Helicopter guide

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Getting started in the RC helicopter hobby can be a very frustrating. As the variety of options available and the skill level required to even begin hovering makes for a steep learning curve, and an overwhelming introduction. However, learning to fly and maintain RC helicopters can be an extremely rewarding experience.

Words of caution

  1. Take it slow! RC helicopters are not a hobby which can be jumped into overnight. Selecting your helicopter is only the beginning of your learning experience, so expect to invest a lot of time, patience, and (probably) money—especially when first starting out.
  2. Consider starting with a "toy". There are a number of small coaxial helicopters that can be flown around the house (e.g., the Blade mCX, Blade Scout CX and Syma S107). These are much easier to fly than normal, single rotor helicopters, and their light weight means they are fairly crash-resistant. This will allow you to develop your initial skills more quickly with fewer frustrations. They will not go faster than walking pace, and go back into a hover when you release the cyclic stick.
  3. These are not "toys"! Despite #2, while anything that you own purely for fun is a "toy", these "toys" shouldn't be taken lightly. Serious injury to yourself, others, or property is a very real risk at all times! Inattention, negligence, or a cavalier approach are not acceptable in this hobby. The tip speed of rotor blades on collective pitch helicopters can exceed 200 MPH, and even small coaxial and fixed-pitch helicopters are more than capable of drawing blood. Maintain vigilance, and a safe flying distance from all people, pets, and property, at all times.
  4. You are going to crash. No matter how carefully you procedure, eventually you're going to crash. It happens to everyone—even the professionals—so don't let crashing ruin the hobby for you. It's an important part of the learning experience, and although you'll be frustrated, pick yourself (and your helicopter) up, get it fixed, and get back flying!
  5. Stay positive! RC helicopters make for an extremely frustrating hobby at times, and everyone learns at a different pace. Some people are able to hover within a few hours of trying to fly their first helicopter. Others may take several weeks. Take the practice at your own pace. Don't get rushed. Hovering training is boring, and you'll likely wish you could just start flying, but starting slowly will reduce frustration, and keep crash-related costs and maintenance to a minimum—which makes for a much less frustrating experience in the long term.
  6. Get a simulator. The simulator is a zero-risk, zero-cost environment where crashes are free and nobody gets hurt. A simulator will allow you to hone your piloting skills with less frustration, and in less time. It will pay itself off a thousand times. Do your research before buying a simulator. Some come with their own controller (RealFlight, for example), while others require adapter cords and run off your regular helicopter transmitter. Here are some links to good simulators (in no particular order):

Meet the helicopter pilots at your local field

There is no better resource than a local experienced pilot. A local mentor will help you get your helicopter setup the right way and also be able to give you flying lessons. Also see if they can recommend a good first helicopter or a local pilot may be selling a helicopter for a good price.

If you have no local contacts dig into the internet and research, research, research!

Choosing your helicopter

The process of choosing and purchasing your first helicopter is involved one, so take the time to do the research. There are a number of common options, in increasing cost/size order:

Two-channel toy helicopters

The PicooZ helicopter

A two-channel toy like the PicooZ or one of its clones provides instant gratification at low cost (in the range of $20-$40 USD); however, the skill ceiling is limited. They drift forward slowly while you control the height via the throttle and direction via the tail rotor. As these toys lack gyroscopic tail control; hovering and forward flight can actually be difficult, if not impossible. Ideally, it can be flown in a clockwise circle if properly trimmed. These are good office toys or presents for younger children.

Three-channel coaxial toys

A three channel coaxial toy like the Micro Mosquito, Blade Runner, or Blade Scout CX. These have coaxial rotors for stability and yaw control and pitch the heli forward and back with a horizontal tail fan or swashplate. They are more controllable than the two channel helis but still provide limited control. They make good toys for older children and smaller rooms (they can be flown through a doorway).

