Mastering the art of flying an RC helicopter takes practice, but the journey is absolutely enjoyable! Flying RC helicopters is an age-old hobby, not just for kids, but also for adults too!
In this article, we’ll guide you through setting up your remote-control helicopter for the first time, introduce beginner exercises, and even get you started with some challenging moves.
What are Remote Control Helicopters?
RC helicopters, also known as radio-controlled or remote-controlled helicopters, are miniature toy helicopters that can be operated from a distance using a remote control. They come in different sizes, offering users the unique experience of flying a helicopter without the need to learn how to fly a real one. Controls for both are quite similar.
Increasingly popular among hobbyists and enthusiasts, RC helicopters are popular due to their ease of use, affordability, and of course, for the fun it provides! They allow users to explore different aerial maneuvers, such as hovering and rolling over obstacles, especially for those who are very interested in flying and piloting. Also, they can be used for recreational purposes like racing or performing stunts in open areas.
This article guides you on flying a remote-controlled helicopter – a simple yet comprehensive introduction for beginners and a refresher for more seasoned users. But before we dive in, let’s remember two crucial safety points:
- Always use a fully charged battery for each session.
- Never fly your helicopter around people, pets, or other animals.
Ensuring safety prevents harm to others and animals and keeps your new model intact. Launching helicopters is easy – the challenge lies in mastering complete control. These little crafts are more delicate than RC planes, so patience and persistence will go a long way. As you become adept at piloting helicopters (and you will if you want to!) the rewards are phenomenal.
How to Get Started with Flying RC Helicopters
Are you about to try embarking on the exciting journey of flying remote-controlled helicopters? Before you soar to new heights, remember not to run before you can walk – as the saying goes. Over-enthusiasm, like trying to run before mastering the basics, can lead to less-than-ideal outcomes.
While you’re eager to fly, it’s important to not be impatient. Think about it: you wouldn’t want to ride in a real helicopter with an overexcited, inexperienced pilot, right? So, pace yourself and focus on mastering one skill at a time. Consider it a challenge, an enjoyable one at that. Learning becomes more manageable when you understand the nuances of your craft.
Create a plan or training schedule to ensure a structured and successful learning journey. Treat it like a checklist – don’t rush to the next phase until you’ve mastered the current skill. Familiarize yourself with your craft’s maximum battery life (flight time) and recharge times, typically ranging from five to ten minutes. For uninterrupted training, consider investing in spare batteries. Remember to allow a few minutes for the motor to cool down between battery swaps.
Familiarize Yourself with Your Transmitter
Your radio transmitter is your ticket to piloting your remote-controlled helicopter, giving you precision and control. While all transmitters share common functions, the designs and layouts can vary between models. Be acquainted with your specific transmitter to make it feel like a natural extension of your hands.
Regardless of whether you’re using a toy-grade or hobby-grade transmitter, they all feature the following flight controls:
- Throttle: Controls the helicopter’s height.
- Trim: Controls left/right lateral movements.
- Rudder: Controls forward/backward movements.
The number of channels on a transmitter determines the availability of extra controls. Start with an RC transmitter equipped with 2-3 channels for beginners. While additional channels provide more directional options, they can be overwhelming for beginners. If you want, you can always explore transmitters with more channels as you gain experience.
Be Mindful when Choosing an RC Helicopter
For starters, go for something affordable, perhaps even toy-grade. Why? Every beginner goes through the bumps and bruises of learning, and you won’t hold a cheap toy copter as dearly as a fancy, pricey, hobby-grade model. Starting with an inexpensive option allows you to practice with confidence, free from the worry of dings, scratches, or broken parts. While toy choppers might not have the same wow factor as their hobby-grade counterparts, they share the fundamental flying principles – and that’s what matters, right?
These are some factors to consider when choosing an RC helicopter:
- Skill Level: Assess your experience with RC helicopters. Beginners should opt for easy-to-fly models like coaxial or fixed pitch. Some variable-pitched models with a safe mode are also ideal. Meanwhile, experienced flyers may explore models with advanced features such as collective pitch or aerobatic design.
- Size: RC helicopters come in various sizes, from micro models to professional-grade ones. Consider where you plan to fly – indoors or outdoors – and choose a size accordingly.
- Type of Flying: Determine your flying goals. Acrobatic maneuvers call for advanced features like collective pitch and a good flybarless (with multi-axis gyros on the main rotor head) unit. If you aim for aerial photography or videography, look into models with camera mounts.
- Budget: Prices vary, so stick to your budget and look for a model with desired features. Consider size, battery, charger, and controller when buying outside of an RTF bundle.
- Brand Reputation: Opt for reputable brands with a history of producing quality RC helicopters. Read reviews and seek feedback from other users. Joining a local club can offer valuable insights into preferred models.
- Parts Availability: Check if replacement parts for your chosen model are easily accessible. Ensure there are no significant issues requiring frequent replacements. Local clubs can guide you on which models are best supported in your area.
