Chapter 1: Getting into RC Fixed Wing
I want to capture some thoughts on starting in the hobby. I have trained students with various levels of backgrounds, commitments, and with very different attitudes about training. And working with these students has taught me a lot.
In general, you get what you put into the hobby. If you invest enough initially to get through the learning curve, you have a life time of fun. Some people get dejected by challenged beginnings and give up. I was there a couple of times in my first year.. but keep at it, you will get some great rewards from this hobby.
Equipment and software spend:
You generally get what you pay for in the RC world. A good simulator program, a good radio (if you are committed to the hobby) and a simple sturdy 4 channel trainer are an absolute must to progress in a predictable manner. And yes, it will likely cost you about 200 to 300 dollars all in, to get started correctly in the RC fixed wing hobby - assuming you don't want to keep buying equipment, starting with the cheap. This amount can be reduced by half if your club has free trainers.
You can of course start with even less, but my bet is that you will eventually end up spending a lot more in your first year to get to a good sim program, a good radio, and a sturdy simple trainer (with caveat on the trainer above).. Pay now, or pay more as you go - your choice. To reduce costs - attend auctions, pick up a compatible radio and trainer for cheap. Find an older version of RC Sims - either Phoenix or RealFlight on eBay for a fraction of the cost. But buy products that will serve you well - your club can help you!
Simple recommendations: Get Phoenix or Realflight for sim, a Spectrum DX6 (latest generation, and no alphabets after the 6), and a trainer. More on picking the trainer below.
The sim is really crucial - if you read interviews with the top RC pilots, they all talk about spending time on sim. The two most popular ones are Phoenix and RealFlight. I own both. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Pick one.
When I was new, I spent time just picking sites and planes on the sim, and just flying around. Was cool but achieved little.
To really get the most of out of sim, you need to replicate real life as much as possible. Pick a top wing trainer. And this is the most crucial part. Pick a site that has various landmarks on the horizon that can help you stay oriented as you fly on the sim.
On the Phoenix, my most favorite site is the Moscow RC Club. It has a number of landmarks around the site and horizon, and it is very easy to keep your bearings. In RealFlight, there is pylon racing site in the desert (reminds me of the American southwest).
Next, you have to practice doing loops around the sim field in a fixed pattern - left to right, right to left, taking off, landing, etc. It is easy to fly around randomly - it takes discipline and hard work to fly a pattern correctly around the field in the sim - as it does in real life. Boring as it may seem, keep at this. And the landmarks you have help you stay oriented. Keep a zoom level on the view which allows you to see the ground - this also helps a lot with orientation. Once you do the basics well - especially switching control directions when plane is flying towards you vs. away from you, things will start to fall in place. Now, turn on the wind in your sim. In both sims, i found that i had to turn up the wind to average about 15 mph and gust up to 20 mph to make my flights challenging and reflect what i felt with 10 mph winds in the real world. Practice turns, take offs, landings, with these winds in the sim, and it will really help you for real life. Be sure to keep changing the wind direction, also the direction for your take off and landings, so you get a good feel for the effects.
With either your club's trainer or your own, spend as much time as you can get flying similar patterns in real life. I love the wireless trainer capability the Spectrum radios have, and I keep a pair to train students. Corded trainer connections work very well too, you just have a wire to stay connected.
In general, three simple things i recommend:
1. In your initial weeks and months, maintain a log of your real life flights - date, field, weather, number of flights, what you focused on, any hiccups, equipment issues, etc. Each entry does not mean much but once you accumulate a couple months of logs, you will be surprised at the insight you can get about the type of issues you have, when you have them, recurring themes, etc. One simple example - I found most of my crashes in the first year occurred between 7 am and 9 am in the morning at a particular field. In hindsight - this is the worst position wrt the sun to fly (sun is directly in your eyes and very low) and this field has early morning gusts. Both were simply avoided by flying later in the day until my skill set was at point where i was not affected much by the early morning gust.
I still maintain a detailed log in excel about all my flights.
2. Be true to sim time and field time balance. I have seen students that have flown real planes (like commercial planes) who feel it is beneath them to do the sim. One of these students has crashed about 20 planes in 6 months but he keeps buying planes that are well outside his skill set. He has easily correctable skill gaps for RC but refuses to train for them on the sim. I ask him about sim time, and he always comes up with reasons why its hard.
In the first several months, i recommend equal time on sim and in the field. If you do this, you will find that your skills improve by leaps and bounds with every trip to the real field. By the 4th field visit, i was ready to practice landings because of my discipline.
3. Stay with a single good trainer - don't buy different planes hoping you will fly one better than the other. What you need initially is more quantity and less variety. Because i was determined to progress quickly, I started with a pair of Apprentice 15e. Then kept some spares of the common parts. Kept at it until i was certified solo (two months after i started) and felt comfortable to switch to other planes. I can still do amazing stunts with the Apprentice - at least in your first year, your primary constraint is likely your skill and not the plane - as long as it is well built.