RC Flying, 2023 Apr 2

Sunday was mostly an administrative/setup day; not a lot of flying, but what flying I did went all right.

Sunday was mostly an administrative/setup day; not a lot of flying, but what flying I did went all right. Nothing spectacular, nothing really to write about, but here goes anyway.

April 2 was mostly a “field administration” day. The club had a meeting to go over activities for the next year, as well as field maintenance – we rent our field from a local farmer, and we take care of it because good will is important. Not only is it necessary for us to keep our field access (the farmer could always stop renting to us, after all) but because it’s kind to take care of the relationships you have with other people.

I actually repaired my AeroScout; a new fuselage and canopy showed up on Saturday, unexpected. I moved over the electronics and motor, and did a bench test of the plane; it worked, for some definition of “working,” in that all of the control surfaces responded when I expected them to.

It’ll need a full setup when I decide to fly it again.

I put in the Spektrum AR631 receiver, although I have some RadioMaster R88s lying around as well. The Spektrum receiver was chosen mostly because I have two transmitters – a Spektrum and the RadioMaster TX16S – and while the RadioMaster can connect to pretty much any receiver known to man (to which I would have access), the NX8 can only connect to Spektrum receivers.

So for me to fly with one radio means either choosing the TX16S – which is a better radio but with lesser integration with the Spektrum receivers for now, because I’m still learning the platform – and the R88 for the Aeroscout, or choosing the Spektrum receiver, to which I can bind both transmitters and switch between them as needed.

Given that the Apprentice Mini is my primary plane for now, that means the Spektrum ecosystem wins… for a little while. My goal is to get to the point where I don’t need the safety features the Spektrum ecosystem provides, then I’ll be able to use whichever radio I happen to want. (In other words, the TX16S, because it just feels like a better radio, physically. The ecosystem’s safeguards are the main thing holding me to Spektrum right now. They do that astonishingly well.)

On Sunday, we were basically going back over the Apprentice. I did some telemetry extraction on the NX8, which told me nothing particularly useful (which is all right, because I was mostly curious about what data was being recorded), and apparently the process of setting up the NX8 for a neutral model for the flight simulator mangled some settings for the receiver itself, because the plane was… configured poorly.

We (well… I say “we” but it was mostly some of the experienced pilots who took on the task) ended up spending most of the day fixing the plane, setting it up again for consistent flight. That was my “flying day,” watching two pilots with years’ more experience than I try to get the plane to fly as they expected it to, something I wouldn’t have known how to do, and I wouldn’t have even known how to judge the plane; I’d have thought, “man, I’m a terrible pilot” and left it at that.

In the end, though, I did get the plane up in the air and back down; I don’t think I flew especially well for that flight, but that’s okay. The main goal was to get the plane up and back down; that was successful, and I’m going to leave the radio alone now as it has a consistent setup for the simulator and the Apprentice, and it’s been backed up with the known-good configuration.

It was also a beautiful day for flying, and the club meeting went really well; we had four prospective new members introduce themselves to the club at large. I’d already met all four of them, so they weren’t introducing themselves to me, but to the club members who hadn’t been at the field with them yet; what was funny for me in all that is that all four of them were really eloquent and represented themselves very well.

I was laughing my way through their introductions, thinking of how happy I was that I didn’t have to introduce myself in the same way they were doing, because mine would have been something like: “Hi, I’m, uh, Joe, I’ve been, uh, flying pretty much not at all, uh, how ya doin’, next person, please.”

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.

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.

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.

Flying, Week 2

Went back out to the RAMS field today; week two, first as a provisional member.

One of the leaders of the club helped me fly three times; I took a charged battery, but I only have one. They recharged it there. It took about fifteen to twenty minutes to recharge the battery each time, and it turns out that delay is actually pretty beneficial for learning; it gives you time to reflect on the flight you just made.

The flights themselves were awesome. Let’s be real here, I love flying. I especially love doing the actual flying itself; they’re used to be being at the airfield because I like to see things fly, and I only started actually flying my own plane really recently.

I do not fly well. I’m still trying to get a sense of how to read the line of the plane; I’m okay at level flight, I turn rather impatiently, and I struggle with perspective. They tell me this is all pretty good for a newbie. They’d know better than I would, but I’m gonna get better.

I landed the plane four times today! Once was a landing but was sort of accidental – I couldn’t see the plane when it touched down! But it was upright and in one piece.

The second was my best, a nice smooth landing. To suggest it made me happy was to completely misunderstand what joy is: I landed the plane!

The other two landings were acceptable but not good. I couldn’t quite get the approach angle right; I kept correcting the plane to take it away from the landing strip, then I’d overcorrect and aim it too close to the flight line! But they were “successful landings,” in that I did land the plane in one piece.

I’m learning, and I’m really enjoying it all.