E-flite Blade mCX

Four-channel coaxial helicopters

A coaxial helicopter like the Blade mCX, Blade mCX2, or Lama are the next step above the three-channel coaxials, adding a fourth channel for roll control. Most pilots will aclimate to the four-channel coaxials very rapidly. They are very stable due to the coaxial self-centering characteristics, and can fly backwards and sideways. The limited forward speed makes them intolerant of wind, so can be difficult to control even with light breezes outdoors. These ultra-micro coaxial helicopter are more durable than their larger cousins (like the Blade CX) due to their lower mass and rotational inertias. These helicopters offer the best balance between required ability, durability, and skill ceiling for beginner pilots looking to eventually move to collective pitch helicopters.

Blade mSR

Flybar fixed-pitch helicopters

An ultra micro self-stabilizing fixed pitch helicopter such as the Blade mSR or Blade 120 SR. These are distinguished by the 45° angle of the flybar relative to the rotor blades. These helicopters have much higher forward speed compared to coaxial helicopters, so they can be flown outdoors in light winds and are more enjoyable in larger spaces. They are nearly as durable as the coaxial helicopters. Self-stabilizing fixed-pitch coaxial helicopters are both a good next-step from coaxial and an excellent first helicopter; however, the 45° flybar tends to cause strange behaviour in fast forward flight and the self-stabilizing tendencies will require unlearning when moving to a collective pitch helicopter.

Flybarless fixed-pitch helicopters

An ultra-micro flybarless helicopter like the Blade mSR X sits between the 45° self-stabilizing fixed-pitch and the ultra-micro collective pitch helicopters (like the Blade mCP X) for flying stability, but is more durable than both due to its simpler mechanics, as stabilization is handled by electronic sensors rather than a flybar. The mSR X is reasonably competent in light wind, and the lack of the 45° flybar makes it excellent in fast forward flight and maneuvers. It is an excellent trainer for the ultra-micro sized CP helicopters, but may be too much to handle for beginners due to its tendency to move very rapidly out of control, and lack of self-stabilizing.

Multiplex Funcopter

Multiplex Funcopter

An outdoor, fixed pitch helicopter. There's only one available, the Multiplex Funcopter. This design is based on the old LMH Corona that was the standard beginner's helicopter for many years. It's large enough to fly from grass and handle moderate wind, while the low head speed and tough plastic parts make it much tougher than any CP heli. It can't fly inverted but it can go quite fast and will loop and roll (although rolls are rather messy). It has a 'proper' 90 degree flybar, and thus is not self-stabilising, but it's extra size and weight makes it easier to fly than the HoneyBeeFP. Again, when you can handle this, moving on to a CP is straightforward.

Align T-Rex 600e

Align T-Rex 600e

A larger helicopter. All the advantages of a 450 sized helicopter improve with increased size—it flies more smoothly, is more stable and will cope with more wind. However the cost increases rapidly and for electric helicopters the batteries can be extremely expensive. This is a good choice for older pilots, who don't have the reflexes for a smaller machine.

Helicopter sizing

Helicopter sizes are often quoted as a number: 16, 90, 300, 325, 450, etc. Unfortunately these numbers are all measuring different things so it can be difficult to determine exactly what the sizes indicate.

  • Glow helicopters are usually measured by the size the motor they are designed for. A small helicopter might take a 0.30cu motor, a large one a 0.90cu motor. This is normally shortened to 30 or 90.
  • Older electric helis were often designed to use a certain number of C sized cells. The newer designs from the same people have sometimes kept the same numbers (e.g. Swift16, Logo 10, 16, 20, 24)
  • Small electric helis are often designed around a particular cheap brushed motor. These motors were called 300,400,500 and 600 based loosely of the length of the motor can in tenths of a mm. Each size had roughly twice the power of the previous size. Then there are upgraded versions of these motors, where the numbers were made up to fit the series according to the power of the motor (such as 350 and 450). Naturally the helis based on these motors were named after the motors. These days only cheap 300 sized helis would use a brushed motor, and even those are often upgraded.
  • Rotor blade length in mm is now a common way to compare larger helicopters, although there is often a range of blade lengths that be used, and 'stretch kits' that lengthen the boom to allow even longer blades on the same helicopter.

