Chapter 2: Progressing to Solo

Assuming you are following the steps I recommended in my previous article (Chapter 1) , it is easy to get your wings. But you will need to focus.

The instructor:

Most clubs i have been to - occasionally struggle with matching instructors to students. This is after all a volunteered service in a hobby - and demand peaks in the spring and summer.

My advice: Be polite and persistent, and don't hesitate to call your designated instructor about scheduling time if they are open to receiving calls. At the field, don't wait for an instructor to come to you. Ask a designated instructor when they can fly with you.

Your sessions:

 It is critical to have a specific goal for every session, and a clear definition of success, especially after your first few sessions of general orientation, field rules, flight rules, etc. Practicing loops, practicing turns without changing altitude, practicing coordinated turns, turning into wind, turning away from wind, dealing with cross wind, approaches, landings, etc. I have seen students train for several months and make modest progress, and others who have solo-ed in two to three months with focused and goaled sessions.  Look at the AMA Pilot Training Manual for a clear recipe for goal-based learning sessions.

Flying the trainer:

You may hear some strong ideas from people who say - turn with ailerons only, or turn with rudder only, use expo, reduce the servo throw, etc. etc.

In general, trainers are by definition easy to fly. You should add a little expo (20% to 25%) to all surfaces to smoothen out flight but by all means, use all control surfaces to fly. In fact, the technically correct turn uses both ailerons and rudder to achieve what is called as a coordinated turn.

I recommend electric to keep things simple at least initially - but we can ofcourse train you on gas if electric is not an option. After my first year which has seen about 30 planes in electric (from trainer to full up 3D), I ventured into gas and its a whole new learning curve.

Keep an eye on the basics and you will be fine. Have a really good charger or two at home, 4 to 6 quality batts (avoid cheap stuff), know what a safe flight time is, keep a buffer, and program the time into a timer (radio or external) and stick to it. Monitor battery voltage before and after. Thats all there is to it.

Above all, as I indicated in Chapter 1 - maintain a great balance between sim time and field time.  A good rule of thumb for the first year is as much sim time as field time, never less than that.  Dont get lazy with sim time - you will earn progress significantly faster between your field sessions and you will solo quickly.

Optional and highly recommended: ultra micros in your yard

One of the reasons I progressed so quickly is that I likely get more practice in a month than most people get in 6 months. In addition to sim time and field time which I do as I can, I fly ultra micro planes at home almost every day. I have a Pitts S-1S biplane, a P47, and a Champ plus (4 channel, with AS3X). All have been hardened to take abuse and I fly one plane for 3 to 4 flights every single day at home. I initially did it to train but now I mostly do it to exercise my high-energy yellow lab named Teddy. He loves to chase these planes in my front yard and gets great exercise with 3 to 4 batts. 

Sanjeev Joshi