Know the Types of RC Helicopter
RC helicopters captivate hobbyists worldwide, but with an array of options available, choosing the right one can be daunting. Understanding their features and benefits will empower you to make an informed choice when buying an RC helicopter.
Types of RC Helicopters:
Coaxial RC Helicopters
Coaxial rotors, with two sets of main rotors spinning in opposite directions, offer increased stability. This is why it’s ideal for beginners. Although they may be less agile, the learning curve is smoother compared to single-rotor helicopters.
The term “coaxial” means it has two sets of main rotors, one above the other, rotating in opposite directions. It enables the helicopter to cancel out reactive torque and eliminate the need for a tail rotor. This design choice makes coaxial helicopters inherently stable, and offers a gentle learning curve.
Single Rotor RC Helicopters
With one main rotor and a tail rotor, single-rotor helicopters are more maneuverable and suitable for intermediate to advanced pilots. While these helicopters may be visually appealing, they are traditionally more challenging to master.
Collective Pitch RC Helicopters
These helicopters have a rotor that changes pitch while spinning, allowing for precise control and advanced maneuvers. This is better suited for experienced pilots.
Equipped with four rotors arranged in a square pattern, quadcopters are stable, easy to control, and popular among beginners.
In addition to these main types, hybrid models combine features from different types of RC helicopters. For instance, some models incorporate both coaxial and single-rotor systems, providing a balance of stability and maneuverability.
Get the Right Gear and Accessories
To ensure a smooth takeoff, you’ll need the right gear and accessories for the job. From simulator software to transmitter-receiver systems and more, there’s a checklist of essentials to consider when embarking on this hobby.
Essential Gear and Accessories:
- RC Helicopter: At the heart of your endeavor, choose a model aligned with your skill level and intended use.
- Transmitter: This remote control is your command center for operating the RC helicopter. Look for compatibility with your model and the necessary features.
- Batteries: Power is key. Ensure you have an ample supply of batteries for both the helicopter and the transmitter. Consider investing in rechargeable batteries and a charger for sustainability.
- Spare Parts: RC helicopters, being delicate, might need occasional repairs or part replacements. Stock up on spare parts like blades, gears, and motors to be prepared for accidents or wear and tear.
- Tools: Basic tools are a must for repairs or maintenance. Keep screwdrivers, pliers, and hex wrenches on hand.
- Simulator: Practice makes perfect. Use a simulator to hone your flying skills before taking your RC helicopter for a real spin. This can help prevent potential crashes and minimize need for repair.
- Field Equipment: If you want to fly the helicopter outdoors, bring a protective mat and other equipment to ensure safe and stable takeoffs and landings.
Be Careful When Flying a Helicopter
No pilot wants to see their RC helicopter take a nosedive, especially beginners who might experience it more often. A single misstep, a hasty decision, or any unforeseen event can throw you off course. While you can’t make your model indestructible, adding an extra layer of protection is within your control.
Consider RC helicopter training gear in carbon fiber, wood, or fiberglass materials. This gear enhances balance, reducing the risk of crashes and collisions. It also shields rotor blades and other parts in case of an accidental encounter with obstacles. Here are seven common-sense measures to further protect your RC chopper:
- Avoid flying in winds above 15 mph.
- Steer clear of flying in the rain.
- Use Coaxial Rotors for added stability.
- Choose a safe flying location.
- Regularly maintain your RC helicopter.
- Fly close and low as you hone your skills.
- Stay attuned to sound it makes; any changes may indicate a problem.
Fly Your Helicopter on Ideal Spots
For beginners in the realm of RC helicopters, consider practicing in an indoor space. Lightweight toy-grade models are ideal for indoor flying, whether in an enclosed patio or a spacious garage. Indoors, you benefit from minimal distractions and weather interference, allowing controlled takeoffs and landings on smooth surfaces to boost confidence.
Master the Basics
Improvement comes with time and practice, so don’t rush the process—patience is key. Progress naturally through baby steps, starting low and close to developing proficiency. Initially, resist the urge to fly far and high. As a rough guide, maintain a height around the 3-foot mark (1m) and a distance of approximately 6 feet (2m) from the craft. Understand your max flight time to avoid unexpected power loss. Start with these fundamental maneuvers:
- Lifting off
- Flying in a straight line
- Liftoff, turning right for a full circle, then landing
- Liftoff, turning left for a full circle, then landing
- Practicing figure-eight hover routines
For RC helicopters with more than three channels, additional maneuvers like changing nose direction, translational lifts, and more complex moves are possible, depending on the model’s capabilities and transmitter.
Though RC helicopter models vary in operation, here’s a general idea of how to fly an RC helicopter:
1. Familiarize yourself with the radio transmitter
Play with the radio transmitter, a crucial component for controlling your helicopter. Confirm that all sticks move the control surfaces correctly. For instance, when giving a forward cyclic command, make sure the swashplate tilts forwards, not sideways or backward.
Tilt sticks left and right to check corresponding swashplate responses. Increase the throttle stick to observe engine speed and collective pitch changes. Then, test right and left tail rotor commands. Note the pitch adjustments for directional thrust.