Some comparisons

  • The TRex 250 uses 205mm blades and weighs about 340g
  • HoneyBee FP or CP uses 300 sized brushed motor and 250mm blades.
  • The TRex 450 uses 325mm blades and weighs about 770g
  • The TRex 500 uses 425mm blades and weighs about 1700g
  • the Trex 550 uses 520mm blades and weights about 2900g
  • The Ikarus ECO 8 (an 8 cell pack) uses 470mm blades
  • 0.30 size is about the same as 550mm blades,
  • The Trex 600 uses 600mm blades and weights about 3300g
  • 0.50 size about 600mm blades (same as a Logo 16 or Trex 600)
  • 0.90 size about 720mm blades (same as a Logo 20)
  • The Trex 700 uses 690mm blades and weighs about 4800g

Fine tuning and setting up your heli for flight

It is good to get someone who knows what they are doing to help you through this and show you what to do. Then it will be setup right and one less thing to worry about on your first flight. Even a helicopter sold as RTF or even 'test flown' can need some adjustment.

Here are the basics:

  • Balance - When it's hovering the helicopter will hang from the rotor, so pick it up by the rotor head and check that it hangs level. If not, move the battery and other components around until it does.
  • Level swashplate - anything from a 4 channel co-axial heli will have a swash plate to control the rotor blades. This must be level when the cycic stick is centred. Move the transmitter trims until the servo arms are level and then adjust the pushrods to level the swashplate.
  • Control directions - the swashplate should tip down at the front when you move the stick forward and down at the left when you move the stick left. The tail rotor should drive the nose of the heli right when you move the stick right. If the heli spins madly after you do this test, you have the gyro reversed!

If you have no local resources then HeliFreak.com hosts several videos by Finless which are extremely helpful to a beginner. These videos walk you through getting everything setup. If you follow these videos you'll have a much better chance at a successful first flight.

Limiting crash damage

While learning to fly an RC heli, you will crash. Here's how to limit the damage and the cost.

  • Cut the throttle before you crash. This reduces the energy in the rotor when it hits and prevents surge currents damaging the motor and/or 4-in-1. Mentally rehearse cutting the throttle a few times before you fly - it will help you react correctly. Ideally you should cut the throttle with a Throttle hold switch, but you'll need a computer transmitter for that. Most people learn to fly on a simple transmitter and learn to move the throttle stick down by reflex - but when they move to a CP heli this slams the heli into the ground at full power! Ideally you should convert to a computer Tx before you move to a CP heli.
  • Use training gear. It stops the heli tipping over when you're close to the ground and absorbs some of the energy from bigger crashes.
  • Keep your helicopter as light as possible. Scale bodies, large batteries, big motors, heat-sinks, beefy skids, etc, all add weight. The weight means you need more power to fly and there's more energy in the rotor when it hits something. At some point you'll decide that your flying is sufficiently advanced that the training gear will no longer save you and is just extra weight too.
  • Make sure you have enough space. Clear any movable obstructions, particularly expensive ones like cars!
  • Don't be tempted to fly outside if it's windy when you're starting - work up to it gradually.
  • Don't upgrade to the next heli until you're ready for it.
  • Leave the canopy on. They are fairly tough and they really help you see which way the helicopter is pointing. You can cover it in tape to prevent it breaking, but that adds weight. Think of the canopy as a sacrificial crumple zone around the expensive bits.
  • You can reduce damage by replacing the Jesus pin with a home made version made from a softer metal, like a paperclip or copper wire. This should then shear in a crash rather and reduce the damage to everything else.
  • Make sure you can do something on the simulator before you attempt it for real.
  • Don't fly too high! If you have training gear, stay at or below one rotor diameter and the helicopter should always land the right way up.
  • Don't fly too low! Once you can hover confidently and are learning nose-in, flying a bit higher gives you the time to yaw the heli back to tail-in and recover from a mistake - if you have enough space. In a tight space, stay low and use training gear. Ground affect will make flying slightly harder but breaking your heli will make flying impossible.
  • When you are flying low and frequently cutting the throttle for emergency landings, a smooth floor is best. Grass, gravel or dirt will trip up a sliding heli.
  • When you have removed the training gear and are flying confidently, fly over soft long grass, not a hard surface. You'll still make a mistake occasionally but you'll break a lot less if it has a soft landing. You'll still need a smooth surface for take-off and landing, or the heli can tip over or catch, but you only need a couple of square feet.
  • Metal parts will slightly reduce the cost of a crash but not as much as you may hope. The blades, flybar, main (and feathering) shaft will probably all need replacing after a crash that would break a plastic part. Metal head parts may also transfer the damage to the bearings.

