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Flight Report and a Set of Radical Changes

It’s been an inconsistent set of flying days for me. I made it out to the field on the weekend, but didn’t fly because I knew the wind was going to be too high for my AeroScout; I managed to catch a first flight for a new build for one of the other pilots, and that was really cool to watch.

I did make it to the field during the week, though, for a short bit – the winds were supposed to be pretty low, the weather was decent, and I wanted to fly to get more air time.

It did not go well.

The flights themselves… the AeroScout just couldn’t get aligned in the air. I’d done some surgery on it with a new receiver, and done bench tests to make sure the radio and receiver were communicating well, and that went fine, I suppose. In the air, though, the ‘Scout was highly erratic, highly sensitive to every burst of wind, and could never establish level flight.

In the end I put it down three times, none of them very hard especially, but one apparently hit the plane in just the right place to split the front of the repaired fuselage down the middle, including separating the front wheel from the foam.

It’s repairable – again – and at the very worst, I could just get a new fuselage and replace the bits that are damaged wholesale. But the flight day was really informative.

For my skill level and experience, I’ve made a series of decisions regarding the flight that are understandable but probably wrong for me.

I’m a systems architect. My job is to look at processes and progress, and decide what the next best step should be based on results and new information. A lot of my job is literally to decide when to fish or cut bait, and while emotion and intent factors in sometimes, emotion is rarely a useful lever for making decisions.

The rough flying day gave me information I needed to decide that I needed to switch some things out.

My choice of radio is the RadioMaster TX16S II. I really like that radio. The feel is great, the approach of the operating system fits me and suits my approach to hardware and software. I have no qualms with the transmitter at all … but it’s the wrong radio for me right now.

The planes that I have ready access to use a protocol that my transmitter leverages poorly; there’s an integration mismatch. By that I mean that the receivers in the AeroScout and most other planes I’d end up with have features that the RadioMaster will either not support, or will support incompletely, because there’s a giant documentation gap.

I knew that when I got the radio and thought that would matter less over time. I think that’s still correct, but because I am a new pilot, the impact of the feature gap is magnified. My inexperience coupled with flying on “hard mode” all the time may teach me hard lessons about flying that I’ll need, but I can’t afford all of those hard lessons.

I have the transmitter that came with the AeroScout, the Spektrum DSX, which is a starter radio with full integration with the receiver, so I have access to all of the features that I’d need, except the DSX – while capable – feels like a toy to me, and for whatever reason I rebel at the thought of using it. It’s a psychology thing; since I feel like it’s a toy, I treat it like a toy, and I just can’t wrap my head around using it seriously, regardless of its actual capabilities.

It’d be like joining a band with a bunch of other guitarists, where they’re playing PRS, Gibson, Gretsch, high end Fenders… and you’re playing a First Act guitar. Sure, you can make the same notes they can, and there’s no indication simply based on equipment of what your skill level is compared to theirs, but the difference in gear would affect most players. It’d certainly affect me. I wouldn’t be in there with the high end guitars either, but I know my guitars and whatever I’d take would be sufficient.

The DXS is a better transmitter than a First Act guitar is as a musical instrument, but the impact remains. For me to enjoy flying, I have to have a sufficient transmitter. Maybe that’s a flaw in my character. It probably is. I don’t know.

So the AeroScout is not in airworthy condition and the radio is wrong. This is useful information, because it means that I need to either take a break and fix the AeroScout (something for which I’ve apparently proven I’m insufficient) or replace the fuselage (which I can probably do pretty easily); even if I did that, the winds would still push my AeroScout around.

Other pilots at the field fly it pretty well, but they’re better pilots than I am (I have no shame about this, and I’m going to get better) and the AeroScout is interfering with my progress. I need a heavier plane with better flight characteristics.

With the “better plane” I need to revisit my transmitter choice, because most of the planes have receivers that are designed to protect pilots like me – people who’re learning. The RadioMaster is a great radio, but it’s designed for people who know how to fly, a set in which I do not belong yet.

So after consideration and discussion with the other pilots – which were well-intentioned, even if accompanied by some slight ribbing over the choices I’ve made along the way – I decided to “give in” and get a Spektrum NX8 transmitter – the transmitter used by probably 90% of the club, and the brand used by an even higher percentage – and a HobbyZone Apprentice to take the place of the AeroScout.

My goal is to keep flying and learn enough such that I’m good enough to move back to the RadioMaster. The NX8 is, I believe, a less capable transmitter than the RadioMaster, although it does everything you need a radio to do.. the most important things about the NX8 are that the club has a wealth of experience with it (something they cannot say about the RadioMaster at all) and that it integrates extremely well with the Spektrum receivers (also something the RadioMaster cannot say).

It also came with a 200+ page manual, whereas the RadioMaster came with a single page, printed on both sides. The hardware may not be as good, but the documentation gap in Spektrum’s favor is incredible.

I haven’t even unboxed the Apprentice yet – that’ll probably come this weekend – but I’m looking forward to flying. And hopefully the changes I’ve made in approach and mentality yield better improvements.

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