Electric RC – Not Just for Beginners

The Realization of a Dream

Since I was probably old enough to hold a transmitter in my tiny hands, I have been an avid fan of radio control hobbies. As a kid growing up, I mostly tinkered with R / C cars and trucks. But almost 20 years ago, as I was nearing the end of my teens, I got an itch to start flying. Actually, I wanted to buy an ultralight aircraft, but not having an extra $ 10,000 put a hold on that idea. I would need a substitute that was more economical for a young man of my age. Not sure where this new venture would take me, I headed to my local hobby shop to buy my first R / C plane.

Upon entering the hobby shop, I was overwhelmed with choices. How many channels, what size engine, what type of radio, do I get a kit or already assembled model? After getting some advice from the salesman behind the counter, I settled on a 2-channel kit trainer that ran on a Cox .049 glow fuel engine.

When I got home, I immediately opened the kit as I was anxious to get started. Inside the box were dozens of pre-cut balsa and plywood sheets, wood blocks and the building plans. I again found myself overwhelmed when I opened the plans for the airplane, which looked a lot like an architect's blueprints. Ready for the challenge, though, I set up my work table, got my hobby knives, glue, and accessories and embarked on a project that would, unbeknownst to me, throw many curves before completion.

For the next several weeks, I spent hours each day working to build my first aviation masterpiece. Precision was everything – every piece had to be flawless and I trimmed and sanded each to match the specifications perfectly. During this time, I was introduced to terms like roll, center of gravity, trailing edges and stiffners. I learned how to install radio systems, balance the plane, and apply MonoKote┬« covering with a sealing iron and heat gun. When that long-awaited day arrived and my bright orange 2-channel aircraft was ready, I had logged a total of almost 140 building hours. That plane had bonded with me and became a part of my soul. The engine and radio had been tested, so it was time for the final step – my first test flight.

A 4-Second Definition of "Simple"

I carried my gearbox, fuel bottle and shiny new airplane to a small open field just behind my neighborhood. My hands were shaking. I was nervous partly because I was venturing into the unknown, but also because I was about fulfill what had developed into a dream – a dream that had become a near obsession, occupying every moment of my spare time.

I took a few minutes to re-test my radio and then I filled the fuel tank, hooked up the battery to the glow plug, and started the engine. After adjusting the reed valve and setting the speed, I picked up my plane, held the transmitter in my left hand and gave the plane a toss into the wind.

I have played the next 4 seconds over in my mind a thousand times or more. What I had envisioned as the simple flying of an airplane quickly turned into a disaster. When I tossed the plane into the wind, I pointed the nose too high. A small gust grabbed the plane, taking the plane into a perfect loop. I have since learned that loops are fun, but they are not to be executed when the plane is at an altitude of less than 15 feet. I pulled back fully on the left stick, trying with my limited expertise to pull the nose up as the plane came out of the loop. But the ground caught the landing gear hard, and the incredible amount of momentum that was generated in those brief seconds caused the plane to flip end over end a couple of times before coming to a complete stop.

I rushed over to that shiny new part of my soul, which now looked old, battered and filthy. Dirt from the field filled the cowl and had made its way into the engine's muffler. The landing gear was severely bent and the engine would have to be completely broken down, cleaned, and tested before there would ever be another flight. I gathered all of my gear, picked up my plane, and left the small field that was supposed to have been my field of dreams. It was there that my airplane was supposed to defy logic and gravity. It was there that I was to take this composition of wood and glue and metal and master the elements as it soared through the late afternoon skies. It was here that my new plane would see its first and its last flight.

Coming to Terms

Twenty years later I still have that little orange plane. I have since repaired the damaged landing gear, but the plane has never left the confines of my home. After all of the hours I poured into creating that beautiful little aircraft, it was too horrifying to contemplate what I would do if something worse, a crash resulting in complete destruction, ever occurred. So, I protected my creation, keeping it from possible harm.

Twenty years later I now also own my own Internet hobby shop. But times and R / C hobbies have changed dramatically. Now the beginner has options that weren't available on my fateful day. Today, novice pilots don't have to spend 100 or more hours building a trainer to learn to fly. They don't have to worry about the know-how needed to operate fuel-based glow engines. We are in the age of electric R / C, and there are literally hundreds of ready-to-run electric R / C airplanes that can be purchased for less than a hundred bucks and require little more than the charging of a battery. Parts are easy to get and inexpensive for these planes, so a crash may hit your rainy day fund for a few bucks, but it won't put you in therapy.

Don't misunderstand me, though: Kit planes and fuel-based engines still have their place in the R / C world, but they are much better suited for pilots who have earned their flying wings and can comfortably toss into the wind a creation that has bonded in some way with their sensitive psyches. That said, with the advent of more powerful electric engines and high-quality lithium polymer batteries, even many of the pros are gravitating toward electric R / C. This newfound power has brought on a whole new generation of larger-scale electric aircraft. As this technology develops, electric R / C will continue to take a bigger share of the R / C market. Pilots like less mess and clutter, which translates into more time doing what they love most – flying.

Fortunately for me, I never gave up my dream of flying. What started as a child is a part of me, and I now pass this love onto my kids and my customers. And hardly a week goes by that I don't have a fascinated customer ask me for advice on what is a great first plane. Fortunately for them, I have much more experience now and a multitude of options to offer that the salesman I bought from twenty years ago didn't have. Hardly a week also goes by that I don't have a customer buying parts tell me his emotional airplane crash story. When I hear these stories I am always taken back to my sad day in the small field behind my house. But I am comforted, knowing that most of my customers aren't taking their nose dives and poorly executed loops as seriously as I did mine. They know that repairs are cheap and just a few shipping days away.