Before you hover

The controls

Controls.jpg

This image shows the basic controls that you will use to control an RC Helicopter. This shows controls in the configuration of a Mode 2 transmitter. The actions shown are the affects each control has on the helicopter in a hover. However, during forward flight these actions are slightly different.

During forward flight the controls have the following affects:

  • Rudder: Still controls which direction the helicopter is facing (not necessarily the direction it is traveling!). Rudder is also used during a turn to keep the nose of the helicopter pointing forward.
  • Aileron: Tilts the helicopter right or left - used to do a roll, and also used during a banked turn.
  • Elevator: Causes the helicopter to gain of loose altitude in a similar manner to how a plane changes altitude.
  • Collective: Controls how fast the helicopter is traveling.

The stick of the transmitter that controls the aileron and elevator is also called the cyclic control. You will see alternating use of Aileron/Elevator and Cyclic as you read more about RC Helicopters.

The boring part

Before you lift off into your first hover you need to get an idea of how the controls react to your input. To do this you will power the helicopter on, but will not give it any throttle. In fact, if you're running electric, I recommend that you disconnect your motor. After you have the helicopter powered on (without the motor on/plugged in), do the following:

  • Push to the right on the cyclic control and notice how the swashplate tilts. Do this same thing for left, front, and back. Pay attention to how little stick movement is required to move the swashplate.
  • Push up on the throttle/collective control and notice how the swashplate moves up and changes the pitch of the main blades. If you have a fixed-pitch helicopter this will not apply.
  • Push left/right on the rudder control and notice how your tail rotors change pitch. If you have an ETRM helicopter this will not apply.

Now, unplug the battery and take a break. Think to yourself how all the various inputs you just gave would've affected the helicopter while it's in flight. Also go over your helicopter and make sure everything seems to be in place (screws, belts, etc...).

The first spin up

This is where things get exciting - you may even get a little scared depending on your confidence level and the type of helicopter you have. Go back to the helicopter and plug the battery back in. This time lets leave the motor plugged in (or if you're nitro get the motor started). Make sure you've got enough room around the helicopter so that the blades won't hit anything. Also be sure that your transmitter is at 0% throttle, and/or throttle hold is turned on. The LAST thing you want is the blades to start spinning unexpectedly, so TAKE YOUR TIME and triple check everything before proceeding.

To give yourself a good chance of avoiding catastrophe, set yourself up in the following manner:

  • Place the helicopter on a smooth surface - NOT GRASS OR DIRT. The reason for this is so the helicopter can 'slide' on the ground. If you're on grass or dirt the helicopter will have a tendancy to tip over instead of sliding.
  • Stand directly behind the helicopter, at least 20 feet away. The tail boom should be pointing directly at you.
  • Check again to make sure you have adequate room on all sides of the helicopter.
  • Check to make sure there are no bystanders around that may surprise you and make you lose concentration.
  • Push forward/back and left/right on the cyclic control and make sure your swashplate reacts correctly.

Now it's time to start spinning the blades. Push up ever so slightly on the throttle - you should hear the motor start to turn, or if you're using nitro the motor's pitch should change. Only give enough throttle to spin the rotor blades slowly. If you have any vibrations or weird noises, stop immediately and double check your setup to make sure everything is correct. If the helicopter blades are spinning smoothly, apply slightly more throttle. The blades will start to spin a little faster, but the helicopter shouldn't be getting light on the skids or acting like it's about to take off (if it does, back down on the throttle!!). At this point you should still be below half throttle - make note of where you're at with the throttle stick.

Now lower the throttle stick and take another break if you need it. If you're intimidated by the blades spinning just try to relax - that is somewhat normal. Try to turn that intimidation into respect for the helicopter. Don't let it ruin the hobby for you. A helicopter being flown by a good pilot is completely safe - and we're in the process of making you a good pilot!

