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Radio Control Training Aircraft

May 11, 2009



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Airfield Models (http://www.airfieldmodels.com/)Radio Control Training Aircraft

Other than the cost of getting started, the most frequently asked questions about Radio Control aircraft are, "What should my first airplane be?" and "What should my second airplane be?"

As I mention on the costs page, a person should without exception start with a Primary Trainer.  Whether you build it or buy an Almost-Ready-To-Fly model is entirely a personal choice.  I very strongly recommend that you build your own trainer.

I believe flight training and building is at the minimum a three model process.  Each model should present a challenge and force you to learn to become a better pilot and builder.  If you stick to the recommendations and you have normal eyesight and reflexes, you will be able to graduate each of these types of aircraft without too much difficulty.

Again, I recommend that you build these models because the skills you learn will be much more important when you move to more advanced aircraft that are less tolerant of errors.  Additionally, precision aerobatic models that are not 100% straight will always be substandard performers.  You will notice.

One important thing to note:  Style is not an important consideration for your training aircraft.  Primary trainers are ugly.  Secondary trainers are almost as bad.  Performance trainers can have plenty of style, but again, it doesn't matter.

What matters is that you learn to build and fly.  Be sure to use a color scheme that makes it less likely to become disoriented.

On this page I will make specific recommendations for a series of trainers.  The time-honored and logical procession is as follows:

 
 

Step 1 - Primary Trainer

A primary trainer is a High-Wing, stable model with self-correction capabilities.  It should be as large as feasible - generally .40 size.  Self-correction is important because it allows the aircraft to attempt to right itself if the beginner loses orientation and releases the controls.  The stability comes from the wing location and a large amount of dihedral.

Desirable Properties of a Primary Trainer

Most of the weight in a model is the engine, radio equipment, fuel and landing gear.  The high wing location puts all this weight below the wing which naturally makes the aircraft want to fly upside up.

Dihedral makes the model want to fly with its wings level.  If the aircraft is banked and the controls are released, the model will naturally want to return to flying with the wings level.

The flat bottom airfoil does not aid or hinder stability.  It is a special high-lift airfoil that allows the model to fly slower.  Conversely, a symmetrical airfoil must fly faster to maintain its altitude.  Therefore a flat-bottom airfoil is best for a trainer because it allows the beginner to fly a slower model.

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The wing incidence and decalage, if designed properly, make the aircraft naturally want to fly at a level attitude.  If the model is diving and the controls are released the model will return to level flight.

Note the word, naturally, is the key word here.  That's what makes a good trainer a good trainer.  It's the fact that the model wants to fly straight and level and will attempt to return to straight and level flight if the beginner does nothing at all.  Of course all of this depends on the aircraft having enough altitude to recover which may take as much as 200 feet.

As a beginner you should start training yourself to pull the throttle to low and releasing the controls as soon as you realize you are not in control of the model.  Because you have an instructor, you should also immediately tell him that you are in trouble because he may not know and think whatever the airplane is doing is something that you are doing on purpose.

Why You Should Build Your Own Trainer

Building your own trainer will teach you rudimentary building skills in an aircraft that is less critical of errors.  Trainers tend to be over-built so that they can still be considered flight-worthy even when there are multiple construction errors.

However, I do not intend to give you the belief that you should ever attempt to put a questionable aircraft in the air.  A Radio Control model airplane can be very dangerous - lethal even.  In fact, there are many hazards associated with this hobby.  Please be safe.

Additionally, even ARF's need to be repaired from time to time.  It is important that you understand what is under the covering and what it does.  Building your own trainer will give you the fundamental knowledge you need to make basic airworthy repairs.

By the time you finish your first trainer you should have a few tools to get started on your next build.

Specific Primary Trainer Recommendations

For your primary trainer, I recommend any of the following aircraft.  Note that Sig has a really screwy website and I can't link to the individual aircraft.  To find them, enter the Sig website.  Then click Aircraft, Aircraft - R/C Kits, Trainers and select the trainer you want to view.

