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How to Equip a Flight (Field) Box

May 02, 2015

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Airfield Models ( to Equip Your Flight (Field) Box

As beginners near completion of their first Radio Control trainer aircraft, they begin to wonder what they need to take to the field with them.

Assuming you are brand new to this hobby and haven't been involved in another type of flying, such as Control Line or Free Flight, then you'll probably stumble through your first few visits to the field without having everything you need.

That's OK because R/C includes a great group of people who will gladly help you as much as they can.  Nobody expects you to have everything you need for your first several trips to the flying field.

Observe what others are doing and what they are using so that you will learn what to bring with you.  Ask questions about anything you plan to purchase.  Just because another pilot uses a certain piece of equipment doesn't mean that it's appropriate for you.

Also see


Prepare Your Planes at Home or Lug Your Shop to the Flying Field

The more prepared your plane is, the less stuff you need at the field.  If an experienced R/Cer has not looked over your plane thoroughly then it will need a lot of work done when you show up at the field.  Even if you followed the instructions for your plane to the letter, there are a lot of things that the instructions simply don't tell you.

What I'm saying is that it's not your fault that you don't know everything and didn't assemble your airplane perfectly.  Don't feel bad when someone at the field starts rattling off a seemingly never-ending list of things that are wrong with your plane and starts taking everything apart.  You're going to do the same thing for somebody one day.

Attitude matters in regard to how much you are willing to do at the field vs. in the shop.  I am of the mind that repairs should be done in the shop where I can do a much better job.   Repairs should not be done in a rush at the field to get the plane back in the air.  I don't like my models to look patched.  A repair is more difficult to "unrepair" so that it can be done right.

My philosophy does not apply to beginners who need all the stick time they can get.  A trainer does not need to be pretty but it does need to be safe and flight-worthy.  Therefore, minor repairs should be made at the field so that flight training can continue with as few interruptions as possible.  Take along some 5-minute epoxy and CA (thin and medium or just medium).

Serious repairs should always be made in the shop to ensure they are done correctly.

The other part about attitude is that I do not like loading and unloading my car.  The less I have to pack the happier I am.  Therefore I take the minimal amount of equipment necessary.  That could mean constantly having to borrow tools or other equipment.

I have not had to do this because I make sure that I have every tool necessary to work with any fastener on the models I bring to the field.  I tend to standardize the hardware I use in my models so that I don't have to carry tools that have one use on one particular plane.

The other reason this works for me is that I go over each airplane thoroughly before I go to the field.  I make sure everything is working properly in a comfortable shop instead of tinkering with my planes while sweating under the Florida sun.  When at the field, I would rather sit in the shade with my drink and BS with the other pilots when I'm not flying.


Basic Items

You should always have your AMA and Club Membership cards with you.  I keep mine in my flight box because if I forget the box I can't fly anyway.

A typical flight box.I suggest you purchase a good field box as soon as possible.  It should have one or two drawers to keep tools and engine starting accessories in.  Flight boxes come in a variety of sizes.  I suggest you avoid the humongous boxes as they are awkward and heavy.  Again, prepare your planes at home so you don't have to lug your shop to the field.

One thing you will notice is that almost all flight boxes hold a jug of fuel on one end and a 12-volt battery and glow panel at the other.

A live power source next to a bottle of fuel is a serious fire/explosion hazard.  The fuel and battery balance each other nicely at opposite ends which makes the box easier to carry.

Items that should be in every field box:

  • First Aid Kit
  • Spray Cleaner, such as Windex or 409
  • Soft cloth cleaning towels (at least 2)

Additional Items for Beginners:

  • 5-Minute Epoxy
  • Cyanoacrylate (thin and medium)

A small fishing tackle box is a better choice for tools than a field box.  Tackle boxes have compartments that are more appropriate for the small tools we use.  Additionally, you will be using the same tools in your shop and at the field.  A tackle box is easier to manage on the workbench than a field box.

Be sure to keep your tools clean.  If they are covered with exhaust gunk and dirt, then it will get on the bare wood of your models which makes finishing more difficult.  In the worst cases there will be areas where iron-on covering won't adhere due to oil that has gotten into the wood.

My Very Special Model Fancy BoxWhen is a Field Box not a Field Box?

Why, when it's a Model Fancy Box, of course!

My poor friend Mike is insanely jealous of my Model Fancy Box.  His resentment is only intensified by the fact that his box is nothing more than a conventional field box.

Mike covets my Model Fancy Box.  He pleads and begs for my Model Fancy Box.  Sorry, Mike.  I'm not parting with my Model Fancy Box.

My Model Fancy Box is a prized and cherished possession.  It is so valuable that it's priceless.  I don't mind that you desire my Model Fancy Box but you can't have it either.

My Model Fancy Box is not for sale, so don't even ask.