Getting light on the skids

Once again follow the steps outlined in the previous section on how to set up yourself and the helicopter. Once everything is setup start applying throttle. Slowly add throttle until you're up to where you were when you stopped in the last section. This should be below half stick, probably between 1/4 and 1/3 stick. The helicopter shouldn't be getting light on the skids yet, so pause for a moment here and make sure everything is going as expected and there are no unwelcome vibrations.

If everything is going well then very slowly add more throttle. Pay close attention to your tail boom - if it starts to go left or right bring it back in line with the rudder stick. If, at any point, the tail boom gets more than 45 degrees away from you in any direction, simply lower the throttle smoothly and start over. When you spool back up try to keep the tail rudder under better control. Continue this process until you have complete control over the tail rudder and you can spool all the way up to almost hovering speed without letting the tail boom wander.

Why does it slide left?

At this point you the helicopter shouldn't be moving side-to-side at all. If it is, then you either applied too much throttle, or your swashplate may not be level. When you apply more throttle, the heli will slide to the left - not because it's out of trim but because the tail rotor is pushing it that way. Do not attempt to trim this out - your swash plate must be level! When hovering, a helicopter will lean slightly to the right to counter the force from the tail rotor but while the skids or training gear are keeping it level, it will be pushed left. You can counter it with right cyclic, but the amount of cyclic varies with throttle as the weight comes off the skids and the heli is able to lean. If you get good at this, the left skid will take off first and you may worry that the heli is going to tip over to the right (it won't). Otherwise just let it slide as you throttle up, then power down and put it back. Once the skids are all in the air the problem will go away, so if you can control the throttle well enough to take off quickly and smoothly you won't have to worry about the helicopter sliding left.

Preparing for lift off

You should now have complete control of the helicopter as it spools up to almost hovering speed. If you don't, then go practice some more, because you could really do some damage to the helicopter (or yourself!) if you attempt to do this section before you're ready.

  • Get yourself and the helicopter setup as previously mentioned.
  • Slowly apply throttle until the throttle stick is where it was in the previous section.
  • Be sure to keep control of the tail of the helicopter.
  • Take a couple deep breaths and try to relax.
  • Apply a little more throttle up to the point where it looks like the helicopter wants to start leaving the ground, but do not let it leave the ground.
  • Slowly move the cyclic controls and pay attention to how the helicopter reacts. Be gentle here - too much cyclic can tip the helicopter over.
  • If, at any point, you are uncomfortable or feel like you're loosing control simply lower the throttle down gently.
  • If you're on a smooth surface (like a concrete floor), try the following:
    • Apply slightly more throttle, but do not let the helicopter leave the ground.
    • Move the cyclic stick forward - if the surface is smooth enough the helicopter will start sliding forward.
    • Move the cyclic in other directions and pay attention to how the helicopter reacts
    • Be careful when applying right/left cyclic as the helicopter may have a tendency to tip over. If the helicopter does begin to tip simply apply the opposite cyclic direction very gently and lower the throttle. This is much safer with training gear.
    • Be even more careful of sliding backwards because the tail skid can catch and lever the heli over - even if you have training gear on.
    • Don't worry if the heli is hard to control when it is on the ground, it won't handle properly until the skids/training gear are entirely off the ground.
  • Use at least a couple of batteries on the ground to become familiar with the controls, you need to be able to use them without thinking about it (you don't have to think to steer a car or bicycle, you do it by reflex, and helis are the same).

Hovering

Lifting off

You're now very close to getting the helicopter off the ground, and you're probably getting excited at the possibility of hovering. Everyone gets excited and wants to hover as soon as possible. Just be aware that if you try to hover before you're ready, there's a very good chance that you'll crash. If you were at all uncomfortable or out of control while doing the previous exercises then you're simply not ready to hover. Go through the exercises again and practice until you're confident in your abilities. You may also want to put on the training gear for this portion of training.

