail to ensure this happens’’ This was ringing in my ears, wow, great I was managing this, ‘’hell this is easy’’ I thought, up to the point I flew into the wall, several times. OOPS… Not so easy…
Right, a quick wash with cold water, I tried again, again again again and again… I am now flying it in the house, concentrating on the hover, facing away from me, and trying to track a square, keeping the tail towards me… I LOVE IT…. As Stuart told me, ‘’RC Helicopter flying is addictive’’ I now fully understand what he means…. Oh yes and another piece of wisdom Keep the Credit Card Hidden, forget your Pin Number for the Debit Card… I have tried, but I can still remember all of them!!…. Must look into a second mortgage….. More later.
Still married and got a roof over my head, mind you I have not bought anything really expensive….Yet!
So, the flying continues, I can hover keep the ‘pesky’ tail facing towards me while flying that ‘square-ish’ pattern.. I am now ready for a more adventurous task, like landing in a controlled way on some furniture.
As one Star Trek Captain said, ‘’Make it so’’ so with the family out, I decided the lounge once more became my micro helicopter playground. Throttle up, into the hover, right that table looks like a suitable landing platform, with some careful maneuvering, I landed the hele where I had planned to. Flushed with my success I decided to go around and do it again. Now this is when things went slightly off plan.
Off the table, I decided to traverse to the right of some flowers…..Enter dog, in its eyes, seeing a massive ‘wasp’ like creature flying around it decided to bark like it had never barked before! So ever so carefully I lost my rag! And shouted at the thing to stop it…. In that ‘nano-seconds’ of conversation with the dog my little MSR X flew into the flowers, the result, they and the glass varse they stood in, you know, the one, been in the family for years, a present form the mother in law, all fell to the ground and resulted in flowers, water and broken glass everywhere…. BUT let’s get our priorities right, I did land my hele before all hell broke loose, trying to mop-up the water, and see it was at possible to repaired the glass varse, eeerm no…
On my wife’s return, I had practiced the groveling apology, when confronted with the mess, I did the honorable thing and blamed the dog!… Oh boy, did the dog get into BIG trouble..No treats for month… You know, every time the dog looks at me, I swear it is saying ‘’ you think you got away with it..? You wait my friend…’’
The upside, my little MSR X works beautifully, it really is a very robust little machine. Oh, yes I must say I did buy 10 more batteries, the one you get with the hele is woefully inadequate.
I still have a long way to go but I am having great fun, and a burning desire to improve.. I guess that is what all is about, oh yes and having a considerate wife, and bank manager (one of the same in my house!!!) as the helicopters get bigger—in time. Onwards and upwards!
Oh yes as a foot note, I was interested to see Stuarts new helicopter, so in a local field, and subzero conditions, there he and it was…. Oh boy, my little helicopter would fit inside the fuel tank! Started it up, did the checks, hovered a little, and then commenced to do some ‘crazy’ maneuvers to coin a phrase mindboggling…’’ It cannot be done’’, but it was.. Now that is real 3D flying… I could have got very depressed, but no, I know how far I have to go, and I am getting fantastic support by Stuart on my quest.
You know, I guess this is another important reason to join a club…It really is too easy to look at the professional with decades of experience and forget they had to learn in the same way as I am.
Printed on the box of my hele when it arrived was ‘ready to fly’ on taking it out, no it was not, it took Stuart a couple of mins to balance-adjust for accurate and stable flight. Had it been left to me, I would have crashed it more times than not, and quite probably, disheartened, it could have ended on ebay…
I do not know why or how, but my transmitter ariel broke on my new Spektrum DX6i, so on speaking to Horizon, and really great chap called Gary, said ‘’send it back let’s have a look at for you’’… I don’t know if it will cost anything, but they were very knowledgeable and really friendly to talk to, I guess it is due to the ‘hobby’ element. Had it been one of the large electrical retailers, the customer service I am certain would be TOTTALLY different… You know the score, ‘’’ooo that is not our responsibility, it’s the manufacturers…’’ Oops, sorry I am off on a rant… It is just I have just a horrible experience with a certain large store, which I had to point out the Consumer Goods Act, before they would even started to except any responsibility… Bla bla… Back to the hele, I am now going to fly my hele, NOT near any varse or flowers I hasten to say!!!