All of these models are lightweight, excellent flying aircraft.  The Sig Kadet MK II is probably the most durable of the models mentioned here as well as the heaviest.

There are other primary trainers available and I have yet to come across a .40 size trainer that I would specifically not recommend, but then I have not looked closely at what is currently being offered either.

By the time you graduate your primary trainer you will have learned:

  • Basic building skills
  • Properties of a variety of materials and adhesives
  • Basic airframe covering skills
  • Basic aerodynamics
  • How to pre-flight and post-flight your aircraft as well as general maintenance
  • Radio and Control adjustment
  • Radio battery maintenance
  • Flying field etiquette
  • Basic flight skills including taxiing, flying a circuit, setting up and landing and basic emergency recovery
  • How to trim a model aircraft for straight and level flight
  • Basic engine tuning and maintenance
 
 

Step 2 - Secondary Trainer

The secondary trainer is a Shoulder-Wing model that is more aerobatic at the expense of some stability.  They usually have a semi-symmetrical airfoil that allows lower speed flight than a symmetrical airfoil but requires higher speeds than a flat bottom airfoil.  Some mid-wing models also make excellent secondary trainers, but you have to be able to tell the difference between a sport model and a precision aerobat which also happens to be a mid-wing aircraft.

Shoulder-wing aircraft, like the primary trainer, mount the wing above the fuselage which keeps the center of gravity low.  Unlike the primary trainer, these models usually have semi-symmetrical or symmetrical airfoils, tend to fly faster and are less able to correct themselves.

The landing gear arrangement is essentially the same as a trainer in that the main gear is mounted to the bottom of the fuselage rather than in the wing.  These models can either have conventional gear or tricycle gear like most trainers.

Typical Stik models are good examples of shoulder-wing aircraft.

Specific Secondary Trainer Recommendations

  • Sig Kavalier
  • Sig Mid Star 40

Not all Stiks are created equal, however, and I have not flown any of the current generation of Stiks so I can not make any specific recommendations.  Some low wing models are good too, such as the Carl Goldberg Tiger.

 
 

Step 3 - Performance Trainer

Now comes the time when the decision is a little harder.  You've got two builds under your belt, lots of flight hours and enough tools in your shop to give you a lot of choices where to go next.  You've spent a lot of time at the field and have seen a variety of aircraft doing their thing.  On several occasions you've thought, "I want a plane like that!"

Most of us came into the hobby thinking we were interested in a certain type of aircraft only to discover that something else interests us more.  You can not go wrong no matter what you choose within reason.  For example, you may want a 3D aircraft that is wildly maneuverable, yet light enough that landings are not accomplished at Mach I speeds.

You may have an interest in precision aerobatics flying a scale model such as a Cap, Edge or Sukhoi.  Scale modeling presents it is own challenges and requires as much piloting ability as precision aerobatics.  Often these models are very heavy and represent a significant investment in time and money.

Regardless of where you are heading, your goal is to improve your flight skills.  At this point you should be moving on to a model that is neutrally stable.  That simply means it goes where you point it and should not attempt to correct itself.  There are many models that fit this description.

Specific Advanced Trainer Recommendations

  • Sig Kougar
  • Sig King Kobra

If you'd like something very aerobatic but a little more tame, then choose one of these aircraft instead:

  • Sig Somethin' Extra
  • Sig Astro Hog

Almost any modern-day aerobat will make a good performance trainer but ask around before choosing a model.  Some planes have nasty stall characteristics that you might not be ready for.

The reason why there are mostly Sig kits on this page is that they are one of the very few companies who actually have a line of aircraft that are thoughtfully designed to progress a pilot's skill from rank beginner to expert.  I have always found their kits to be well designed and developed whereas many companies design an airplane, it flies, they sell it.  It's obvious that they didn't put a lot of development into the product and probably didn't build more than one or two prototypes before sending it to the marketplace.

 
 

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Copyright 2003 Paul K. Johnson