If you feel like you're ready, do the following:

  • Get yourself and the helicopter setup as previously mentioned.
  • Slowly apply throttle until the throttle stick is where it was in the previous section.
  • Be sure to keep control of the tail of the helicopter.
  • Take couple deep breaths and try to relax.
  • Apply a little more throttle up to the point where it looks like the helicopter wants to start leaving the gound, but do not let it leave the ground.
  • So far these steps seem really familiar right? Well, the reason is that you need to do the same thing before every flight.
  • Apply more throttle and pay attention to the skids. If one starts to lift off before the other apply cyclic to bring it back down to level with the other skid.
  • Keep applying throttle and adjusting cyclic until both skids are off the ground.
  • Try to keep the helicopter completely level and in the air - about 6 inches to 1 foot is a good height. You will be in ground effect, so be aware that the helicopter will more than likely try to move to its left after it leaves the ground. You can counter-act this with right cyclic.

Don't be surprised if you couldn't hold a stable hover. Hovering is very hard - a stable hover is actually harder than forward flight!

Getting a stable hover

The biggest mistakes beginners make in attempting to hover is that they either try to hover too early, or they're too slow in reacting to the helicopter's movement. Since you're reading this, I'll assume that you've completed the previous steps and you're 100% confident in all of them. If that's the case then it's not too early - you should be ready to hold a stable hover.

That brings us to the other mistake most beginners make: being too slow in reacting to the helicopter's movement. This will lead to overcorrection and can get you stuck in a infinite game of trying to "catch up" to the helicopter. For example, if the helicopter is going off to the right, many beginners will react with too much left cyclic. This will stop the helicopter from going right, but will also send the helicopter off to the left.

Part of the "fix" for this situation is just getting used to the controls and learning how sensitive they are. This will take approximately 5-6 batteries (or 4-5 tanks of Nitro), but could take even longer.

The goal is to stop unwanted movement in its tracks, without introducing any other unwanted movement. To do this you need to be confident, and not let the helicopter tell you what to do. You need to be telling the helicopter what to do and when to do it. If you can get yourself in that mindset then you'll soon find yourself controlling the helicopter instead of reacting to whatever its doing.

At this point you need to keep practicing until you can hover for either a full tank of nitro or a full battery - without landing!

Side-in Hovering

After you have mastered tail-in hovering you'll be ready to try side-in. This is when either the right or left side of the helicopter is facing you as it is hovering. It is best to take a phased approach to side-in hovering instead of jumping directly to 90 degree side-in:

  • Get the helicopter into a stable hover.
  • Slowly rotate the helicopter 45 degrees left or right and hold that position for a second or so
  • As you get more comfortable hold the 45 degree position indefinitely
  • If you get nervous or start to lose control simply spin the tail back around so that it's pointing at you. This will be your "bail-out" plan.
  • After you can hold the 45 degree hover for a whole battery or tank, spin the tail so that it is 90 degrees away from you.

Continue to practice these steps until you can hover for a full battery or tank, without landing, and at 90 degrees the whole time.

Nose-in Hovering

Nose-in hovering seems to be the "holy grail" of many beginning pilots. For some reason this particular orientation has been built up as being very hard to master. This seems to lead some beginners to be afraid of it, and the best way to fly badly is to be afraid. In reality the helicopter doesn't care which way it's pointing, it's just that you've spent ages practicing one set of reflexes and now you have to spend almost as long learning some new ones. If you only spend a small percentage of your flight time practicing nose-in, it'll take a long time to learn and will never catch up with your flying in other orientations.

However, there is no reason to be afraid. Nose-in is simply another orientation that you have to learn, just like tail-in and side-in. Before you attempt nose-in make sure you're comfortable with side-in hovering because your "bail-out" plan while hovering nose-in will be to swing the tail around to side-in or tail-in and recover. If you only have a limited space, you may be better to refit the training gear, stay low and land before you crash, but it's much better to recover to an orientation you can handle.

There are a number of different techniques for learning to fly nose-in. They have all worked for plenty of people, there is no right and wrong method, but there are some things you need to watch.

All of these methods can (and should) be tired on a simulator first.

The 'prop up the low side' method

This is a trick for helping you work out which way to move the stick.

  • If the helicopter is moving to your right, push right on the cyclic.
  • If the helicopter is moving to your left, push left on the cyclic.
  • If the helicopter is moving to towards you, pull the cyclic towards yourself.
  • If the helicopter is moving to away from you, push the cyclic away from yourself.

