RC Flying, 2023 Feb 26

It was a good day of flying for the RC plane, despite the wind; we got the radio and the plane set up much better than it had been, and despite some issues and hiccups, it was a good day.

I made it back out to the RC field today, a little concerned about the winds (which were from 6-10 miles per hour, which is a little gusty for my plane), but I was going to give it a shot, because a lot of the other pilots tend to be there on Sunday afternoons.

It went okay. The biggest problem I had was that my plane needed to be set up more completely with my radio, especially after the catastrophic crash from two weeks ago; I’ve been up since the crash, but that day was cut short due to weather, and I was up in the air such a short time that I really couldn’t collect any data about the plane, and I was also alone, so I couldn’t share from the communal knowledge.

Sam – one of the club trainers, and the guy who got me in the air when I first went to the field – took some time with me and the plane today. He said that there was a lot set up wrong – the plane’s trim was awful (not a surprise, considering all the changes it’s endured lately), but the radio was also set up really strangely.

That’s an experience thing. I don’t know what to look for, so I had no idea what I was setting up improperly. He does know what to look for, so we rolled up our sleeves and went to work on the plane, reversing the prop for full power (whoa! I didn’t even know you could install it incorrectly and still fly!), aligning everything (some of the servos were not quite set up right), setting up dampening on the controls (a big one, and why my plane flew so badly!), and trimming it out in flight as well.

Flying itself went… okay, I guess. No catastrophic crashes; I had two, but they were both really minor. One was caused by my use of a battery that was already dead: I lost throttle in mid-flight, and glided down to the field. The other was caused by taking too shallow an approach on a landing; I caught a wind gust and then lost the plane. No damage was taken in either event, thank goodness, and in the second crash I managed to warn the other pilots this time.

My last flight, with a good battery and in the most advanced flight mode the plane had (more on this in a few paragraphs), went pretty well, easily the best flight of the day for me. The plane had by this point been set up about as well as we could do it, and the same for the radio, and the dampening helped me fly immensely – no longer were little adjustments causing giant changes in the flight. I even made a really smooth landing, which got a lot of clapping from the other pilots – it was a good landing, but I think they were also clapping for me, since I finally had a respectable flight after so much trouble over the last few weeks.

Other pilots were there, of course, and one had a P-38 – I was in awe of that thing! (The P-38 is my dream plane, and there’s no way I have the skill to fly it – but I was so excited to see one at the field!) Sadly, the wind fought that thing, too, and despite the skill of the pilot, it cracked up on a landing approach. He said the plane was easily repairable, and would be back.

One of the pilots’ daughters was there, too, and she was flying a glider – which I think is really, really cool. She’s been flying a shorter time than I have, and I think she’s better than I am already. It’s really neat seeing some of these young people advance in skill.

So: what takeaways did I have today?

The biggest one was the setup of the plane and the radio. We changed a lot about the configuration, and it was really unusual for me to experience the plane working the way it was supposed to. From that standpoint, today was a smashing success, despite the issues. However, there were issues.

First, my plane is still in some kind of safe mode. I don’t know how to get the receiver to stop correcting the flight; I can’t get it to roll or loop. I can get it to 90% angle, flying sideways, but that’s as far as I can get it to go. That’s not how it’s supposed to be; I checked the manual, and I think I have the radio doing the right thing to set the flight modes, but it clearly isn’t, for whatever reason.

Sam suggested that I replace the receiver altogether; with the radio set up properly, the features the receiver offers me aren’t as necessary. I’m certainly giving that some thought, because my last (and best) flight was with as few safety guards as I could get, and it was probably one of my best flights ever. (It wasn’t that much fun to watch, I think, unless you count the landing, but by golly, everything I tried to do I accomplished, and it went well.)

We’ll see. I also need to continue repairs for the lane from a few weeks ago; it’s airworthy, but could still use some fixes. I have most of the stuff I need, but one of the glues I got was too thick, so I’ll have to fix that.

Lastly, I still need to change how I react when the plane gets in trouble. I find that I invert the controls in my head once I lose track of the plane in the air, which means I might make an error by turning right, for example, but when that happens, I have a tendency to lean into the error, magnifying it, instead of correcting it. This needs to be fixed, and it will be fixed, but it’ll take time and practice and dedication.

It was a good day at the field. It was windy, and that made for some rough flying (for many pilots, not just me, but I definitely had a rough time with the wind), but we got the plane set up much better than it had been, and that last flight gives me hope.

Flight Report, 2023 Feb 19

I got the RC plane back in the air Sunday; it was a short day of flying due to weather, but it was a successful day in that the plane suffered no more damage and I accomplished the goals I’d set for myself.

My AeroScout has been repaired, after the hard crash last week; I used a glue gun to repair the nose, and I have some CA tape and fixative to clean it up further; the prop has been replaced, and bench tests passed, so it’s “airworthy” even if it’s not in pristine condition.

On Sunday, it was drizzly and winds were on the cusp of being too much for the plane, but I figured I’d take a shot anyway, because last week I flew terribly and I wanted to get a successful day in the books if I could.

Goals for the day were really low: take off, fly a few patterns, and land. Given that the plane’s just been repaired, I figured this was pretty reasonable, plus it gives me a chance to literally focus on the basics that I applied so miserably last week.

When I got to the field, I was the only one there; that’s okay, too, because the weather was turning, and this gave me a chance to zero in on flying rather than on anything else. Plus, if the flight went bad like it did last week, I wouldn’t endanger anyone else.

