October 30

Radio Control Airplanes Safe Flying Practices

Over the years that I have been flying model aircraft I have observed that there model landing approachare basically two kinds of pilot in the field of model aviation. 1) Those who almost expect to crash their planes and don’t seem to care or accept it as an inevitable part of the hobby. 2) Those who see crashes as upsetting, remorseful and a wasteful occurrence.

This difference is all down to ones attitude to adopting radio control airplanes safe flying practices.

Let me give you an example. Some years ago I was watching an experienced very competent flyer making a fully controlled landing approach. As he brought his model over the threshold of the field a wind shear caused his plane to suddenly drop into the long grass a few yards short of the landing strip.

“Oh dear! that was bad luck” was my immediate comment. “No” he responded, “My bad flying.”

This sort of honesty and acceptance of responsibility for the mishap typifies the attitude of an accomplished pilot.

Attitude To Model Preparation

What we are really talking about is ones mental attitude to flying.

If you have the opportunity take the time to watch experienced display pilots and the way they approach their responsibilities. From building to maintenance to pre-flight preparations followed by post flight examination, the approach of such calibre pilots is exemplary and focussed totally on SAFETY.

You will find that if there is anything about their model or the prevailing flying conditions that doesn’t comply with their safety requirements, they will not fly. Every aspect of model safety will be checked and double checked.

If action can be taken to rectify whatever is abnormal, it will be undertaken so long as the final pre-flight checks can be satisfactorily completed.

Now compare this with the average club flyer whose pre-flight checks comprise banter with his flying mates, emptying his bladder behind the nearest hedge, mounting the wing on the fuselage, fuelling up for a nitro/glow model or fitting a lipo into an electric model.

Next he grabs his transmitter and heads for the starting area or straight to the take-off point (electric). Next minute he’s up and away. For some unaccountable reason, the plane suddenly rolls inverted and plummets to earth.

Oh! shock, horror, what a shame, Oh well, these things can happen at any time eh?

These two examples, although the latter maybe a little exaggerated, typify the difference in attitude between the two pilots. Display pilots models rarely crash because they take all necessary precautions to prevent them doing so. Many club pilots, on the other hand, crash frequently because they allow it to happen.

Check And Double Check

There is an old saying that goes “Accidents don’t just happen, they are caused”. The causes may be numerous but by taking every precaution to eliminate as many as possible we can reduce the chances of accidents happening.

Your checks should begin before you even leave home. Examine your plane(s) and radio transmitter. check that you have fully charged batteries in the transmitter, the receiver battery(s) are charged and, for electric flyers, check your lipos have all been charged.

Once you have arrived at the field and unloaded your kit, check every single piece if your model before attempting to assemble it.

Check all the servos are tight in their mounts, output arms and servo installationlocating screws are all tightly screwed in, clevises are properly connected and retainers are in place. Check the integrity of the pushrods and ensure there is nothing fouling their movement. Make sure all wires and servo leads are correctly connected and tidy inside the fuselage. Make sure none of them can interfere with the servo output arms or pushrods.

If your plane is nitro/glow powered ensure there has been no ingress of fuel within the fuselage. Check for anything that may have worked loose since the last flying  session so there should be no unidentified rattles or bangs. In other words check and check again.

This is your model that you have spent good money on and there is no excuse for you neglecting to ensure it is ready to fly safely. My advice would be to make a list of the checks you need to do at each flying session and mount it  on a card to be kept in your flight box. This is exactly what full size pilots are expected to do.

The hardest part of all this is that if you do find something that may cause a problem, unless you can effect a fully acceptable repair at the field, you must resist the temptation to fly.

If you find anything loose or insecure and different to what it was at the last session, DO NOT FLY until you have found out why, rectified it to your satisfaction and obtained a second opinion as to its safety. Your plane is a mechanical contraption that cannot repair itself. You are responsible for making sure it is totally safe to operate.

Preparing To Fly

At the risk of becoming tedious, once you have fully assembled your plane, check it again. Correct wing location and security, control surface connections all solid, covering intact and tail assembly all sound and secure.

Don’t forget the electrics, a radio failure is almost certain to result in re-kitting your plane. Although you checked that your receiver battery was charged when you left  home, be sure to re-check it before you fly. NiCad and NiMH Batteries can fail to hold their charge so put your battery checker across them to be certain they have held up. You do have a battery checker, don’t you? If not, get one, it will be money well spent. Battery Tester

If you are in the USA you can purchase this item on-line by clicking on the image to the right. UK purchasers need to click on this link:-

Battery Checker/ Capacity Controller

Control Checks

Now is the time to do a range check. The last time out everything was fine but don’t assume that nothing has changed since that time. Remember, safety is paramount!

Solicit the help of another flyer and carry out this check in line with the instructions with your radio gear.

OK, that done, now you can check that the control surfaces are all moving in the correct orientation. Ailerons are particularly susceptible to becoming reversed. Left stick movement should cause the left aileron to rise, conversely right aileron stick should cause the right aileron to rise. Now operate the rudder left and right and make sure that is correct. Finally Elevator, up is up and down is down.

Whilst making these checks ensure that there is no binding or excessive strain on the servos. A stalled servo will very quickly drain your receiver battery or put extra load on the Battery Eliminator Circuit (BEC) in an electric model.

Only one more thing to check before you fire up and that is the integrity of the propeller. Are there any chips or nicks on the blades. Anything that causes the propeller to be out of balance can result in excessive vibration that will be detrimental to the airframe and possibly the radio gear.

If you find any such damage change the propeller immediately. What do you mean, you don’t have a spare! Propellers are disposable items prone to damage so you should always have at least one spare for each model in your fleet.