This is quite useful for your first few attempts on a simulator, if you find you have no idea which way to move the stick. In real life you won't always have time to think the rules - your fingers need to move the stick without any concious thought, just like normal hovering.

The danger with this method is that there is no smooth transition from nose-in to side-in. You can end up with two incompatible skills and be unable to hover when half way between nose-in and side-on. The solution is to use one of the other methods after you've learnt this, because they don't suffer from the same problem. Practice until you don't have to think about it any more.

The 'relearn from scratch' method

Go right back to basics - refit the training gear and learn to spool up, slide around and take off while nose-in. You've done it once and can do it again. The danger here is as above, plus you can forget how to fly normally!

The 'pretend it's not nose-in' method, version 1

If you can fly side-on, you should be able to fly a few degrees further round. Practice flying side-on plus 10 degrees. When you are confident at that, try another 10 degrees. Do both sides and all the angles in between too - ideally in a slow, smooth yaw from one side to the other.

The 'pretend it's not nose-in' method, version 2

Start by hovering the helicopter in front of yourself in the middle of a clear space, tail-in. Slowly fly the helicopter backwards and to one side of you until it is side-on, keep it facing the same direction and don't move your body. Then fly it slightly behind you. It's important to keep the transmitter and your shoulders facing forwards, just turn your head. This somehow fools your brain into thinking that you are still flying tail-in, even though you are looking at the heli nose-on. When you are happy doing this, turn your body slowly towards the helicopter while keeping the hovering helicopter in place. The perspective of the helicopter and controls do not change as you turn your body.

Be careful not to fly into an obstacle behind you (especially if anyone could walk into your blind zone).

The 'figure eight' method

Skip learning nose-in and go straight to forward flight and figure eights. As you get better at figure eights you'll realise that you are flying towards yourself some of the time. This works well for fixed wing pilots, who find they can fly towards themselves using their fixed wing reflexes but have problems when they slow down and hover. It's well worth trying this on a simulator as an alternative to normal nose-in practice.

The 'pirouette' method

This needs a bit of space and height. From tail-in, apply full rudder to turn a complete circle and stop when you are tail-in again. Congratulations, you just flew nose-in! Now do it again, a little more slowly. To start with, don't attempt to make any corrections when the nose is towards you, then only make small ones and pause (when tail-in) to work out if you moved the stick the right way. Then pause nose-in briefly before continuing the pirouette, or do progressively slower pirouettes. Remember to do them in both directions.

The 'imagine you are in the cockpit' method

Some people imagine they are in the cockpit and then it doesn't matter which way the helicopter is facing (or which way up it is)

After enough practice you will be able to hover nose-in almost as easily as tail-in.

Pirouettes

Anyone can hold full rudder and make a helicopter spin, but maintaining a good hover while spinning slowly is quite hard. Once you can hover in all 4 orientations, slow pirouettes are a good way to find your weak spots and faster pirouettes practice maintaining orientation - see how fast you can pirouette while staying in control.

Simple Forward Flight

Once you can comfortably hover in ALL 4 orientations: tail in, left side in, right side in, and nose in, you can progress to forward flight. To begin simply bring the helicopter up to a hover and push forward on your cyclic stick just a touch. The helicopter's nose should tip down and the helicopter will start to move forward. To stop the helicopter pull back on the cyclic - try to get the helicopter completely stopped and into a hover at it's new location. To bring the helicopter back simply pull back on your cyclic and bring the helicopter to a steady hover in front of you again.

Do the above exercise several times until you get comfortable with it. Also try moving the helicopter left/right and stopping it in each direction to get into a stable hover.

Many people have problems stopping after fast forward flight. The helicopter's speed is converted into height as you apply backward cyclic to slow down, so they reduce the collective to prevent the climb only to have it fall rapidly when it reaches a hover. It takes practice to smoothly reduce the collective as you slow down and then reapply the collective when you release the back cyclic. You may notice that your helicopter needs more power to hover than it does in forward flight, although this is more noticeable in full-scale helicopters.