2. Check the center of gravity (CG)
Verify the helicopter’s CG by holding it at the rotor blade midpoint. Tilt the blades, and if the CG is top-heavy, the tail boom will rotate upwards; if bottom-heavy, the nose will rise. A perfect CG is when the body aligns perpendicular to the rotor blades.
Alternatively, hold the helicopter by the fly bar (if equipped) and observe for any permanent tilt. Adjust the battery pack position if the CG is off, ensuring it’s halfway between. Regularly check CG for gas-powered helicopters because of fuel fluctuations.
3. Secure rotor blades
Properly tighten the main and tail rotor blades using the single bolt and lock nut. Ensure they are secure but not overly compressed. Hold the helicopter perpendicular to the ground and check that the blades don’t pivot downward due to gravity.
Larger helicopters may need more secure blades, especially sizes exceeding 750mm. Adjust the tightness of the bolt using a wrench based on the size of the helicopter.
4. Power up your helicopter
Slowly apply power to your helicopter, initiating what’s known as a “spool.” Ensure a gradual throttle increase to prevent tilting or damage. Monitor the helicopter for shifts during spooling and listen for a consistent engine sound. Avoid adding cyclic trim when the helicopter is on the ground to prevent unintended movement.
5. Adjust tracking of the blades
Check and adjust the tracking of your rotor blades to ensure even angles. Mark each blade’s tip with colored tape, then observe the overlap when the helicopter is slightly lifted. If the tracking is off, adjust the height of the blades using the ball link, and repeat the process until the colors overlap.
6. Adjust the cyclic trim adjustment
Position your helicopter in the middle of the flying field, considering wind direction. Start the helicopter, and if it begins to drift, lower the throttle. Apply cyclic trim based on the helicopter’s leaning direction, especially with clockwise spinning rotor blades.
7. Get familiar with the helicopter’s controls
Hover your helicopter at the starting position, gradually increasing the throttle forward and backward. Move the helicopter left and right, ensuring it stays close to the ground and always faces forward and towards the wind.
8. Lift off the ground.
Turn on your helicopter, stabilize it over the reference point, and slowly increase the collective power. Lift the helicopter about 3 inches above the ground, then practice incremental hovering at various heights. Introduce directional controls gradually, stabilizing the copter after each movement. Experiment with left, right, and diagonal controls, always prioritizing stability and control.
Perform maintenance checks
Ensuring your RC helicopter’s well-being extends its life and minimizes accident risks. The user manual included in your model kit typically indicates essential maintenance checks. Before each flight, verify the tightness of the rotors and master the art of adjusting blade tracking. Here’s a checklist of routine pre-flight checks to make your copter soar smoothly:
- Inspect all flight-critical nuts and bolts before takeoff. Vibrations can cause them to loosen.
- Ensure all links are secure so you won’t experience unwanted wiggles.
- Examine wiring for looseness, breaks, or cuts.
- Verify radio functions. Include a range check to identify potential interference.
- Double-check trims. Confirm they haven’t shifted out of position.
- Assess tail belt tension if applicable to your model.
- Ensure the receiver, helicopter, and radio batteries are fully charged.
Different models may have unique checks, so familiarize yourself with your craft and adopt the habit of performing pre-flight checks as part of your routine. Keep your copter in tip-top shape for many smooth flights ahead!
Learn some advanced techniques
Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to learn some more challenging helicopter moves. Here are some maneuvers you can try:
Figure eight hover routine
Start in an open area with a soft surface, like a grassy field, to perform a figure-eight hover routine. Gradually elevate your helicopter using collective power, reaching a stable three-foot position. Move the helicopter diagonally forward and to the right, creating a clockwise circle. Master both left and right circles separately before seamlessly combining them into a figure-eight motion.
Changing the nose direction of your helicopter
Change the nose direction of your helicopter by hovering three feet above the ground. Perform a clockwise rightward bound circle, but use directional controls to change the nose position. Master smoothly transitioning the nose direction, allowing your helicopter to flow naturally without constant stabilization.
Counterclockwise circle movement
Move both the helicopter and your body to execute a counterclockwise circle. Start your helicopter, raise it three feet above the ground, and face it toward the wind. Move the helicopter leftward, ensuring a consistent distance from your body throughout the circle. Coordinate your body movement with the aircraft, completing the circle before progressing to a clockwise circle.
Enhancing Translational Lift Abilities
Understand the basics of translational lift, harnessing the extra lift from moving air to elevate your helicopter’s performance. Research wind direction and speed, focusing on speeds between 15-35 mph for optimal lift. Elevate your helicopter to around 10 feet off the ground and, with gradual turns and directional shifts, utilize the wind to reach heights of 25-50 feet. Exercise caution during descent, initially employing circular motions before transitioning to a smoother descent over time.
Embarking on the journey of flying a remote-controlled helicopter can be a thrilling adventure. Achieving a pro-level skill set requires dedication, practice, and the right guidance. This guide is your go-to resource, offering tips and techniques to elevate your RC helicopter flying skills from novice to advanced.