Engine Starting Equipment

Engine Related Items to Put in your Field Box

  • A couple feet of Fuel Line
  • A spare Glow Plug
  • Extra Propellers

Glow Fuel

Glow fuel is one of those items that pilots can't help but argue about.  This is another of those Ford vs. Chevy things.  All commercially available fuels from the major manufacturers are good so don't get hung up about it.  However, I strongly urge you to read the instructions that came with your engine and use fuel that has oil and nitro content per the manufacturer's recommendations.  Your engine warranty depends on it.

You will also need a way to get fuel from the jug and into the airplane's fuel tank.  If your plane is very small, then you can buy a fuel bulb.  Most trainers have tanks that are large enough that using a bulb gets tedious.  I recommend that you purchase a good manual fuel pump.

If you buy the motorcycle battery (discussed below) then you can purchase an electric fuel pump rather than a manual pump.  I've had nothing but problems with electric fuel pumps so I can't recommend them.  They break easily and frequently.

Also see

Engine Starting Accessories

I suggest that you purchase a 12 volt motor cycle battery (at least 7 amps), a glow panel and an electric starter right away.

The starter provides a margin of safety by keeping your hands away from the propeller and will make it easier for you to get your engine running.  If you have the glow panel, then you can purchase a glow-plug clip and solder banana jacks to it if it doesn't have them already.  The glow clip plugs into the panel and provides power to your glow plug which is necessary to start your engine.

Do not hook your glow clip directly to the motorcycle battery.  You'll blow up the glow plug.  All glow plugs require a 1.2 to 2 volt power source and no more.

The other option is to buy a glow clip with a self-contained power source such as a McDaniel's Ni-Starter or Radio South Pro Driver.  You can also buy a large 1-1/2 volt battery and hook a clip up to it.  These batteries get expensive and are hard to find nowadays.

Note that you do not need both a power panel and a self-powered glow clip.  If you have a glow clip with a power source, you can hook your electric starter directly to the battery because it uses a 12-volt source.

If you choose to hand-start your engine, then you should wear a heavy work glove on the hand you use to flip the propeller.  You can also use a chicken stick which also keeps your hands out of the propeller.  A chicken stick is just a stick used to flip the propeller.  It has a piece of rubber tubing on it to protect the propeller.

Another piece of safety equipment you should wear when running an engine is safety goggles.  I've never seen anyone at any club I've belonged to wear them and I don't either, but I should.

Never start your plane with the field box behind the muffler.  You'll coat your box with exhaust oil.  I like to kneel on the ground to the front right of the plane (looking from the cockpit) with the box to the front left.  That way the starter cord does not come from behind the propeller which creates a safety hazard.  I'm right handed, so lefties would work from the left side of the plane.

I put the transmitter next to the field box where I can reach it with my right hand.  I never allow anyone else to hold the transmitter when I'm starting an engine.  I don't trust anyone that much.

Start your plane at idle with a helper holding the model.  As soon as the engine is running, move behind the model before removing the glow clip or making any adjustments.

Also see


Aircraft Support Equipment

I mentioned earlier that less is more.  That applies to experienced fliers, but not to beginners.

Take everything that came with anything you bought for your model

This includes anything left over in the kit box, anything left over in the box that the radio came in and anything left in the box that the engine came in.  If there is left-over hardware, take it.

Go over every piece of hardware in your model and find the drivers to fit them.  Check every nut and bolt and ensure that you have the tools you need because you will need to make adjustments.  In many cases, when an experienced pilot goes over your plane to check it out, he'll have to remove parts that are incorrectly installed or in the way of other things he needs to get to.

Take whatever tools necessary to remove the spinner and a good wrench to tighten or remove the propeller.  I strongly recommend against 4-way wrenches.  They do not allow you to apply enough force to tighten a propeller properly.  Use a box wrench, crescent wrench or socket wrench.

A 5/16" driver is used to install or remove glow plugs.  I use a straight-handle socket driver with a 5/16" socket.

Be sure you can open all clevises, disconnect ball-links, etc.  Your plane will probably be severely out of trim and adjustments will need to be made to the clevises so that the radio trims can be returned somewhere close to center.  A screwdriver with a 1/4" wide blade can open most clevises.

Be sure to take some fuel line in case yours was damaged at some point during building.  A hole in a fuel line even one that is so small it is invisible, will ruin your day.


Other Stuff

Most fields are armpits located in the boondocks.  I've seen very few fields that I actually thought were nice.  That's just the way it is, but going into the various reasons is for another discussion.

Many fields don't have shade, running water or toilet facilities.  At the very minimum you should bring water to keep yourself hydrated.

Other things that you might consider purchasing to make the stay more comfortable include a portable chair, a cooler for food and drinks, a jug of water to wash your hands and a few towels.  Additionally, a quality tent is a good investment.  Even a tarp works.

Don't discard broken propellers and such on the ground at the field.  If your field doesn't have garbage cans, then bring some plastic shopping bags to take your trash home with you.

You may also want to bring along a still or video camera.  A pen and paper is handy to write down names and telephone numbers.

You can fill in the rest of this list once you've spent some time at the field and figure out what you'd like to have with you.



Disorientation when Flying RC Model Airplanes
Formulas Used with Flying Model Aircraft

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Copyright 2004 Paul K. Johnson