Figure Eights

If you're brave, you can attempt this before mastering nose-in flight. Some even use it as a way of overcoming their fear of nose-in hovering! You must however be able to fly side-on confidently.

Take off into a hover. Turn side on and move forward a couple of feet. Stop and yaw the tail towards you, continue the yaw until side-on in the other direction. Move forward again and repeat. At each turn, the tail turns towards you. As you get more confident go a bit further and faster until you are doing forward flight and not just hovering forward. Then you can try some variations:

  • Yaw the helicopter before it has finished moving, but stay in a straight line.
  • Stay level and don't slow down. Do sweeping, banked turns instead of stopping.
  • Climb at the end of each run, yaw the helicopter while it is high and then dive back into the next run.
  • Yaw the other way, so the nose comes towards you during the turn.
  • Do a turn and a half, instead of a 180 degree turn at the end of a run.
  • Fly sideways
  • Fly one way forwards and the other backwards (i.e. without turning the helicopter at the end of each run.)

More Advanced Forward Flight

The Square

After you have mastered the above excersize it is time to begin progressing into more advanced flight patterns. The first of these you can try is called "The Square" - simply stated you will fly a square shaped pattern:

  • Start with a stable tail-in hover
  • Turn the helicopter side-in (either side) and hover for a moment
  • When you're ready, push forward on the cyclic stick and allow the helicopter to slowly move forward
  • After about 7 to 10 feet stop the helicopter and use the rudder to change its heading so that it is flying away from you, out into the field you are facing
  • Push forward on the cyclic and let the helicopter travel about 15 to 20 feet in this direction
  • Stop the helicopter, and change its heading to that it traveling in front of you
  • Push forward on the cyclic and again let the helicopter travel 15 to 20 feet
  • Stop the helicopter, and change its heading to that it traveling towards you (not directly pointing at you though, we're trying to make a square!)
  • Push forward on the cyclic and again let the helicopter travel 15 to 20 feet
  • Stop the helicopter, and change its heading to that it traveling towards you (not directly pointing at you though, we're trying to make a square!)
  • Push forward on the cyclic and again let the helicopter travel forward until it is directly in front of you.
  • Stop the helicopter and hover side-in for a moment. If you feel like it go ahead and make another trip around the square.

Completing this excersize allows you to practice all orientations and forces you to be precise in your handling of the helicopter. In theory the helicopter should fly in a perfect square pattern and stop on a dime at each corner.

The Circuit

Another typical pattern to fly is called a "circuit". For a circuit you will basically be flying in a circle or (more likely) an oval. In this excersize the helicopter will be constantly moving, so you'll need to concentrate:

  • Start with a stable tail-in hover
  • Get the helicopter out about 30 feet from yourself, and around 20 feet in the air (higher if you're comfortable going higher)
  • Use the rudder stick to turn the helicopter so that it is side-in to you (I'll assume that the helicopter is left-side in)
  • Push forward on the cyclic to start the helicopter into forward flight
  • After 15-20 feet of forward flight gently (GENTLY!!) push right on the cyclic stick and pull back on it slightly.
  • The helicopter should tilt to the right, and begin to go into a banked turn
  • Apply a little bit of right rudder to keep the tail in-line with the heading of the helicopter
  • At this point you should know if you're going to make the turn or not - if you're unsure bail out of the turn and bring the helicopter tail-in to you so that you can recover. If you feel like you're in control then complete the turn, level the helicopter out by giving it some left cyclic, and fly towards the next turn and repeat the same inputs you used for the first turn of the circuit.

Once you have completed a couple circuits land the helicopter and give yourself a pat on the back. You're actually flying the thing!

You're on your own

Congratulations you have the basic flying skills you need, from here you can improve those skills and move on to more advanced moves and inverted flight. The order in which you approach this is up to you! (or the subject of another page...)

We need 'how to' guides for the following:

  • Backwards flight
  • Pirouetting circuits
  • Funnels
  • Inverted hovering
  • Loops
  • Flips
  • Rolls
  • Tic Tocks
  • etc...

and some suggestions for the order in which they should be attempted.


External link and reference

See also

The helicopter section of the The large list of RC related sites page for links to more detailed advice.