Stuart and I have decided to hire half a very large sports hall, ok for us, but opening it to other electric flyers, if it becomes popular, we will book it across the year, and expand to entire hall… More about this later…
Well, let’s get flying again… With a Sports Centre hall hired, this will provide me with a superb still environment to fly my helicopters without the rigors of the occasional breeze…
Couple of guys turned up with micro 3D helicopters, being flown superbly well… Me, well I had my trusty Blade MSR and the Blade 120MSX. Right of the box, got the MSR into the air, trying to fly the ‘box’ again, had some success. Stuart at this stage said I ought to get the larger 120MSR into the air, so, battery in, selected the hele on the Spektrum D6i waited to hear the ‘beep’ of the pairing signal, and ready for action.
I have to say I was a little hesitant, as this a lager helicopter, so I was not too sure what to expect, I guess I hoping that the bigger offering would be more stable… Throttled up, into the hover, Stuart was right! This was a great little helicopter, more power and a lot more stable. Flying the ‘square’ was, as far as I was concerned slightly easier due to additional mass, and therefore stability.
I got lots of ‘square’ practice, and another maneuver I practiced was tail towards, then, flick it around to nose towards, I appreciate to all you seasoned hele pilots, this seems, well so basic it is ridiculous, I would tend to agree with the basic part, because it is! I am a firm believer of getting the basics right first, so in theory it will take out the ‘surprise’ element, well actually negate the surprise element, in this hobby the fear of the unexpected is I guess part of the thrill of defying gravity by the models we fly… (Hope I am not going offend some pilots by the term models, But you get my meaning..)
With use of my Pheonix V4 simulator, I can and do, use it very often, and I can assure you, it has paid for its self of that I am certain, due to saved helicopters. One key area for me has been the nose orientation flight, ie, traverse form tail to nose, and retain control!!
In reality, I found this no real problem at all.. I mention V4, I had V3 installed on my computer, BUT as I sure you are aware, you are allowed dot upgrade free of charge to subsequent upgrades online, excellent! In this new version I opted for the 3D secrecy option, not quite sure if I was that impressed… It worked well, but I did not get the 3D scenery.. Am I missing something? Is it dedicated to 3D flying, and not emulates 3D scenery?? Oh well, the flying is still brill. I guess if it emulates 3D then you need 3D drivers, etc…. Move on…
With the same sports hall booked we look forward to another evening session…
I As a foot note, I was invited to the local flying field as Stuart was flying his nitro 600, and an electric offering.. Both handled to perfection… Especially impressive, an auto rotation form a good few hundreds of feet… We were all in awe at the controlled decent, as the final flare brought the hele to a perfect stop, we realised the motor had stopped… Hay-ho start again, and up it went. Well that is after Stuart refilled the hele, enquiring of the cost f the nitro fuel, £18 per gal…WOW a tad on the expensive side me thinks.. I guess isn’t everything in this crazy lovely incredible hobby?
Another chap on the field after the ‘effects of the night before’ said ‘’I will have a go’’, his electric helicopter did some incredible maneuvers, he landed it, and said ‘‘no that was really rusty, I need a few minutes sleep to recover’’ wow, even feeling like this he did some incredible maneuvers!!! Have I got a long way to go, but you know, I am on the road, I know the place I need and want to be, I just want to keep in the current direction, and just gather pace….
Another indoor session in a few weeks and really looking forward to it…
Well, hired the hall in question, had a really great time, but it seems the rest of the club, does not share my enthusiasm (Or Stuarts) because we got a couple of guys turn up when we hired the hall, and they flew with an experts skill, micro but 3D, very impressive, on the first session. Despite the hall being booked, and plenty of reminders, no one turned up, except Stuart and me, so this was the death knoll of the hall, it was expensive, some £40.00 for a couple of hours, so we would have had to have some donations… Maybe that was it… Hew Ho…
BUT I have to say, people tend to want to turn out on a weekend, and enjoy the fresh air, so I guess this was it. Back to my living room, garage, and the garden when there is zero wind.
I have to say, I have been using the Phoenix Flight Simulator, and trying to perfect some controlled flights, boy am I glad, when you crash the helo, as if by magic ( And NO cash to repair it!) there it is, all ready to go again… Oh wouldn’t it be nice if that happened in real life… Perhaps, this tale will bring back some tales of wow, a certain person, took his £1,000 helo out by the coast, and well, not to put a finer point on it, crashed it… Sorry Stu. But why do I mention this, wallet cringing moment? It can happen to the best of us, one moment lapse, and your pride and joy, is making a break for Australia!
For me ‘taming the beast’ is the challenge, these aircraft we all love, can bit back so quickly… Love it. At least my micros, the worst I can do if making contact with terra- firma is my pride. But my sights are now set on a 500, so the ball game now changes!