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Disorientation Phenomenon when Flying Radio Control Model Airplanes

May 02, 2015

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Airfield Models ( Phenomenon when Flying Radio Control Aircraft

Whenever I mention the problem of becoming disoriented to a beginner or someone who is not involved with the hobby it always appears as if the extent of the problem doesn't sink in.  I think a lot of people believe that it can't happen to them.  Any experienced R/C pilot will confirm that disorientation is a very real problem.

Disorientation simply means that the model looks like it is going one way when in fact it is going in another direction altogether.  You might think that if you keep the plane in close then it won't be possible to become disoriented.  That simply isn't true.  One can become disoriented regardless of the distance the model is from the pilot.

I still lose orientation of my models and have been flying for more years than I want to think about.  When I lose orientation with the model at a higher altitude it doesn't trouble me too much because I can slow the model down and work it out by moving the controls and watching what the model does in response.

More disconcerting is becoming disoriented when the model is at a lower altitude.  If you find out that the model really is going in a different direction than you think it is then you may not have time to do anything about it before it's in the ground.

I was watching my buddy Mike fly Thwing! the other day.  Every time he made a turn at one end of the field I could swear he was turning the model away from the field when in fact he was turning the model back toward the field.  After the first time I was fooled I paid closer attention to the model.

Each time he turned the model in the same area what I saw was the model going in the opposite direction.  It was an optical illusion that would have caused me to lose the model had it happened when I was flying it.  Fortunately, Mike was at the controls and not having the same problem.

Do not panic when you become disoriented

The model is probably going the way you think it should be going regardless of the message your eyes are sending to your brain.  You can have confidence that the model is most likely on the course you last set it on unless the model flew through some funny air that flipped the airplane over.

Do not give any abrupt or prolonged control inputs.  Wiggle the ailerons or elevator gently and watch what the aircraft does.  The response of the model should give you clues as to what its attitude is.

Situational awareness is always helpful.  Before you take off your model you should know who else is flying and who is standing nearby your pilot station.  If you become disoriented call out to someone by name and tell him of your predicament.  He will most likely be able to tell you in which direction the model is heading.

The graphic that follows is provided courtesy of RC Universe.  This image should make it strikingly clear how one can become disoriented.  Look at the pictures carefully.  All three images can be superimposed directly over each other.

Graphic example of the disorientation phenomenon


Selecting a Color Scheme for a Radio Control Airplane

I don't know this for certain, but based on my time spent with other pilots it seems that some pilots, such as myself, are more prone to becoming disoriented than others.  It is always a good idea to choose a highly visible, contrasting color scheme for your radio control airplanes especially if you're a beginner.

Your first few models should have color schemes that aid in orientation of the model.  After you have more experience you can use your own judgment to determine the extent to which you need visual clues.

Color schemes that aid in orientation should differentiate between the top and bottom and the right from the left of the aircraft - even at relatively long distances.  The way to do this is to choose highly contrasting colors that don't disappear or blend into the sky.

For example, you may want to put stripes on the top of the wing that run from one wing tip to the other.  On the bottom of the wing you may want to use stripes that run from the leading edge to the trailing edge or another shape altogether such as large circles and squares.

My Stik 30

My Stik 30 sports a sharply contrasting black and white wing.  All I have to remember is that right is white.  If I get disoriented then all I need to do is remember the rule.

My Stik 30

If the plane is upside down then the colors are reversed, so the rule doesn't work.  But there are other things that will give it away, such as the fact that the aircraft will dive for the ground when the sticks are at neutral.

Conversely, my Herr Pitts Special has a terrible color scheme from an orientation standpoint.  The blue and white blend into the sky.  The top and bottom of the wings have nearly identical trim.

Because of the color/trim scheme and the fact that the Pitts is a small, fast model.  I lose orientation frequently.  I have to depend on my experience as a pilot to trust that the model is going the way I told it to go.  As a beginner, you simply do not want to be in that situation.  Whenever I fly my Pitts I have a spotter standing by to help me if I become disoriented.



Radio Control Primary, Secondary and Performance Training Aircraft
Equipment for a Flight (Field) Box for Radio Control Airplanes

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Copyright 2004 Paul K. Johnson