I only got one flight in. I took my time bench testing the plane and letting the radio connection settle in, just in case there was a sync problem that caused the flight last week. Everything checked out, so I put the plane on the landing strip and gave it some power.

It pulls to the left on the landing gear. I’ll have to fix that. In the air, the wind made flying really difficult; I left the plane in beginner mode because I don’t trust myself to fight the wind enough with such a light plane, and the winds were definitely pushing it around a lot in the air.

I landed, took off again, and landed. None of the flying was what I’d term “spectacular,” and on both landings I bounced once – which isn’t that bad, but isn’t quite what I’d hoped. After the second landing, it was starting to rain, so I pulled everything back and left the field. As much as I like rain, I just didn’t think that was the right environment for me to fly in.

In flight, one thing stood out: I had the volume up on my RadioMaster, and the radio kept telling me the connection with the plane was “low” and “critical.” I wasn’t losing connection, but the warnings were unnerving. It turns out this is part of the telemetry setting in the model; if the connection is 45%, it’s “low” and if it’s under 42%, it’s “critical.” This is adjustable; I’ll probably drop the settings a bit, because I think the warnings are a little early to be practical.

So it was a “successful day,” overall, and I’m satisfied with it even if I’m not thrilled with it; it could have been better, but I met all of my goals except for the number of flights I’d have liked to have had.

Flying, 2023 Feb 11

It was a rough day for flying for me – I crashed my plane, hard, and I *think* it’s through pilot error. This is how you learn sometimes, by making catastrophic mistakes; thankfully, nobody was injured although the plane needs repair.

Funny thing: I talked to an old friend, a pilot, and he said it was great to see me “excelling at RC.” My response was to laugh, and observe that I was learning, not excelling. Today was proof that I am, uh, seeing how much potential I still have to fulfill, because flying today was short and disastrous.

They say that a good flight is one where you can recover the plane; by that measure, well, good flight, I guess, but the plane’s back to not being airworthy. It will fly again, because thankfully the damage was fairly restricted, but I had a rough (and fairly dangerous) flight with a hard crash at the end.

So, the story: my goals for the day were pretty simple. I had reconfigured my radio and rebound to my plane, so I wanted to get back in the air and make sure that everything was working properly; my goals in flight were actually to fly simple patterns. I considered trying a loop, but I was going to get in the air first to see how things went.

My secondary goal was to get my oldest son to fly as well; he’d gone with me. If the plane managed to fly properly (see prior paragraph!) I figured I’d hand him and the radio off to one of the trainers, so they could get him up in the air and the plane back on the ground. (I figured I could land for myself, but the trainers would land for him.)

When we got to the field, the wind was a little high for my plane, but tolerable; I’ve flown in worse, I think, but if the wind had been any worse I think I’d have just not bothered. I set up pretty soon after I got there, and ran through a bench test to make sure the radio communication was working properly; all the control surfaces responded as I expected them to, the throttle cut was working, the flight modes seemed to be set correctly.

Everything passed the bench test. It was time to fly.

I set up to take off into the wind; I was actually rather happy about it, because I usually prefer to take off right-to-left (and land left-to-right), but the last few times I’ve flown I’ve purposefully reversed that, because I was getting too comfortable.

Taking off was… okay. The plane felt a little off, leaning a little to the left on takeoff, but once it got five feet off the ground, everything went sour.

It turned to the left, and I was trying to climb and compensate, getting it back to the right. Flying to the left on this particular takeoff meant I was flying off the field, and it kept turning, and started heading toward the other pilots on the bench, behind the flight line, which led to a number of warnings from them.

I was really struggling with control; my great fear was plowing into the other pilots. I managed to give it enough elevator to get it up over the flight shed, and it headed back to the actual flying field, but it was still stuck in that left turn, and I.. don’t know what happened for sure.

I think what happened is that I lost my reference for the alignment of the plane, and threw into the left bank even harder. There are alternative explanations, but without actual flight telemetry and records, I couldn’t tell you how valid they were. One way or the other, the result was the plane rolled over and hit the landing strip hard, upside down and nose first, and as the prop was still spinning – I was trying to get it up in the air so I could figure out some semblance of normal flight – the prop snapped off.

The nose broke, and the prop was snapped, and one of the wings got some road rash, but that was the extent of the damage; it’s not flyable, at present, until I replace the prop and fix the nose cone, but that’s the extent of the damage.

I took it back to the bench, and tried to check the controls; the radio was going crazy. None of the gimbals would respond, none of the switches would send the right signals to the plane; I had to reboot the radio twice to get it to do what was expected.

Thankfully, it did resume normal behavior, and bench testing the controls showed that everything was working properly subsequently; the plane wasn’t able to fly, but at least the mechanics seemed to be working.

I got a lot of good advice on how to fix the plane, which I’ll be applying soon, but I’m going to need to get a new propeller in before it’s able to get back in the air.

Honestly, I think I just wasn’t in the right mindset to fly. When it started going wrong, I freaked out and I don’t think I did anything to make it better, and probably made it worse. The radio inconsistencies might have shown up mid-flight, but honestly, I don’t think I had the presence of mind I needed to be flying today.

I did learn a lot, though: I thought I was prepared, and I did all the right steps, I just didn’t have my mind right, as the Marines say, and I failed to warn the field when I lost control of the plane. I also failed to kill the throttle when things started to go south; that would have been my only chance to rescue the flight but may have saved the prop and made the crash much more gentle, as well as being far safer for the other pilots.

It was a day to show me how much I still have to learn. A costly day, because I won’t be able to fly for at least a week (I need to get the new prop, as well as fix the nose of the plane), but.. at least I saw how far I have yet to go.