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 Report: 2023/Jan/21

I made it to the RC airfield today, and man, the weather was absolutely perfect. I wish I could say the same about my flying. It was a day curtailed by hardware problems, but overall, it was a successful day.

I made it to the RC airfield today, and man, the weather was absolutely perfect. I wish I could say the same about my flying. It was a day curtailed by hardware problems, but overall, it was a successful day.

Here’s the thing: my goal for the day was really to flight test my radio settings: could I change flight modes? Did the throttle cut work properly and predictably? Bench tests – done at home with the prop taken off of the plane – suggested the answers were “yes,” but bench tests aren’t flight tests.

When we (my oldest son and I) got to the airfield, there were a lot of other pilots – that always makes for a great day, because we can rib each other, admire each others’ planes, learn from those more experienced than we are, and so forth and so on – it really is a community.

I took my plane up early, because my goal was to flight test the radio, and sure enough, it worked. The throttle engage switch was restrictive when I wanted it to be (and I’ll write up how it works to go along with a video that someone else made soon), and the mode switches worked; I would set the plane in “expert mode” and tilt it to the side, and set the switch for “safe mode” and the plane would level off as desired.

So now the plane was safe in terms of the throttle – I can leave the throttle disengaged until I’m actually ready to fly, and have confidence that it won’t accidentally reengage trivially – and it was safe in terms of flight mode, such that if I got myself in trouble in the air, I could engage “safe mode” and have the plane level itself off.

I decided I was going to try to land in “expert mode” because I’d never done it before. My approach to the landing strip was… weird, because I couldn’t get it to get low enough to the ground, so I decided I was going to make another pass over the landing strip, but apparently it descended just enough that my plane lost all lift and it went to ground almost immediately. I applied power to try to get it back in the air to make a “good landing” but failed, and thus:

My first real crash! It was free of damage; the cockpit hood of the plane came off, but that’s not a problem at all; it’s designed to be free, as that’s where you install the battery. There was no physical damage to the plane that I could see or detect.

I put the plane back in a harness, and noticed that the front wheel was angled to the right; I’d been struggling with taking off in a straight line, so I gently twisted the wheel to straighten it.

If any readers are flinching, thinking, “oh, no, um, did you really?” … that’s the right reaction.

The real right reaction is a little more detailed: “Oh, no. Did you really? That’s gonna strip the servo!”

Spoiler alert: that’s exactly what happened.

I asked one of the trainer pilots (Dr. Joey, who has helped teach me how to fly too) to help get my oldest son to fly a plane, just for the new experience. We went through the radio settings and basic safety, and we finally connected the battery on the plane, and… the plane was making a lot of noise. It’s a noisy plane in safe mode anyway, so I thought nothing of it, until we were testing the rudder in the pre-flight tests.

It wouldn’t move.

In my plane, the rudder is connected to the same servo as the front wheel. When I adjusted my front wheel, I blew out the servo, so my plane had no rudder.

It’s probably flyable in that condition, if the pilot’s experienced enough, but for a maiden flight – or even a new pilot like me – it’s grounded. We tried to find a compatible servo at the field, but my plane’s servo is apparently fairly weird – a Spektrum A390 – and we were unsuccessful at finding a compatible replacement.

I found some online, and ordered them – they’re only $12-14 or so – but until they get here and I replace that servo, my AeroScout is grounded.

With that said, though: remember how I said that my goal was to flight test the radio, first and foremost? Despite the hardware problems with the plane, I did take it up and flight test the radio settings, and they worked like a charm. I may not have flown a lot today, and I might not have flown well even by my own low standards, but the radio test worked, and my plane was flight worthy even after my rough landing.

Successful day. I enjoyed it, and I’ll love it when I can get back into the air once the replacement parts come in.