For students Only

If you are learning using a ‘buddy box’ system ensure your transmitter is set up exactly as your tutor’s transmitter. It is not unusual for one or more of the controls to be reversed on the slave compared to the master transmitter so check each one.

Flight Ready

Now, providing you haven’t found any reason to ground your plane, you are ready to go fly – OR ARE YOU?

Just because your model is in flight ready condition, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are. You need to be in that state of mind we call ‘Positive Mental Attitude’ together with adequate training.

Let me explain; I was once asked to teach a young guy how to fly an rc plane. He had bought a smallish electric Piper Cub in ARTF format (approximately 1M wingspan). I suggested we take it to the flying field and I would test fly it for him first of all.

The plane proved to be a nice little flyer and having trimmed it out I let him take over the transmitter for a minute or so whilst being ready to take it from him should the inevitable emergency arise. He coped reasonably well at first but as soon as the plane turned to fly toward him he naturally became disorientated so I quickly took over.

After this first trial flight we discussed the effect of reverse orientation and he seemed to grasp the concept. He only had the one battery so there was no chance of a further flight on this occasion. we agreed to meet again in a weeks time for further tuition.

The evening before our next session I  called him to confirm arrangements. He was distressed to tell me he had tried to fly the plane himself and had totalled it during an attempted hand launch.

This example just demonstrates that although attitude is important, so is experience and capability. This guy had seen me fly the plane and, not wishing to crow, made it look easy. He believed he could emulate my skills and (despite my warnings not to try going it alone) as a result wasted his model.

Ways To Crash

  1. On Take-Off   This usually happens for one of three reasons:

             a) By hauling the plane off the ground before sufficient airspeed has been attained.

             b)  Losing control to difficult wind  conditions.

             c)  Mishandling an engine failure after take-off (EFATO).

     2.  Disorientation or Structural Failure   The first of these comes down to insufficient training and practice whilst structural failure is incurred because of the pilot’s failure to appreciate the limitations of the model or because it has not been adequately checked for structural integrity prior to flying.

      3.  During the Landing Phase   Again, this is often as a result of disorientation, lack of or excess speed on approach or lack of appreciation of the prevailing air flow across the landing strip.bad lnding approach

Overcoming these problem areas is in essence a matter of Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) and Training.

The training aspect comes down to getting loads of practice, listening and learning and PATIENCE. There is no excuse for neglecting any of these  components.

An important part of good training is the PMA taught by your tutor. No student should be exposed to the attitude that if a model crashes although it shouldn’t have happened, its only a model. ONLY A MODEL?

What about the waste of time, money, materials, etc. that comes from crashing an ARTF trainer. This alone is painful enough. Consider if it was a larger plane that crashes into an innocent bystander who could well be killed!

Do we still use the excuse -‘Its only a model?’

For this dramatic reason it is absolutely essential that the last check you should make is your own ATTITUDE.

To emphasise this point I will refer back to the first section of this post and the example of our experienced pilot. He demonstrated an exemplary attitude by accepting responsibility for the poor arrival of his model in the long grass despite the adverse conditions. He didn’t shrug his shoulders or try to pass the buck.

I hope there is some information above that will help you approach your flying with a great attitude that causes you to consider not only your needs but those of the public and other flyers in your proximity.

Food for thought:- The majority of insurance claims in modelling circles involve planes landing on cars!

Please feel feee to share this post with anyone you think it could help. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to visit my website: www.rookiercflyer.com especially if you are a ‘rookie’!

Chat soon.
















Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.

Posted October 30, 2015 by Colin Bedson in category "General Flight Training


  1. By Michel on

    This is an interesting topic for a website. You obviously know what you are talking about as you explain in such detail all the disappointments of totaling a remote controlled plane.

    This could become an expensive hobby if you don’t know what you are doing for sure. I can imagine the disappointment of destroying a brand new plane.

    1. By Colin on

      Thanks for your comment Michel. The whole concept behind my website http://www.rookiercflyer.com is to help newcomers avoid such incidents and successfully learn to fly their planes as cheaply as possible.


  2. By JeffWA on

    Hi Colin! Well right off the bat you got my attention with your superlative article dedicated to remote/radio controlled airplanes.

    I don’t fly remote control airplanes but instead for almost 20- years now I have been into computer flight simulation involving Microsoft software. I’ve been all over the world and especially love flying Boeing 747’s considered the “Queen of the Sky”.

    Teaching myself through their manuals available online I was instructed on every phase of flying aircraft from the “cold and dark stage”, (engines and all systems turned completely off) through completing the entire pre-flight computer check systems, programming the onboard flight, starting the engines, taxing to the runway take-off as instructed by ATC, onboard navigation to the destination airport, lineup towards an IRL landing procedure, touchdown, taxi to the destination airport gate and finally turning off of all systems to end the flight.

    I have found myself lost for untold hours at my hobby since before the turn of this century now 15 years ago! The funny thing is, not at all interested in flying helicopters, even now through flight simulation I could not fly that type of aircraft to save my life.

    Your article was so thorough and concise on explaining to the reader all that is part of the concept in flying radio controlled airplanes. You are so right, a true pilot whether it be the individual who flies radio-controlled airplanes or a person like me who does it in computer aircraft/jet simulation should all hate it when a plane crashes- seeking to study what happen and prevent a re-occurence. After all doing it for real with hundreds of passengers inside a plane would prove catostrophic!

    You did an excellent, no superlative job in crafting this incredible article Colin. Obviously it goes without saying that just as I love my hobby in flying computer flight simulations you have the same type of love for your hobby at piloting radio controlled airplanes!

    It was a pleasure reading your article!

    1. By Colin on

      Thanks for your terrific comments Jeff. If you ever get tempted to fly an rc plane I hope that you may in some small way have been helped by my website http://www.rookiercflyer.com and the associated posts.



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