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.